Embodied Practice for the Breath of Life: Nishmat Hayyim
Sit in a comfortable position on a chair or cushion. Take a moment to pause and become aware of the natural rhythm of your breath. As you inhale and receive a deep breath, nishmat hayyim, נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים, note that when all is functioning well in the body, you receive your breath without effort.
As this text implies, our breath is breathed into us, given to us - and we receive it. This idea corresponds to the workings of our anatomy. The act of breathing is in fact involuntary. On the next inhalation, bring your awareness to the fresh oxygen that brings nourishment to all the cells of your being. With each breath, we are receiving anew the key ingredient that, in this creation story, transitions us to life. We become nefesh chaya, נֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה living beings.
Neshima/breath נשימה and neshama/soul נשמה share the same Hebrew root. Our soul enters us when we take in our first breath and leaves us when exhale our last. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches that with each breath, every moment, we are given the opportunity to connect anew to our life’s source and to our soul. As you receive your breath, intend to receive nourishment and sustenance from the universe. Receive yourself, your soul, your connection to the deepest place within, as it enlivens you and fills your being.
"If you want to return …[to God]… you must make yourself into a new creation. You can do this with a sigh! We never stop breathing - releasing the stale air and drawing in fresh air. Our very lives depend on this. The physical air we breathe has its root above....The sigh begins when you draw in extra air. This is similar to what happens just before a person dies: he draws in extra air and then the spirit leaves him. Every exhalation is the death of the moment that has passed, in preparation for the birth of the new moment. Thus when you take a deep sigh, you release yourself from …the old and impure and open yourself to the pure air [in order to receive new vitality.] This is Teshuvah, returning from impurity to pure, from old to new, in order to gain new life. The very body is renewed, because "Sighing breaks a person's whole body" (Berachot 58b), and therefore the body is remade."
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Adapted from Chayei Moharan #37