Why Bother Noticing Your Breath?

 

Why Bother Noticing Your Breath?

In one word, how would you answer this question, “Life is about…?” You might say, life is about eating well. Life is about loving others. Life is about getting out and doing the things you love on a regular basis. I would agree that life is about all those things. But I can answer that question with just one word, breath. Life is about breath because without breath, there is no life.

  Breathing

The act of breathing came naturally to all of us. A few seconds after leaving our mother’s womb, we took our first gulp of air and filled our lungs. Ever since then, we have been breathing automatically and without thinking too much about it. Yet, maybe we need to become a little more conscientious of our breathing, and of the quality of our breath. 

We breathe differently depending on our activity. When swimming, I breathe every third stroke, holding my breath for two. When running, my breath is quite shallow and rapid. Riding my bike on a flat road, my breathing becomes rhythmic, smooth and long, matching my pedal rotations. 

While camping recently, I heard something walking near my tent in the middle of the night. Fear robbed me of taking in any air and I lost my breath completely. But fear is not the only thing that takes our breath away. Sometimes we forget to fill up our lungs. Unconsciously, we may hold our breath. Without thinking, we inhale shallow chest breaths and then wonder why we feel out of breath so much of the time. 

Though we do not have to become yoga masters to master better breathing habits, practicing yoga awakened me to my way of breathing. I was a chest breather. Shallow breathing was all I knew. It kept me alive, but barely. Then, I learned how to breathe differently. It was an expansive experience, one that I continue to practice daily. 

In our culture, we are taught to hold our bellies in, giving the false impression of a flat gut. Belly breathing, on the other hand, discards that false idea. Deep breaths require belly expansion. I cannot hold my gut in while filling up my lungs and torso with air. And since my lungs hold a lot of air, it takes a bit of work to fill them to capacity. But the benefits are worth the effort. 

First of all, filling our lungs with air calms us. Slow deep breaths slow down our thinking as well as our heart rate. Also, since our cells run on oxygen, the more oxygen we send them, the greater the health of our cells. When we switch from chest breathing to belly breathing it can release the unconscious tension we hold in particular spots throughout our bodies. Whether we hold stress in our necks or shoulders or clench our jaw, taking a few deep breaths releases the tautness even if only for a moment or two. Next time you need a spurt of energy to finish a project, don’t reach for the caffeine infused beverage. Instead, take some expansive breaths. Oxygen is a free and natural way of boosting our energy and stamina. And so far, there is no shortage or monopoly on our air supply.

Why bother noticing your breath? It is worth noting how you breathe. Shallow breaths will keep you alive, but deeper breaths will expand your life. 

Why Bother Sharing Grief?

Why Bother Sharing Grief?

Sharing good times is easy. Sharing hard times is not. Yet, I do not think we are meant to carry heavy loads of woe alone. Sorrow, though  personal, is also  universal. None of us make it through this life without bumping up against sadness and loss. We do not get to forgo the inevitable parts of living; such as experiencing grief when loss happens.

Sharing the Load

Sadness makes us feel vulnerable, uncovered, undone and powerless. Recovering exhausts us. Mending from bereavement can be a little bit like rolling a boulder up a hill. It is hard work. Then, just when we think we might be okay, the rock slips out from underneath our hands and rolls back down the slope. And we start again. Yet, since none of us are exempt from grief, we do not need to roll our boulder alone. From my own experiences with pain, I have noticed that those who have lost, as I have, can help me the most, if I let them. They are like a guide who has already tread down the path of adversity, and lived to tell about it. Their season of sadness changed their lives, but their lives did not end because of their sadness. These are the best ones to call upon for a little help. And recently, I was privileged to have someone call me. 

A friend, emotionally depleted and physically spent after a traumatic loss, said to me, “Can you help me to remember how to breathe?” 

We  agreed that yoga could be helpful and set a date to practice some breathing. Unrolling our mats onto my deck one morning, I led my friend through some slow and simple asanas. I reminded her that no matter where we put our bodies in space, our priority was to breathe. She let out an audible sigh. 

We breathed in deep draughts of air while seated in an easy twist. We inhaled the warm summer breeze while lying on our backs with our legs resting against the wall. We permitted our bellies to fill with air while resting in supported bridge pose. In essence, we moved, but more importantly, we breathed.

When we finished, the smile on her face confirmed for me that together, we had moved her boulder a little farther up the slope toward betterment. 

Why bother sharing grief? It is worth it to trust another with the personal load of sorrow. After all, it is universal.