Breath is life. Breath is so important to life that cultures around the world apply the same word for breath as they do to life. The Hebrew word rauch means breath and spirit. Latin spiritus is the same word used for breath and spirit. Similarly, in Latin animus is the word interchangeably used for breath, life, spirit, air, soul and mind. In the Hawaiian Islands, breath or ha, meaning breath of life, is so important it is a major component of the language. Hawaii means ha - breath of life, wai - fresh water and I - supreme god or original consciousness. Aloha - I great you with my breath. Mahola - I thank you with my breath. Hauli describes the non-natives as without breath. The Sanskrit word for breath is prana, meaning life force. In yoga, when we talk about breath practices, we call these breath practices pranayama, from prana - breath, yama - control of, meaning the control of the breath or the life force.
We have forgotten how to breathe. Since we don't have to think to breathe, we mistakenly believe we are breathing enough to remain healthy. Unfortunately, the constant inhibition of breathing due to chronic life stressors is leading to all sorts of stress related physical and psychological illnesses in adults and in children. Despite breath being automatic, we have forgotten how to breathe. The good news is that we can retrain ourselves to have conscious breath practices that have profound positive impacts on our bodies and minds.
Under breathing reeks havoc on the body and mind. Recall for a moment the physiological and psychological impact of breath on the body. Breathing is part of the process of taking in oxygen, and through a complex relationship between the respiratory system and the circulatory system, relaying the oxygen and other nutrients to the cells of the body. After the cells take in the nutrients, carbon dioxide waste is returned through that same complex system to be released out of the body through the breath. Lack of oxygen leads to death. A shortage of oxygen triggers a process that eventually leads to breathing faster to get more oxygen. Chronic under breathing leads to chronic shortening of the breath, shallow breathing, breathing faster, all of which induce a stress response in the body. The stress response is the fight or flight response in the body. Physically this results in: faster heart beat and breathing, inhibition of digestion, constriction of blood vessels in parts of the body and dilation in others, inhibition of erection, loss of hearing and tunnel vision, to name a few. If these physical response are chronic, you can imagine the wear and tear on the body, leading to the various stress related illnesses we have, such as heart disease, digestive problems, sexual dysfunction, tension headaches, poor concentration, sleep disorders, and fatigue, just to name a few. Psychologically, a chronic stress response leads to a constant state of anxiety, worry, overactive thinking, irritability, emotional exhaustion, poor impulse control and decision making ability, confusion and forgetfulness.
Learning to breathe correctly can change your life. Dr. Andrew Weil, a well known medical doctor who integrates western and eastern medicine, uses breathwork as his number one prescription for all stress related illnesses, physical and emotional. Deepening the breath in the body can aid in the healing process, reduce physical and emotional tension, foster a sense of peace, wellbeing and calm, allow clear thinking and decision making to emerge, rejuvenate and reenergize, bring relaxation, improve sports and academic performance and stabilize emotions. That's pretty powerful stuff. So the message for today is REMEMBER TO BREATHE!