And I love the book, ‘Science of Breath’, because it reminds me of the blessed gift of breath that integrates the different levels of my existence into a functional whole.
Let’s look at the breath then, starting with the ways in which oxygen interacts with the various levels of our being!
Oxygen is our primary food, not carbs, protein or fat. We can live without solid food for months, without water for weeks; but without oxygen, life, as we know it would end in minutes.
Ninety percent of our metabolic energy comes from oxygen, only 10% from food and water. And, without oxygen, the nutrients we consume are useless, because they cannot be converted into a readily usable form. Oxygen is the match that lights the fire in our digestive oven.
Oxygen is also recognized as a neutralizer of biological and environmental toxins. Pathogens are not able to survive in a highly oxygenated organism. Some doctors believe that hypoxia (insufficient oxygen present in tissue) is the cause of all degenerative disease.
Breathing has a very strong and obvious relationship with emotion. Think of the sigh you emit when sad or grieving; how your breath trembles when you’re enraged; or the shortness or termination of breath you experience because of fear or anxiety. Emotion definitely affects our breathing. And conversely, it is possible to affect our physical/emotional health through breath. What do we tell ourselves and others when upset? ‘Take a deep breath’. The breath is the link between the body and mind.
In traditional Chinese medicine, the respiratory system is known as the seat of sentiment; the lungs the organ of grief.
If the mind wants to affect the body, it does so by altering the flow of energy, and the function that has the most fundamental affect on the flow of energy is respiration. Breath is the vehicle for energy. The energizing effects of breath sustain and support all the metabolic processes of the entire body. We are created by and dependent upon the process of breath
Science tells us that the distance between galaxies and heavenly bodies is expanding; that the universe is swelling. After a certain point it is expected that the universe will begin to contract, to pull back again to the point from which it exploded.
Through our breath we experience our unity with the cosmos; breathing in, breathing out; the expansion and contraction of inhalation and exhalation.
I love that image and awareness of being part of the entire universe. How could anyone ever feel alone?
Ways of Breathing
There are three recognizable ways of breathing:
- Diaphragmatic – The diaphragm contracts, drops, allowing the lungs to expand downward and out to ribs. This creates the maximum amount of space in the lungs to take in air. Diaphragmatic breathing is the most efficient way to breath. Babies breathe this way naturally.
- Chest/thoracic – Our breath is more frequent and uses the interosseus muscles between the ribs to move air in and out of our lungs. The lower portion of the lungs is seldom reached. We often breathe this way when highly emotional.
- Paradoxical – This is the least efficient way, long-term, to breathe. When experiencing sudden shock or surprise, we breathe in and out very fast, engaging only the upper portion of our lungs. Try it for awhile. Not only will you not fee comfortable breathing that way, you may notice emotions arise.
As reflexologists, we have the ideal situation in which to monitor our clients’ state of wellbeing by observing their breath. WHAT IS GOING ON IN THE TOTALITY OF A PERSON CAN BE OBSERVED IN THE BREATHING.
As you sit at your clients’ feet or alongside their body working the hands, take a look at their breathing as you begin the session
- Is the breathing rhythmical? Continuous, or does she hold at times? Is it smooth or jerky?
- Does the person appear to be cutting herself or himself off from breathing easily? Might she be feeling emotions?
Track you clients from beginning to end of the session. Share your observations to bring awareness to the client. Our unjudgemental observations are sometimes the greatest gifts we give our clients.
And, if you’re interested in the book I mentioned:
‘Science of Breath’ is written by three men, representing three very different disciplines: Swami Rama, a yoga master examining the breath from a spiritual perspective; Rudolph Ballentine, a psychiatrist whose interest was emotional/mental; and Alan Hymes, a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon recognized as a pioneer in breath research.
Happy breathing, friends!