What a wealth of meaning is associated with this idea. It’s a function that’s vitally important to the health & perpetuation of our human bodies & spirits. “Without breath there is no life” per Johann Kotzee. It’s the very first thing we do as we come into the world & the very last as we pass on to the everlasting. In Hebrew, Rûaħ or ruach means “breath or spirit,” while the ancient Greek word Pneuma meant “breath” as well as “soul or spirit” in a religious context. So it’s a big word that does a lot of things.
The work of the lungs actually encompasses the whole torso & we can feel deep breaths all the way down to our toes. We typically take 16-17 breaths per minute which is increased for infants & when we’re excited or stressed, & decreased during sleep or meditation. Our breathing becomes very shallow when anxious or frightened, and we tend to not use our full lung capacity most of the time. The quality of our breathing determines whether it’s pleasurable or not. Alexandra Lowen said that it “supports the fires of life.” Just look at the intricacies pictured above - the image reminds me of a tree wizard with great power and wisdom.
I tell my clients often that breathing is the one thing that we “have to” do, all other things are choices – even whether to eat or go to work. We can’t self-suffocate – if we try to hold our breath too long we’ll pass out & our bodies take over as it's an automatic function. However, there are times for some when simply being able to get a breath is a struggle. Whether it's from a lung disease or from feeling incredibly panicked or afraid. I am one of those in the former category, though I have certainly had moments of the latter as well. In either case it's not a fun ride.
I suffer from a condition called Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis (HP) which is an immunological response to a specific toxin, in my case, mold & animal debris, & causes pneumonia like symptoms. It took a year to be diagnosed the first time I had a “flare up.” I just recently had a second one that required a week long hospital stay and has left me on supplemental oxygen for a time while my lungs heal. It’s literally like being on leash, whether I’m carrying a portable tank or on a concentrator, because of the hose attached to the cannula in my nose. Yet I’m so grateful to have it because when I couldn’t get my breath it was very scary, panicky even. And because I didn’t recognize I’d been exposed to additional toxins, I started getting sick very gradually at first - & then it hit like a freight train. In putting the pieces together on what stared to feel bad first, I remembered that my blood pressure had begun to rise drastically. Now that I’m getting enough oxygen, my blood pressure has returned to normal. So I am definitely getting better and feel so thankful.
So, when we breathe, it’s a chance to not only take in air – but to take in the moment. To be truly aware of the breath that flows through our bodies. There have been tons of “Just Breathe” slogans for songs & yoga studios & books & movies. Yet it’s something we so often take for granted. I invite you to really get into your next breath – we never know where it can take us.