Your Breath Has Six Core Qualities


Integral Deep Listening uses the six core qualities of every breath, confidence, empathy, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace and witnessing, not only as powerful toosl to improve your meditation but as a way to evolve your consciousness in two additional ways:  through interviewing dream characters and the personifications of life issues, as well as becoming perspectives that embody your emerging potentials.

The six core qualities describe central, interdependent characteristics of life that transcend any one individual.  There are six because we can differentiate six major aspects, components, or stages of breathing, which  is a core expression of life in the body. These are abdominal inhalation, chest inhalation, the pause between inhalation and exhalation, chest exhalation, abdominal exhalation, and the pause between exhalation and inhalation. (Some systems of pranayama additionally divide chest inhalation and chest exhalation into two parts.) These aspects of breathing evoke qualities because each of these six components of breathing uniquely disclose different states, processes, and stages of development.

Abdominal inhalation is automatic and unconscious, the type of breathing we do when we are asleep or unaware of our breathing. It is associated with the spontaneous awakening of life out of nothingness, the audacious, fearless confidence of the generation of existence from non-existence and beingness from death. Because life is not born, it cannot die. Because it does not die it knows no fear. Therefore, it is confident. IDL uses the fearless confidence associated with abdominal inhalation to teach you how wake up into those potentials that want to be born within you, such as assertive action, courage, and the self-assurance that generates emotional responsiveness rather than reactivity.

Chest inhalation is associated with surplus of life energy. You don’t have to inhale from your chest to live, but you do to be fully alive. This surplus of life energy produce more than wakefulness; it provides the energy and  perspective necessary to generate aliveness, growth, service, empathy and selfless compassion.  Because life embraces all things in a way that transcends both love and its opposites, fear and hate, it is compassionate. Because life serves others as well as itself it has the ability to take other perspectives and become empathetic, thereby expanding your sense of self. IDL uses the compassion associated with chest inhalation to support you in service to all others.

The pause between inhalation and exhalation is a balancing between action and peace, activity and receptivity, intention and letting go, male and female, day and night. Because life is an intuitive knowingness that far transcends intelligence, it is wise. IDL uses the wisdom associated with the pause between inhalation and exhalation to teach you how to balance and grow all six of these core qualities.

Chest exhalation is a conscious letting go and an act of acceptance, in that preferences are set aside.  Because life transcends all preferences toward itself and others, it is accepting. IDL uses the acceptance associated with chest exhalation to support you in learning not to take anything personally, because life isn’t about you.

Abdominal exhalation is literally a surrender of yourself into a radical freedom and state of inner peace. Although we normally do not think about it, every time we exhale abdominally we are surrendering all life and entering into a mini-death. This mini-death is a state of both freedom and inner peace because it is the death of all struggle, strife, stress and distress. IDL uses the inner peace associated with abdominal exhalation to support you in moving from distress to eustress.

The pause between exhalation and inhalation is a clear, open, and deathless space of objectivity and witnessing. Because life is objective, it can observe the drama of life as clear witness. IDL uses the witnessing associated with the pause between exhalation and inhalation to support learning to be in the world but not consumed by it.

All six of these qualities are essential and inter-related. No one can say one is more important than another, only that one is more important in particular circumstances than the others. Each is made most effective when it contains the others. Together, these qualities create a synergistic, mutually balancing, description of enlightenment.


Confidence evolves, just like everything else. The confidence of a child and courage of childish adults is naive and foolish because it has not learned to be fearful or ignores common sense. Childish confidence lacks empathy, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing. The confidence of an adult is generally limited by fears of loss of income, social status, and aging. The confidence of maturity recognizes that most fear is based on misperception and therefore only rarely reacts with fear. It sees the fearful but refuses to let fear  take control or steal one’s peace of mind. When you interview emerging potentials in Integral Deep Listening that score higher in confidence than you do and practice becoming them, you experience what it is like to be less fearful without being naive or blind.  You become more confident. To use your breath to increase confidence, focus on your abdominal inhalation whenever you are anxious, worried, or scared.


Empathy is the ability to take the role or perspective of others. As a result, you treat others as you want to be treated because you understand that how you treat them is how you are treating those aspects of yourself that they represent. Because you want to support and do no harm to yourself, you want to support and do no harm to those people, animals and perspectives with which you experience empathy.   The inspirational selfless caring and generosity we observe in some children is not empathetic unless it includes taking the role and perspective of others. This is rare. Consequently, children  generally lack the wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, witnessing, and healthy confidence that require time and experience to grow into. This does not mean children are not whole beings, but it does differentiate among degrees of wholeness, and notes that the wholeness of a seed or sapling is different from the wholeness of a fully-grown tree. Mature empathy resembles the energy of the sun, which is incorporated into the perspective and beingness of all beings, whether good or bad. Energy embodies, enlivens, nurtures and grows whatever perspective it inhabits.This life, light, and energy transcends preferences, cultural expectations, or human emotions.  Empathy possesses an objectivity and a degree of confidence, wisdom, acceptance and inner peace that love often does not. When you become interviewed emerging potentials that score higher in empathy than you do, you experience what it is like to be selfless and altruistic, yet balanced, wise, and objective, which allows selflessness without falling into the role of rescuer in the Drama Triangle. To use your breath to increase empathy, focus on your chest inhalation whenever you feel competitive, threatened, or become demanding.


We all know people who are intelligent but who are not wise.  Wisdom is the ability to be in the right place at the right time in order to say and do that which awakens innate potentials within others and ourselves. Wisdom balances and integrates opposites; it is not afraid of conflict because it knows how to transcend and include all voices and perspectives. Wisdom knows that it requires the other five qualities to flower. When you identify with interviewed emerging potentials that score higher in wisdom than you do you experience a clear knowingness that aligns you with your life compass. The result is that you are much less likely to bend with the preferences of others or the whims of culture and passing circumstances. To use your breath to increase wisdom, focus on the pause between your inhalations and exhalations whenever you feel out of balance – drowsy, tranced out, lost in your thoughts or enmeshed in drama.


Acceptance is not lack of judgment or discrimination. It is not passivity. It is the ability to not take personally what other people say or do. It is the recognition that life isn’t about you.  With acceptance, you no longer need to forgive others or yourself because the perceived wrong never was about you in the first place.  Such radical acceptance does not condone misbehavior or reduce everything to moral relativism; instead, it says that consequences for being out of balance have nothing to do with acceptance.  Non-personalization allows you to assess circumstances with the assistance of the other five qualities, witnessing, confidence, empathy, wisdom, and inner peace. When you become interviewed emerging potentials that score higher in acceptance than you do, you move out of the persecutor role in the Drama Triangle.  You become less self-critical, less worried, and less perfectionistic.  To use your breath to increase acceptance, focus on your chest exhalations. Let go. Use that exhalation to remember that whatever is going on, it’s not about you.

Inner Peace

Like acceptance, real inner peace is far from passive.  The clear blue sky looks peaceful because we do not see the powerful wind currents that surge through it or the constant intermixing of nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and many other types of atoms, which nevertheless do not disturb the tranquility and equanimity of the sky. Nor are we aware of the continuous dynamic interplay of inhalation of sky, air, oxygen, prana and its exhalation by all beings. A childlike inner peace benefits from this dynamic without recognizing its existence. Mature inner peace is enriched by the fullness of confidence, empathy, wisdom, acceptance, and witnessing. It is alive and capable. When you become emerging potentials that score higher than you do in inner peace you let go of stress. You feel safe and supported by a sense of inner harmony, regardless of the insanity that may be occurring in the world around you.  To use your breath to increase inner peace, focus on your abdominal exhalations. Die. Allow yourself to be free!


Witnessing is the ability to stand back and watch the drama of your life go by. This means observing the drama of your feelings and your thoughts, not only when you are alone, but when you are with others; not only when you are awake, but when you are asleep and dreaming. This is much more and considerably different from the witnessing of other selves by your particular sense of who you are, which is the witnessing of childhood and childishness. It is much more and considerably different from the objectivity of science or intellectualism. Witnessing is not world-negating; it is more like a hawk witnessing the life of the planet below while feeling the air beneath its wings and remaining a product of nature and immeshed in it.  Such witnessing is very alive, alert, engaged, and focused. It is clarity, purpose and great freedom. When you become interviewed emerging potentials that score higher than you do in witnessing you let go of drama, old scripts, and sleepwalking your way through life. To use your breath to increase your objectivity, focus on the pause between your exhalations and inhalations. Observe yourself breathing. Observe yourself being you. Observe yourself observing yourself being you.

A goal of students of Integral Deep Listening is to develop these six qualities together and interdependently. This is because they are synergistic – they support each other, just as each one is best understood as the fulfillment of the other five. The evolution of these six core qualities within your life is a functional definition of enlightenment. Life wakes up to itself as these qualities strengthen and amplify your detachment to your current limited, cut off, and painful sense of who you are.

These six core qualities are one of seven octaves of pranayama or breath yoga used by IDL to expand consciousness in meditation and everyday life. For more information, see Dillard, J. Seven Octaves of Enlightenment: Integral Deep Listening Pranayama.

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