“Perfect Breathing”: The Witness

The hurdle that we must overcome in our quest to master our emotions is the ability to observe or “witness” our thoughts, emotions, and physical state.



Richard Rosen, in his book The Yoga of Breath, tells us that one of the first steps to mastering our breath is befriending what the ancient masters called “the Witness.”



It is our true or “authentic” self that is not caught up in thinking, doing, evaluating, reliving memories, and following our emotions.




Rosen states: “The Witness engages the outer and inner worlds on their own terms and lets them speak in their own words.



It’s present-centered, with no memories of the past or concerns about the future; self-reliant, independent of the approval or disapproval others; and self-accepting, in both success and failure.”



Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism maintain that the root of our suffering is our attachment to, and our identification with, our thoughts, emotions, relationships and possessions.



We become so caught up and involved in the matters of our lives that we come to believe that they define us, but many spiritual traditions maintain that this is just an illusion, a masquerade.



Yoga master Sri Aurobindo referred to this as “the ferment” and maintains that we can seek and find our Witness, which sees through the mental and physical trappings of our lives and simply observes our thoughts, emotions and actions, without judgment.



But if finding the Witness is the path to breath mastery, the breath is also the best way to summon the Witness, for it is our breath that provides us with a way to shut out the endless streams of chatter that constantly are analyzing, evaluating, planning, and criticizing.



It is the breath that opens the doorway that allows us to step outside of our situation, observe it without judgment.



This simple act of witnessing our thoughts, emotions, and actions lifts them from the dark cellar of our unconscious to the full light of our conscious mind and weakens their intoxicating grip.



Paul Ekman, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of psychology at University of California, San Francisco and a world-renowned expert in emotional research and nonverbal communication.



In his book Emotions Revealed he postulates that “Nature doesn’t make it easy for us to achieve conscious awareness of the first moments when an emotion arises, let alone how we automatically make the appraisals of the world around us that generate our emotions.



It is nearly impossible for most people ever to become aware of the automatic appraisal processes that initiate an emotional episode.”



Ekman continues, “I don’t believe emotions evolved in a way to facilitate impulse awareness.



It is as if the emotion system doesn’t want our conscious mind to interfere in the matter.”



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