A Gift of Peace

My eighty-nine year old mother had been battling multiple myeloma for two and a half years. This is a rather rare form of bone marrow cancer that affects the production of blood cells, ultimately deteriorating the bones. She had gone through successive chemo and radiation treatments which had bought her time; time enough to get to know her second great grandchild, meet her grandson’s lovely new bride, and even go on a cruise to Mexico with the support of her family.

In the last six months her frail body was getting tired of the fight and the quality of her life began to deteriorate. The medications, rather than helping her, caused side effects that were worse than the disease. She weakened drastically.

I live in Charleston, SC and had just flown in to LA to visit, when I discovered she had fallen. She was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance and delivered to the ICU. Her kidneys were failing and we were told that she had a very short time to live.

Our family had arrived from all over the country to attend my nephew’s wedding the next day. Our emotions were on a roller coaster as we prepared for a wedding and a funeral at the same time. Surprisingly, my mother rallied during the next few days and was lucid enough to be able to visit with all the members of her family. Everyone treasured this stolen time.

After a week in the hospital, she was released to hospice care and we were able to bring her home, which was her ardent desire. My sister and I, her only two children, proceeded to sit with her throughout the next days. We had arranged for twenty four hour home care, and we were blessed with a team of wonderful, loving caregivers.

My mother knew that she had come home to die. We said to her all the things that hospice recommends, thanked her for being such a wonderful mother, assured her that we were okay. When I said to her, “Mama, it’s okay to let go,” she responded, “I’m trying, but I can’t.”

I related that to my daughter that night, and it prompted her to go searching on the internet for some Yoga resources that might provide guidance. We are both Yoga teachers and so it has always been natural to look for help from that world. What she found was Living/Dying Project and under Meditation and Relaxation Exercises, the “Ah” Breath was described.

The intention of this meditation is to assist someone in their passing on. By matching your inhalation with theirs, and then saying, “Ah”, on their exhalation, the sound will help to open their heart center. It’s through this passage that the dying can finally find their peace. The concept made perfect sense to us since Yoga teaches us about the energy centers in the body, and we both knew the power of the heart chakra, the fourth energy center in the body.

The next morning my sister and I arrived at my mother’s home, and I immediately prepared to conduct the meditation. I sat next to her bed, without touching her as was advised, and explained what I was going to do. She was sleeping at the time and did not acknowledge my presence. I mentioned the different parts of her body and suggested that she relax them, as I have done thousands of times in my Yoga classes. Then I started to match my breath with hers. Her inhalation was very shallow because her lungs had almost filled completely with fluid and it was difficult for her to breathe. I sat with my eyes closed and continued to say “Ah” on her exhalation, which was short as well. I went into a deep meditative state, only aware of her breath and the sound I was making. After close to an hour I began to feel like my heart was bursting inside me. The sound of my heartbeat reverberated throughout my whole body, and I had to open my eyes to watch her breathe since I could no longer hear her.

At the same time, my mother opened her eyes and gazed off into the distance. She moved her hands towards her heart and then her exhalations became long and slow. I matched her breath with a long “Ahhhh.” We breathed five or six more times in this peaceful manner and then she closed her eyes and passed on.

My sister had been sitting in another room, but came to our mother’s bedside when she heard the marked difference in our breathing. I was so grateful that she did because we were able to be together to marvel at this wondrous event. It was through the opening of our combined hearts that our mother was able to pass on.

The physical effect on me afterwards was extraordinary. I felt a pain in my chest that lingered for quite some time as I tried to fill my lungs fully once again. I felt like I had just completed a marathon. I was exhausted. Then the overwhelming emotions took hold.

The “Ah” Breath was such a gift because it replaced our feelings of helplessness in the face of death with hope for a peaceful passing. My own heart is now filled with both sorrow at the loss of my mother, and with peace and joy.

By Laurie Clarke

The “Ah” Breath Relaxation Exercise

This is a deep relaxation technique that one person does for another person (i.e. the caregiver for the patient). If the patient has a cardiac or other condition that could possibly make sudden relaxation dangerous, don’t do this exercise.

The Exercise:

*The person being relaxed is called the receiver and the person doing the exercise is called the giver.

The receiver is arranged so that his or her breathing is visible (chest/ abdomen) to the giver. The giver describes to the receiver what they are going to do – “this is a relaxation exercise your only job is to shut your eyes and listen to the “Ah” sounds I’m going to make.”

Giver: quiet your own mind. Tell the receiver to relax their body (with a soft voice mention each body part that the receiver should relax). When you are ready, watch the breathing of the receiver. Begin to softly say “Ah” with each out breath of the receiver. The exercise is this simple. The giver should continue the exercise for at least 20 minutes and up to an hour. The giver does not touch the receiver during the exercise.

The “Ah” is the sound of the open heart and of letting go. Don’t be concerned if the receiver has an emotional release. More likely than often the receiver will go into a deep relaxation (their breathing may slow down dramatically). If the breathing slows the “Ah” doesn’t have to last as long as the out breath. Once you do this exercise for the full 20-60 minutes than you can use it for shorter periods if the person is getting anxious. Do a few “Ah” breaths for short periods to ease temporary anxiety.

The deeper purpose of this is that the “Ah” breath exercise is training for the deeper letting go into death itself. As death is approaching it can be done to ease the transition out of the body.

© Living/Dying project 2002