We are constantly breathing. It is something that we do subconsciously, autonomously, in order to survive.
When was the last time you took control of it, or even noticed your breath?
Have you ever forgotten you were even breathing?
Last summer I was driving to my chiropractor, that I was going to help combat concussion symptoms of 6 months, and was on a very busy freeway. I hated driving at the time, It was hard for me to concentrate on the road and I would constantly see black smudges in my peripheral vision that I would perceive as oncoming traffic.
I was trying to keep my awareness on the semi trucks around me that caused anxiety, when I forgot how to breathe.
I obviously know how to breathe and began to take deep breaths in and out, but I had to think about it.
Then I began to worry that I have never had to think about breathing “normally” before and was wondering what part of my anatomy was failing now.
I had forgotten how to breath subconsciously and I was having a panic attack.
After a few more bizarre Pineapple Express thoughts, I remembered what my chiropractor taught me the week before: box breathing.
Box Breathing is a pattern of breathing and breathing holds that have scientific evidence to relieve stress that she thought might help relieve some of my symptoms.
After 5 cycles my mind was calm, I wasn’t worried about my lungs failing and I was able to again breathe “normally”, autonomously and yet beautifully aware.
That was my latest lesson in the power of breath. It can psychologically and also physically help you as well.
It is a powerful tool to combat anxiety, stress and depression. Since, I have used my breath daily to combat headaches, anxiety, depression, and fatigue all originating from an injury to my brain.
My First Lesson in Breath : Control
I began swimming when I was 5 years old, and then competitively for over 10 years. Any swimmer can tell you the importance of controlling your breath. The 1/10th of a second it takes for you to breathe can take you from 1st to last place.
You learn the adaptability of the lungs, that they are a muscle that can be strengthened and trained like anything else. You are intimately aware of the burning sensation, the gulps of nothingness when you are out of breath and know that you still have another lap, or a few strokes until you are truly out.
As a swimmer I learned that my breath was powerful, that a quick sip of air had to last me a full lap or at least as many strokes as I could, so I learned to make those breaths strong. I learned at a young age the athletic ability of breathing. To master and control my breath and to use it to physically endure and push limits was my first awareness of this subconscious ability.
My Second Lesson in Breath: Diving and Magic
My love of all things water led me to college in Hawaii where I learned my two next lessons of breathing.
- At our opening La’au, they told the meaning of Aloha which directly translates to the “presence of breath” and Ha as the “breath of life”. In island culture, the breath is the essence of the soul. This La’au would forever stick with me and the deep meaning of it would later change my life.
- I instantly fell in love with diving from the first breath I took underwater. To me it was magic. I had learned all my life to control my breath, to force it in the water and here I was able to feel the true potential of my breath.
The number one rule in diving is to constantly breathe, for it is extremely dangerous if you don’t. You also learn again that your breath is a tool, the greatest buoyancy tool there ever was.
With the correct buoyancy control, you are perfectly weightless underwater, and your breath will make fine minute changes to your level in the water.
My ultimate favorite thing to do on a dive is to sit in the middle of the water column hovering and to breathe. To let my breath lift me up and sink me back down all while remaining perfectly still.
It is again controlling my breath but also marveling at its ability to make me feel as if I am flying.
In a way, this practice led me directly to becoming a yoga instructor.
My meditation practice was and is underwater. Noticing the breath and its relationship to one’s body is the essence of yoga. At the time, my breath’s relationship to my body was on a very physical level. Its ability to make me fast in swimming or fly in diving.
Yet yoga began to teach me the mental connection of breath.
My Third Lesson in Breath: Breathing in the Moment
I was on a precipice of a change in my life. I had no idea where or what I was going to end up doing but had felt that my time in Florida where I moved after college and diving was changing.
I was in a yoga class, a free trial class I took while visiting home, and again I felt it.
The connection of my breath and body, as if I was hovering 100 ft underwater surrounded by crystal clear blue water, my fretting over the future slowed and I was in the moment.
I needed more of that feeling, and I wanted to learn how to be in the present moment constantly.
So I signed up for yoga teacher training and moved back to California.
I can be impulsive, but I was led by a desire to breathe in the moment.
I learned so much about the breath in yoga, calling it, moving with it, different pranayamas for anxiety, stress and to cultivate presence. Yet what I learned the most was the transcendence of breath to connect us to yourself.
Breath is the bridge between body and mind, between soul and physicality. I learned and felt for myself the truth that the Hawaiians honor.
The breath of life, the essence of the soul.
Now we come full circle to the healing ability of the breath.
Whatever aspect in my life breathing has shown up for me, from mentally, physically, emotionally or spiritually I have grown in awe of this gift that we have.
We are born capable of breathing, of being able to autonomously sustain life. Yet, is the notion that our lungs work subconsciously enough?
At times we must gain control, at times we feel its magic, and other times, we should simply draw awareness to experience it, moment by moment.
Take 5 mins. To notice and honor your breath. Perhaps even deepen your breathing, and instantly notice the difference.
It is Magic.
It is simple.
It is breath.
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