Breathing. Everybody does it. Lots of people study it, write about it, practice it. I did a search on Amazon for “breath science” and got 1,071 results: books on anatomy and physiology of breathing, Hindu-Yogi Science Of Breath, and the Oriental Breathing Philosophy. And that was just on the first page. Yogis do it: breath work (Pranayama) is one of the eight limbs of yogic practice. Meditators have used breath as an anchor for thousands of years.
If you’re looking for an expert on breath, I’m not your gal. I do use breath every day, and I don’t know all there is to know. I do know that breath nourishes me. Breath cleanses me. And breath gives me space, a pause. Breath buys me time. Being aware of my breath is a huge help to me on a day-to-day basis.
As a movement teacher, I’m aware of the importance of breath for the physical body. When I took traditional aerobics classes, I only remember the instructor mentioning the breath at the very beginning and the very end of the class. Now that I teach classes myself, it’s actually in the heart of the class that I really want my students to be paying attention to their breathing. If their breathing gets rapid, shallow or ragged, this is the body’s way of telling us to slow down movement until breath is deep and even. Full breaths nourish the body, so the more deep ones we take, especially when moving, the easier on the body.
Of course, breath both brings nourishment to the cells and releases waste from the cells. Full exhalations are just as important to cleanse and clear the body. My experience is that a long, full exhalation also clears my mind. I notice that if I slightly contract the back of my throat as I exhale (what you’d do when you breathe on your sunglasses to clean them off), my exhale can be extended longer, and the “ocean sound” from the restricted breath drowns out my thoughts. Yogis call this the Ujjayi or ocean breath. If you go to a Vinyasa or Astanga class, you are likely to hear a whole chorus of Ujjayi through every pose. I definitely use the ocean breath in yoga, and whenever I sit in meditation when my thoughts start getting loud and jangly. Yogis find that the Ujjayi breath gives more power and focus to their practice, and I experience that, too. But the most helpful thing a long ocean exhale does is clear out the inside of my head.
Finally, breath gives me a pause. Breathing buys me time. Especially in tense situations, I remind myself not to speak before taking a full breath first. I remember a particularly difficult conversation in a particularly difficult relationship when I used this practice. The other person would launch into their complaint with me, and I took a deep breath, ready to respond the best I could. And before I could fully exhale, she was talking again and telling me about how cross she was about this or that. I would take another deep breath, ready to answer her, and again she was talking before I was finished breathing. This was such an instructive conversation for me. Sometimes, people just need to say what they need to say.
This week, really notice your breath as it nourishes your body, cleanses your mind and buys you time. I know I can use this any day, but especially in the height of the holiday season. Breathe in. Breathe out. Be well. And leave a comment below!
NOTE: Upcoming classes at ACAC! Tomorrow, Saturday, Dec 22, I’ll be teaching a spirited playlist at Albemarle Square at 945am. Next week, I’m with my family on Monday and Wednesday (Elizabeth Britt will be teaching my classes at Albemarle Square). Thursday, Dec 27, 9am Downtown, I’ll offer the meditative ChakraDancer routine and Friday, Dec 28, 9am Downtown, I’ll teach Firedance. Welcome 2013!