There is one very familiar way of breathing for every Filipino under distress. It is a kind or form of Sacred breath that begins with a very deep inhale in the nostrils followed by a forceful exhale through the mouth. It is called buntung-hininga. A huge amount of breath is being released, both a literal and symbolic way of releasing troublesome physical, emotional and mental burden. Personally, whenever I do this, I feel good right after. Lightness comes and my mind eases up. Amidst problems and my lost of control over them, I experience a different kind of serenity. I’m pretty sure that this is not just my experience. Filipinos, and perhaps other peoples of the world, have done buntung-hininga, a deep sigh in one way at some difficult point in their lives. This deep breath seems to bring some instant perceptive order in one’s chaotic mind.
Buntung-hininga is a compound word made of two root words: bunton which means “heap” or “accumulation”; and hininga which means “breath”. Obviously, as we sigh, there is a big, accumulated heap of breath being inhaled and exhaled. It’s a forceful breathing out of all inner perturbations. I mentioned that buntung-hininga is a literal release because as we feel the build up of some physical heaviness in our chest, there is a need to unload it. As we breathe out, it frees us from that heap of burden that seems to lodge on our lungs.
Interestingly, buntung-hininga is profoundly symbolic, too. The forceful exhale sounds “ah”. This sound is universally sacred. Dr. Wayne Dyer, in his book Getting in the Gap: Making Conscious Contact with God Through Meditation, says that this “ah” sound is found as a syllable in the divine names of God. “We find ah in Allah, Krishna, Jehovah, and Ra.” In addition to Dr. Dyer’s insight, “ah” is found in Yahweh (the unspeakable name of God in the Old Testament), and Yeshua (the Aramaic name of Jesus Christ). It is also found in Brahma and Buddha. This sound, too, is also defined in the spirituality of my heritage. Ancient Filipinos call God Bathala. Today, we say bahala na, a phrase that came from Bathala na, refers to how we do what we can do and then entrust everything to God. Also, the sacred sound is found in the word ginhawa, a Tagalog word for “ease” has another meaning in a regional Filipino language Hiligaynon: “breath”. The sound “ah” is audibly present in these sacred names and words. This symbolic sound is not just a release of deep breath, but an acknowledgement of the great presence beyond our egoic capacities. Buntung-hininga is a surrender to the Divine, an entrustment of something beyond our control.
If we do buntung-hininga as a continuous habit, this deep Sacred Breath need not to be a temporary relief, but a natural source of experiencing Love.
Also, in the ancient Filipino writing system called baybayin, the vowel sound “a” (related to “ah”) is the only sound that stands alone (compared to interchangeable sound pairs “e” and “i” and “o” and “u”). I remember an insightful explanation I heard from a Filipino inventor and researcher Boni Commandante. He said that the vowel sound “a” stands alone because it is preceded by an inhale from the nostrils. Therefore, vowel “a” is presumably an exhale, a hininga.
Buntung-hininga might be just a limited Filipino term, although this deep Sacred Breath is more than just a term. It is a universal breathing experience that transpires from what is labeled as human to that which is discerned as divine. We inhale and exhale this unseen essential power of life, which always makes us alive. As we face our overwhelming challenges, we seem to automatically breathe with both deep inhale and exhale, and we are being reminded that there is Sacred Breath that leads us to transcend the conditioned and feel the unconditioned.
Buntung-hininga is a free and priceless breathing tool, a Sacred Breath in its utmost simplicity and extraordinariness. Problems and difficulties arise in our lives. We do buntung-hininga to let go, detach and allow the course of the Universe. But while it is often done as a response to problems, is there any way that a buntung-hininga can be done regularly? I feel that the Sacred Breath itself has always sparked us to remember it by a gentle force, and thus reminds us to breathe again with full awareness.
Our buntung-hininga makes us aware of this divine presence of Love amidst all crises. It is a benevolent, quiet alarm that puts us into a mode of remembering. If we do buntung-hininga as a continuous habit, this deep Sacred Breath need not to be a temporary relief, but a natural source of experiencing Love.