Do you remember the delight the first time you played with set of Russian nesting dolls? The fascination and wonder of opening each one, seeing the next smaller one inside and then cooing when you finally hatched the tiniest one. And then putting them all back together and taking them apart again, and again. It was so simple. Why the delight? There are just some things like this that have a universal appeal. Curiosity, discovery, beauty, wonder when things come apart to reveal treasure and then fit back together again.
The Russian nesting dolls history has many layers and stories. Like many crafts the influences flow together. One of the stories is that the original artists were divinely inspired to design a doll that would “convey the very core of the Russian dusha, or soul, to represent Russian Cultural and artistic traditions to the world.”
Stories of the first Russian dolls date back to the 1890s. However, the idea of nesting one object within another was not new to Russia nesting dolls. Chinese nesting boxes were made as early as 1000AD and Chinese nesting dolls have been around since the eighteenth century. Japan caught on quickly also and one of the best know Japanese nesting doll sets is Fukuruma, a doll honoring Fukurokuju, the God of happiness, wealth and longevity, from Japanese mythology.
These small dolls seem to capture that sentiment of happiness, and much more. The Russian name for these dolls is Matryoshka based on the popular 19th century female name Matryona, which embodies the latin root wood “mater,” or mother. The dolls are also often called Babuska, which means grandmother. The idea within these names captures the shape and folklore of the dolls. They are round and full, each doll “birthing” another symbolizing motherhood, fertility, vitality and care. From each doll there is one before and one after.
Like Russian nesting dolls, yoga has many different revelations as each is opened to see what is deeper within. The teachings of yoga quickly reveal the breath as a beautiful treasure. The movement and position of yoga can certainly be mastered, but it is the revelation of the breath, within the postures, that is the real gift of the practice.
So what truly can the breath do for you? You’re already breathing right now. Like the single Matryoska sitting on a shelf, until you become curious, the treasure remains hidden.
One of my favorite books about the breath is not from a wise yogi sage but from an Aikido master, speaker, coach and author, Thomas Crum. He does his homework to reference the over 2000 peer reviewed studies of mind/body medicine over the past 30 years as a solid foundation for his technique of three deep breaths.
He shares the details of the autonomic nervous systems and how without a doubt science shows that breathing can help to regain a sense of balance anywhere at anytime. It seem too good to be true. How could something as simple of breathing make life better?
It’s easier to keep believing things are just going to stay the same, that there are no solutions, or that more than likely things are going to get worse. Somehow that kind of thinking feel comforting and safe. In that place we can’t be disappointed. In that place nothing will change. Imagine that place as if that one biggest Matryoshka doll were superglued shut. Nothing can be revealed without that first drop of courage to curious, to be open to something that may not be visible at this moment.
Crum’s three deep breaths are a guide to see what’s can be revealed within the breath. Its a practice that can be condensed into three breaths, one after the other, or a way of seeing how the breath can be used to reveal three different intents.
The first breath, he calls the centering breath. I call it the stop, drop and breath breath. Its the line in the sand where I notice that I have a choice to reconnect with the physical container of flesh that I am moving around in. It is a time for me to allow my attention to reconnect with that flesh machine that I inhabit. It is a a breath for me to see I am here, now, in this particular place, and notice the reality of this moment. I am alive and here, not wallowing in the past or fantacising about the future.
This centering breath bring me home to my core, to my heart and my most intense sense of warmth and love. The kind of purest mother love I have for my children. With each of these centering breaths I sink in, accept and begin to abide in this warm place within. The first precious reward.
The second breath, is described as the possibility breath. The centering breath has calmed and reconnected as a safe place for what’s next. The possibility breath is imagining “the very best me.” What would it look like to see you living at your highest purpose? Does that sound too lofty? What about, like in Don Miguel Rui’s third agreement, your intention was to do you best? To imagine and give attention and some breath to that seeing that possibility and pulling it in to every cell of your body with the breath.
This is not pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking. This is neurology. It’s the science that shows the focus of your attention builds the areas of the brain that then become the lens through which you see life. When you see your best self in your mind your actions align to make that real.
When you are about to go into a potentially conflict-ridden meeting call you can say, “I see myself as a calm collaborative and creative problem solver. I am sensitive to the needs and circumstance of each team member and believe we can find a win-win solution.”
The third layer of breath nesting is the discovery breath. This gently questions where your next words or actions are originating from. Often with some awareness, I realize that my first response or reaction to a situation is be coming from an old pattern, from a childhood story, or auto pilot habit? Usually it’s just going to make things worse.
The discovery breath inquires…Are my next words or action coming from a place to defend or from an intent to learn? Will this next interaction be a fight to be right or an adventure of discovery?
More simply, am I reacting out of a belief of lack or of abundance? Fear or love?
These three breaths, like beautiful nesting dolls, are magical as you open and explore each one. They reveal that the tiniest nuance is often the most precious. The smallest of shifts can become a new lens for life. That one simple breath can bring you back home.
When to find time for three nesting breaths?
In an elevator.
In your car.
Waiting for a Google search, or a file on your computer to load.
Waiting in line at the grocery store.
Before a meeting or phone conversation.