Give yourself some breathing room – Thich Nhat Hanh

Every home can have a breathing room. We may have a bathroom, bedroom, living room, but most of us don’t have a room for our own breathing and peace of mind. If you can’t set aside a whole room, you can make a breathing space or breathing corner.

As a sacred space, your breathing room could have just a cushion or two, and perhaps an altar or table with fresh flowers.  You could have a bell to help you with the practice of stopping and mindful breathing.

Set up the room or corner carefully. Our enjoyment of a space depends on the energy generated within it. A room can be well-decorated but feel cold and unfriendly; another can lack colour and furniture but can feel simple, spacious and comfortable. If you live with other people, you can design and decorate this space together, perhaps with flowers, pebbles or photographs. Keep it simple.

The breathing area must be respected by everyone. Once you’re in the breathing room or breathing corner, no one can shout at you anymore. You have immunity. When you hear members of your family in the breathing room, you can support them by lowering your own voice or you might want to join them. If you’re very upset, you can restore your clarity by going to the breathing room.

When you feel uneasy, sad or angry, you can go into the breathing room, close the door, sit down, invite a sound of the bell. In the Zen tradition, we don’t say that we ring or strike the bell, instead we “invite” the bell with the “inviter” (usually a wooden stick) – and practise breathing mindfully. Breathing like this for 10 or 15 minutes, you begin to feel better … Without such a room, you may not allow yourself to take a break, even in your own home. You may be restless, angry with others, or sad. If you spend even a few minutes in your breathing room, you can ease your suffering and better understand the source of your discomfort.

In your breathing room or corner, consider making an altar. On the altar in my hermitage in France are images of the Buddha and Jesus, and every time I light incense, I’m in touch with both as my spiritual ancestors. When you touch someone who authentically represents a tradition, you touch not only their tradition, but also your own.

In East Asia, every home has a family altar … Putting pictures of our blood and spiritual ancestors on our altars helps us feel rooted. If we can find ways to cherish and develop our spiritual heritage, we feel more whole. Learning to touch deeply the jewels of our own tradition allows us to understand and appreciate the values of other traditions, and this benefits everyone.

If there are words that help to ground you, you can add them to the altar as well. Some people write the words from the breathing meditation:

In, Out.

Deep, Slow.

Calm, Ease.

Smile, Release.

Present Moment, Wonderful Moment.

You might enjoy writing down other key words that will stay with you easily and remind you to breathe mindfully throughout the day.

Creating and maintaining a home altar is a way to pay respect to the world around us, our ancestors, and the natural world, and to remind us that whatever we love, and respect is also within us. (From Making Space).

The writer is a global spiritual leader, poet and peace activist, revered around the world for his powerful teachings and bestselling writings on mindfulness and peace. [Courtesy: ToI]