Breath is this thing that happens in us. Involuntarily, our body will ensure it gets the
bare minimum to account for keeping us alive. So in many cases as long as it's working, we pay it no mind. Nor do we wonder if it could be done better.
I write this post as a convert to breathing as a whole body means of healing and wellness. I've studied breath from a performance standpoint for theatre and singing, and waaaaay back when, when I was studying for my yoga certification (holy f$*k fourtneen years ago now), and in the past I have been skeptical with it at best. They (my educators) briefly gave me an explanation, glazing over their method of breathing and why it's important, but more so just because they say it is and I should take their word for it. I've taken issue with breath because of the contradicting nature it had for me across the disciplines of live performance, weight lifting and yoga, the pain it has caused my back under poor instruction, and any real in depth, science backed explanation I hadn't been offered; until the last few years of my life. In some cases when we try to adopt a new type of breathing, it's easy to hold our breath altogether. This, in my mind, made me feel like the greater point of 'getting air' was being missed. I've been told my belly should be loose all the time, I've been told I should maintain some tension in my abdomen, I've been told get more air, breathe less noticeably, breathe through my nose, breathe through my mouth, expand my ribs when I breathe, expand my belly, take short breaths, take long deep breaths, hold my breath. **Sucks in deep gasp of air...**
But like anything that's worthwhile, it was more complicated than a one size fits all answer, and the nuance is where the truth lives.
The more I learn, and the more I work in this field and especially after getting my birthing doula certification, I have a much deeper understanding of all the ways breath impacts every single system in our bodies. From nose breathing to mouth breathing, shallow breathing to deep breathing, short breaths to long breaths, and holding breath or allowing a free flow of breath or having sound with breath; there is a place for it all and the only thing that was truly missing before was the freedom to explore it all, and my educators telling me that their way wasn't the only way.
In addition to being educated on great ways to breathe for different situations, getting to know why we breathe the way we do, is work that is ours. We all carry information from parts of our lives that influences our breathing. Sometimes it was wanting to be smaller than we were so we didn't "breathe loudly" to avoid taking up space. In other cases it was posture related; we wanted to be skinnier so we sucked in our stomach, or not be noticed so we shrunk ourselves via slouching posture, or we armored up ready for the worlds blows, so we stuck our chest out in defiance cutting off our lungs from the back. I know I personally carried shallow breathing forward into my life thanks to good ol anxiety that formed when I was a preteen and my mom was dying; constantly living in a fight or flight state. There are so many implications that the way we breathe carries for our bodies. From how our diaphragm interacts with our organs and muscle tissue, to how our nervous system behaves, to how our cells clean themselves (or don't), and how the pH in our bodies goes up or down; even how we show up in the world.
During a time when the world is at war with a virus that literally takes our breath away, I can't think of a more ideal time to get to know our breath better. Taking it out of the realm of ethereal, woo woo, magic and bringing it back to practicality, to our bodies. Examining how we breathe and why, and playing with different methods of breathing and witnessing the effect it has on our bodies. What does our diaphragm do naturally and how does it feel when we change it? Breathing deeply, shallowly or breathing with intention of making our breath heard. What does it do to the way we interact with the world; to our inner life? If breath is life, then how are we living?