It is what starts life, just like the final expiration ends life. Both, if done as Mother Nature intended, a sacred moment of silence and stillness, before starting a new phase: life, or death.
Our breath connects everything. As Thich Nhat Hahn so beautifully describes: “Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts.”
Most cultures and religions are aware of the importance of the breath, reflected in the words used to describe it. The Latin word for breath is ‘Spiritus’, the Chinese ‘Qi’ can be translated as life force, as does ‘Prana’, the word used by the Hindu culture. The Greek ‘Pneuma’ can be translated both as breath and spirit, or soul.
All these cultures have in common the understanding that the breath is a whole lot more than simply the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. It is interpreted as the bridge between the tangible and intangible, the connection between the physical and metaphysical, the life force. It allows us to stay in touch with where we came from and where we will return one day.
Our breath intimately connects us to Mother Nature. The natural rhythm of your breath is mirrored by the natural rhythm of the breath of Mother Nature. For obvious reasons the forests of our Earth are called ‘the lungs of the planet’. Your breath depends on the Forests, and the Forests breath relies on yours.
Inspiration, apart from bringing oxygen into our body, can also be interpreted as the taking in of life, the receiving of creative energy, whereas the exhale can be linked to letting go and accepting of what is no longer required.
When our posture is poor, or our large belly pushes our diaphragm upwards, or we suffer allergies or asthma, if we snore, or suffer from sleep apnea, we are impaired in taking the breath correctly, and bringing that life force into our bodies. The flow and rhythm of our breath is affected and can be labored at times.
When we are stressed, sad, anxious, angry, or otherwise emotionally tense, we tend to lock our breath, stopping that rhythmic flow of inspiration and expiration. We can take on a shallow breathing pattern, partially obstructing the natural flow of air going deep into the lungs, to be able to be absorbed into the blood. In doing so, we also stop that all-important expiration phase, connected to our mental and emotional letting go, our acceptance of what is. Instead, we keep fighting it.
This is where breathing can be used as a holistic tool for wellbeing. When you understand that breathing is so much more than the simple exchange of gases, when you can grasp that the breath connects you to your emotions, your thoughts, and your environment in the most profound way, like all these ancient cultures have done before us, you can also see that you will be able to positively affect all levels of your health, simply by starting your awareness to your breathing habits. “When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace” (author unknown).
Wherever you are, reading this on a screen of some description, become aware of your posture, become aware of your lungs, become aware of your feelings, become aware of your surroundings. Eye up the closest tree, then lift your nose and hands skyward and take a breath, Inspire Yourself.
This article was written by Annemarie Wissema