Why Breathe?

Breath is life.

Often our breathing reflects our state of living. When our bodies are in a healthy state breathing is natural, automatic, the body breathes without us thinking about it. We don’t think, “I must take a breath now”. Yet the breath changes depending on our activity, our state of mind or emotions. When we are engaged in a sports activity our breathe can be more laboured. When anxious or worried we can feel choked, like we can’t get our breath.

What if breath was a tool? What if it were more than just an automatic bodily function or an activity ruled by physical exertion, thoughts and emotions?

If our breath reflects our thoughts and emotions, what if we could use our breath to manage our thoughts and emotions? Think about it.

As a child my beautiful daughter would come to me crying. Whether she had hurt her body, her heart was broken by a playmate, or because the robin’s egg had fallen from the nest, she came to me seeking solace, protection, help with her pain. She felt all these pains very deeply, her little body would be racked by sobs, her breath erratic, shallow, heaving, hiccupping. I soon learned there would be no treating the wound, with bandages, hugs, love, or conversation until she could settle down a little, find some calm. Breath was the tool, breath was the key. When she was very small I would gather her in my arms, when she got bigger I knelt in front of her or sat by her side. “Breathe” I would say. “I can’t” she often replied. “Okay, we will do it together, look at Mommy, breathe in, breathe out, just breathe”. It took as long as it took, but usually not very long, once the breathe became even, less shallow in the chest and deeper in the diaphragm, the heaving would stop, the body would calm and then, only then, could we start to deal with whatever the cause was. This practice has served us very well through the tumultuous teenage years to today when she calls, upset and hurt, we always start with, “okay sweetie, let’s take a breath, stop for a moment and breathe, breathe in, breathe out, just focus on breathing” until we can talk. The conversation usually ends with “thanks Mom, I can do it on my own, but it’s so much nicer when you do it with me”. Breath is the tool. Sometimes we can do it on our own. Sometimes we need a little help, guidance, a supportive safe space in which to breathe.

Breath can be a release. Anyone who knows me or works with me knows that I am a big believer in “the sigh” and I have learned to explain to folks not to be concerned by my sighs or take them personally. I find great release, relief in the long and sometimes a little louder than the “socially acceptable norm” expulsion of breath. It relieves my tension, it is a conscious act of letting go.

In yoga breathwork and working with the breath is part of the practice. As we practice various postures we learn to breathe into the posture to help our bodies lean into the pose. Breathwork, or pranayama is also a practice on its own. “Pranayama is control of breath”. “Prana” is breath or vital energy in the body. On subtle levels prana represents the pranic energy responsible for life or life force, and “ayama” means control. So Pranayama is “Control of Breath”.

When we can’t “catch our breath” or when breathing is impeded by illness we are frightened by the thought that we can’t breathe. Understanding our breath can be a really important tool in dealing with these thoughts.

Life threatening diseases often impact the breath. Breathing changes during the dying process. Not understanding these changes can cause observing or witnessing them in a loved one to be extremely upsetting.

Learning about breathing, exploring our breath, being able to breath into different areas of our body, being conscious about and aware of our breath can change the way we live, the way we die, the way we witness death in others and the way we experience and integrate our grief into living.

Breath is life.