Entering the elusive long tide craniosacral rhythm through yogic breathing and meditation
I’ve been inspired to write this post after my own profoundly healing experiences in the long tide which have taken place in a range of different settings.
I’ve experienced the mysterious long tide phenomenon during not only my craniosacral therapy practice, in my yoga asana, through pranayama and meditation and in my teaching of yoga nidra, but also during lucid sleep states. Often students in my classes report an indescribable feeling of peace and stillness pervading the totality of what is. They feel like they have had hours of quality sleep, when they've just had 10 minutes of breathwork.
So what is the long tide, how do you access it and why is it important?
What is the long tide? The long tide is not only a physiological reality but an emotional and spiritual one too. It is effectively a primary stable respiration cycle that takes about 100 seconds. What that means is, rather than inhaling and exhaling every several seconds as we would in waking life, being in the long tide means we inhale and exhale every 30-50 seconds. Indian yogis call it Kumbhaka, Tibetans call it the ‘wind of the vital forces’, The Chinese call it Tai Ji,or the ‘great breath’, Jewish Kabbla calls it ‘Nephesch’, Islam calls it 'Ruh'. It is both from outside and from within, because it emerges when our outside and our insides unite - i.e when we drop away from all identification with ‘I’. In biological terms this means reducing efferent activity to emphasize reception rather than transmission.
What does it feel like? It feels like a sensation of having dropped into something deeper, complete silence,a field of stillness where there is no separation between you and the field. It is an indescribable all absorbing calm, where you exist within everything that is.
How do you access it? At this point you’re probably wondering how that’s even possible and maybe imagining yourself doing it. Maybe you’re trying it right now. The long tide isn’t accessed by holding the breath or even by trying to access it. It’s not something that can be ‘actioned’ but it is rather a place that can be found through inaction. What this means is, when your mind is no longer striving, your parasympathetic nervous system can facilitate a relaxation response within your organs. This is the first step - to momentarily step away from the act of trying to achieve it. Dropping into a deeper place of spontaneous moment to moment awareness of your full lived experience, also known as ‘presence’ will help you to access the long tide. Essentially, don’t try to do anything, just trust that this place exists and that your body will naturally gravitate to it.
There are various breathwork and pranayama techniques that yogis have developed to support the body’s progress into the Long Tide. The most direct one, Kumbhaka, involves working consciously with your breath with respect to 4 main aspects: inhalation, exhalation, retention, silence. As you might have guessed, this practice in my experience is best done in complete silence, lying down.
It’s a simple exercise, during which you inhale and become aware of the body’s natural pause once the lungs are full, and exhale and become aware of the body’s natural pause once the lungs are empty. These states are known as ahya kumbhaka and antar kumbhaka respectively. The natural pause feels a bit like breath retention, but it’s much deeper than holding the breath. Infact, this practice doesn’t involve holding anything, it involves completely surrendering to your natural and deepest cycle of breath. So lying down, you create a steady inhale for a count of 8 long seconds, and a steady exhale for 8 long seconds. This has an almost instant calming effect on the body and mind (it might take some time for you to reach 8 steady seconds if you’re not used to the practice). Once you’re there, and it’s feeling natural, begin to notice the pause after your inhale. Notice from a position of unattached, observation. The more you allow the pause to develop, the longer it will become. You allow but ensuring again, that you’re not trying to do anything. So the moment a thought comes up or a tendency to strive for breath or feeling arises, just let it disappear. Through this practice, after every inhale and exhale your pause will deepen. Eventually, your 8 seconds will become 18, then 28, then 38 etc and your pause periods become longer and longer. You may feel as if you are sleeping into a sleep state, but you are actually quite aware and awake (the hypnagogic state).
The other way to access the Long Tide is through silent meditation. Essentially your consciousness expands beyond your personal self but through your personal self, and your breath cycle expands with it. This happens with regular practice.
Why is the long tide important? The long tide is important for our totality as physical, emotional, mental and spiritual beings. It is an expression of the mutuality and total inter-connection of life.
- The long tide expresses through fluid in the body - most of our body is made of fluid - In pervading stillness, a deeper organising healing dynamic is allowed to arise within - The long tide supports parasympathetic nervous system and stimulates vagus nerve - Can reduce the inflammation response caused by stressful situations - Can support anti ageing (Aging is proportional to metabolism which in turn is proportional to respiratory rate) - Maintains coherency of the body which can support trauma resolution (Peter Levine)
It is the pauses in between the breath itself, that offer us this powerful resting place of stillness and healing. This is mirrored in many fields, where the white space of emptiness contains everything we need. Perhaps because stillness offers us more potential to express / create, for the essence of our very existence to paint its story, or perhaps just because it gives us a break from having to do or be anything. Something within stillness itself takes us into the essence of our soul.
As Arthur Schnabel, the famous pianist, once said: “The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes — ah, that is where the art resides’
Lao Tzu “Be still. Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity.”
Albert Einstein -“I think 99 times and find nothing. I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the truth comes to me.”