When you were in your mother’s womb, you didn’t have to do much to ensure your survival. All the nutrients you needed to live and grow were provided to you through the umbilical cord that joined your body to hers. What she ate nourished you. The breaths she took provided you with the oxygen you needed. The waste your body produced was removed by hers.
When you were born, something amazing happened. At the moment you emerged from the womb, you took your first breath. As you opened your lungs and inhaled for the first time, you took oxygen into your body from the outside world for the first time, and began the slow journey of independence from your mother.
With that first breath, your whole circulatory system changed, as it adjusted quickly to getting oxygen from your lungs rather than through the placenta. Your heart changed structure, as the right and left side separated to become two pumps, and the blood vessels that were the circulation system in utero shut down and became ligaments to support your abdominal organs. All this happened in the first inhalation of air into your tiny newborn lungs. Isn’t nature wonderful?
First to last
The very last thing you will do at the other end of the journey that is your life will be to exhale. Assuming that your death is a natural one, rather than a sudden, traumatic death, the final exhalation isn’t as dramatic as the first inhalation. Inhalation requires effort from the body, and there will simply come a time when your body just is no longer able to make that effort. The last exhalation happens and there is no inhalation to follow.
Between the dramatic transformations of the first inhalation, and the quiet ending of the last exhalation is your life. And while the breaths that happen in between might not be as life changing as the first and last, they are all, of course, vitally important.
And how you breathe them can hugely impact your life.
How you breathe is how you live
Breath is the finest gift of nature. Be grateful for this wonderful gift
The breath is vitally connected to our survival. We all know this. We can live for around 4-6 weeks without food. We can survive about a week without water. We will not be healthy in the extremes of these, but we will survive.
We cannot live very long at all without breath.
And yet most of us, while we are generally conscious of eating and drinking, live utterly unaware of our breath. We notice when we have problems with the breath, but we rarely notice when it is working well and getting on with the task in hand.
When you breathe without awareness, you tend to live without awareness.
Stopping to notice the breath is a powerful and effective way to step into the present moment, connect to your body, still your mind and gain mastery over your emotions.
When you learn to control your breath, you learn to control your emotional response to the world. When you form a connection to your breath, and live with greater awareness of it, you can sense your emotional response in your body before your mind is really aware of it. When you learn to take deeper breaths consciously, in time your unconscious breaths become deeper as well. And when you breathe deeper, your whole being is happier and healthier for it.
It is possible, through good breathing, to take the breath beyond a vital tool for survival to one that helps us thrive and grow.
Try it for yourself
I invite you to try this out for yourself, and discover the impact that deep breathing can have.
In this short audio, I guide you through a short practice (just a little over 7 minutes in total) to help to to develop greater awareness of your breath, and to begin to train your mind to focus on your breath. Your mind will not want to focus on your breath, so don’t be surprised if it goes into overdrive with thoughts the second you try to focus on your breath. Please don’t think this means you ‘can’t do it’. It simply means that you are a human being with a normal mind. The purpose of this practice is to notice how much our brains keep us distracted, and to learn to let go of the distractions.
We will explore this in later posts, but for now, discover it for yourself with this short practice
Journey with me into the breath
Over the next few weeks of blogging, I will be guiding you on a journey into your breath. Together we will explore the theory and practice of learning to breathe better, to live better. We will look at how your breath impacts your physical health. How learning to breathe can affect your mental health. How it can help you manage your emotions. How it can lead to a more connected life. We will look at where the breath fits into a Yoga life, and the importance of the breath in your yoga practice. We will look at what the ancient Yogis knew about the breath, and how modern science is catching up to their ancient wisdom.
If you are looking to improve your health, reduce stress, live more fully, slow down time, get better sleep, age well, or improve your life in any way, then learning to breathe well will help you achieve these goals.
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*grateful thanks to Leslie Kaminoff for his beautiful description in his ‘Yoga Anatomy’ book of the impact the first inhalation has. The first time I read it, it made me cry to realise just how magnificent and astonishingly wonderful the human body, and the breath, is.