Artist Willard Wigan makes tiny pieces of art on the head of a pin and in the eye of needles. He is only able to do this microscopic work as shown below because he can slow his nervous system down to such an extent that he isn’t breathing at all during the sculpture process and uses the beat of his heart (which is slowed enormously) as a jack hammer to knock pieces of the sculpture together whilst holding tiny tools. He has used the hair from a fly’s head as a paint brush for instance for some of his art pieces.
Here is Willard Wigan talking about his work which to me is entirely fascinating…. And here he is talking about how he uses his pulse as a jack hammer or works between his pulse and has to be careful not to inhale his work!!!
Breathwork: Mind The Gap!
By focusing on our breath and deliberately extending our exhale we can stimulate the relaxation response; slow the heart rate and connect to the calming parasympathetic nervous system and clear the mind. The connection between mind and breath has long been known and according to Pandit Rajmani Tigunait in an article in the Yoga Journal that you can find here, the concentration and focus that we can achieve in life is directly relatable to the quality of the breath:
“The quality of the mind is tied to the quality of the breath. A shallow breath gives our consciousness access only to a shallow level of the mind. A noisy breath keeps our mind in a noisy state. Breath accompanied by shakes and jerks makes the mind shaky and creates jerks in the flow of our thoughts. A pause in the breath puts the mind on hold. Just as the body requires nutritious food, the mind requires a nurturing breath. A deep, smooth, and even breath—without noise, without jerks, and without pauses—nurtures the mind and enhances its ability to concentrate. In other words, the breath is the key to concentration. Losing this key results in a mind that is disturbed, distracted, stupefied, and confused. Such a mind is useful neither in spiritual endeavors nor in worldly pursuits. “
It is obvious that if you give the mind a subject to focus on you will increase concentration and reduce distractions considerably. Those able to perform micro sculpture do so by controlling their whole nervous system with the breath such that the pulse and blood pressure lower immesurably.
Our aim in Yoga is not to clear the mind as is sometimes thought, since we will always automatically come up with Radom trains of thought, but to reduce their interruptions and to avoid pursuing the thoughts, especially if we are agitated, hurt, dissappointed or angry and the mind wants to rehearse various scenarios over and over (which only serves to increase the emotional attachment to the feelings).
In today’s class we aren’t breath holding, in the way a deep sea diver or David Blane does, we are “suspending breath” in the gap between the exhalation and inhalation. There should be no sense of forced holding as this will only lead to agitation and even panic. Interestingly, the gaps between the in and out breath, if they are brought into our conscious awareness, tend to contain a lack of thought or worry. According to Vijnana Bhairava Tantra in this article, “Normally, when breath flows out, attention flows out with it. That’s fine, that’s natural. However, a lifetime of conditioning which favors focus on external things has created an artificial dynamic, where all our attention flows out with our breath. It’s the all that’s artificial”. By training the mind to focus on the gap between the breaths, we can increase the amount of pure awareness, without the muddiness that is our usual train of thought… This is like a muddy pond settling the particles to the bottom to reveal a crystal clear water. This is where our insights and pure God-given creativity live and if we can access this, not only will we experience peace and harmony in our lives but a healthy and long living body to boot. Bring it on!
Practice this week looking for the gap between breaths and observe the gap between thoughts. You may also notice the thought gap without observing the breath gap since there is always the end of one train of thought, then a slight pause before the next.