“Breathing is one of the simplest things in the world. We breathe in, we breathe out. When we breathe with real freedom, we neither grasp for or hold on to the breath. No effort is required to pull the breath in or to push the breath out. Given the simplicity of breathing one would think it was the easiest thing to do in the world. However, if it were truly so easy there would be few unhappy or unhealthy people in the world. To become a welcome vessel for the breath is to live life without trying to control, grasp, or push away. And how easy is this? The process of breathing is the most accurate metaphor we have for the way that we personally approach life, how we live our lives, and how we react to the inevitable changes that life brings us.”
– Donna Farhi, The Breathing Book, pg 5
Did you know that from birth at the first breath, you take approximately 7,000 breaths each day which over a lifetime totals about 500 million breaths. In your final moments you exhale for the last time and the breath defines that moment. What will we do with these approximately 500 million opportunities in a lifetime to live our life fully?
There is a wise Chinese proverb that states, “Life is in the breath. One who half breathes, half lives.”
We all are breathing in some fashion, even when we are not aware of our breath, but the normal patterns of breathing are usually shallow, restricted and contain many holding patterns. These reflect deep imbalances in our systems. When our breathing patterns are weak, we may have low energy and find ourselves easily fatigued and more emotionally stressed. When our breathing patterns are deep and strong, we have increased endurance, stamina, and a sense of well being.
Sometimes we can have difficulty with our breathing because of physiological processes that we have set in motion by the way we have treated our bodies over the years, or we can have emotional holding patterns that literally have us “stop breathing” or “hold our breath”. Sometimes it is both of these things intimately connected that contribute to our not breathing – not living – as fully as we are meant to.
Last week I came in contact with a woman who has been a smoker in her life. She arrived at our clinic with a fairly severe upper respiratory challenge. There is a special machine called an oximeter that measures the amount of oxygen traveling throughout the system in any given moment. Normally people will record between 97-100%. This woman was at 84% – way below the accepted level for a healthy system. Her acute symptoms were addressed at this visit, yet there was an underlying process that was going on within her.
She was terrified that she might die the same way her adult son had just a year before from the new strain of flu going around – in his case causing bronchial pneumonia. She was still in grief around that death. At her next visit this week she remained with low oxygen saturation levels and even after a test walk to get her coughing to bring this level back up, as had happened last week, her levels did not come back up. Instructed to put oxygen on her, I was readying the mask and tank with my back to her – and then I turned around. The fear that was in her face and body hit me strongly from across the room.
Putting the mask down I walked over to her, put my hands on her shoulders, looked in her eyes and said to her “relax into your breath”. In that moment of contact and connection I saw the fear lessen and she started relaxing her entire body while thinking the thoughts that she could breathe freely and easily. Being still connected to the oximetry machine we watched as her 02 levels steadily climbed to 92% – an acceptable level to allow her to leave the office without oxygen according to protocol. We talked about “biofeedback” and the power each of us has to shift our biological processes by our direct attention and focus. For her it was enough to shift out of the pattern and is a powerful beginning to her opening to her life force if she so chooses.
Yes, this woman has diminished her lung capacity by her history of smoking and may even have emphysema. But, she also has a very strong emotional response to her breathing challenges and in fact said to me that the stresses in her life had her “not breathing”, or in some instances “not wanting to breathe”. What a gift for her to know that if she choses to live fully that she has the power to change her patterns of breathing by relaxing into her breath – into her life – and finding more ease where before there was none or very little. This may be an on going challenge for her, but I believe in the power of the human body to regenerate, rebuild, and redirect into the harmony of balanced health that is the human bodies built in blueprint and directive.
As Donna Farhi says in the quote above – take a look at how we approach and live our lives, and how we react to the inevitable changes that life brings.
Watch your breath…. it is a wise teacher.
Gaye Abbott, RYT