Yesterday's visit to a physical therapist netted an intriguing notion: I don't breathe right. Funny, the way I breathe seems to have been working for a few decades. A better way to describe the message may be this: I don't breathe optimally. Okay, now that makes more sense. Like lots of us, I rely on the upper part of my torso for breathing, rather than harnessing all of it, including the part below my diaphram. Doing this imposes stress on my body by denying it the oxygen it needs. It also exacerbates oddities of structure and quirks imposed by repetitive actions and typical responses to stress. End results are not good.
My physical therapist is also my yoga instructor...a great combination. She shares with us physiological explanations of why a position is helpful or why it's so important to be cautious about getting into and out of a certain pose. She's taught me, as have my other yoga teachers, how critical full, controlled breathing is. I've learned that, when I'm stressed out, my breathing is typically shallower than normal, which stresses my body even more by denying cells the oxygen they need.
Yoga has taught me how to use breathing for meditation, for prayer. How to use the focus on something as "thoughtless" as breathing to still the frenetic grasshopper jumping around in the brain. How to breathe my way to the serene.
When I think about breathing, I think a lot about language. I think about the word "inspiration" which, like "respiration," is associated with breath, and of the word "spirit" which is associated in lots of cultures with life force, a society's "breath." I think about the blessing we give each other after a sneeze...a blessing that may stave off the escape of essential spirit. I think of the breathing metaphors, like "a breath of fresh air," and the importance we place on that poetic language.
I also think about those for whom breathing is an ordeal: my nephew and his asthma attacks, a friend's young newphew who was born without the automatic reminder to breathe while asleep, and my uncle who rockets to comfort when he heads for a sea-level condo. I think about my husband near the end of his life, when his respiration rate was nearly three times mine and he fought for every single bit of oxygen he could get.
Breathing. I need to practice. I need to learn to do it right. I need the ongoing infusion of spirit, the in-spiration, to keep me going optimally. Blessings upon the breathing coaches among us!