I’ve been thinking a lot about the breath, about breathing. For whatever reason, not being able to breathe is one of my biggest fears. It’s why I didn’t really learn to swim until a few years ago, (I couldn’t put my face in the water, because I couldn’t BREATHE and was certain I was going to die), and why sometimes when I’m getting a massage and I’m face down, I have a full on panic attack, have to stop the whole process and can only finish if I stay up on my elbows, head raised. This adds a whole other level to my anxiety about COVID-19. I ordered a finger pulse oximeter to keep at home, (if I get sick and think I’m not getting enough oxygen, I can check my levels and I’ll either know I need to go to the hospital or have tangible proof that I am in fact okay), and I’ve been practicing these breathing exercises each night before I go to sleep.
In yoga, we consciously practice with our breath. It is so central to the practice, so essential, it has its own category: Pranayama. “Prana” is our vital, universal life force and “ayama” means to regulate or lengthen. Pranayama is the effort to consciously control our life force. As typically our body is breathing without us paying much attention to it, this practice brings intention to our breathing, brings our full system into balance.
Working with our breath allows us to be fully present. It brings our mind, heart, and body into alignment. Breathing nourishes our body. It also allows us to make space, literally and figuratively, for whatever arises. Consciously breathing can calm our nervous system and at the same time bring necessary support to our physical body, especially in times of stress or illness. There is no life without breath.
I’ve also been thinking about the double meaning of “breathe easy.” In relation to physical health, it’s a good sign when we can breathe easily, when our airways are unobstructed and our respiration is regulated, unlabored. Also, when we are in a calm and confident state, our mind clear and our emotions manageable, we breathe easy. In such a time as this, it seems even more important to be in touch with our breath, to practice soothing, restoring, and energizing ourselves with our breath.
May you and I breathe easy, kind and gentle reader. May we come home to ourselves on each inhale, surrendering what no longer serves us on each exhale. As Joan Halifax (an American Zen Buddhist teacher, anthropologist, ecologist, civil rights activist, hospice caregiver, and the author of several books on Buddhism and spirituality) posted on Facebook this morning:
May I be open to the true nature of life.
May I open to the unknown as I let go of the known.
May I offer gratitude to those around me.
May I be grateful for this life.
May I and all beings live and die peacefully.