I host a women’s new moon circle on Zoom every month and at our last meeting, we had a gratitude ceremony. As we traveled around our virtual circle each naming what we were grateful for, one woman noted that she was thankful for breath. Breath, I thought…so simple, yet so profound.
That was last Monday, and I’m still sitting with this notion. Interestingly, just before I was to open our Zoom circle, my daughter had a mini crisis. She was leaving for the airport to fly back to college when she realized she had lost her driver’s license, most likely at the Red Rocks concert she had attended the night before. There were 15 women popping up one-by-one on my computer screen that I had put on the dining room table where my gratitude altar sat. Said daughter and her father were tearing around this room, loudly and anxiously discussing what to do about the lost license/impending flight. All I could do was take a slow, deep breath and start my meeting. So, when my friend said she was grateful for breath, I wholeheartedly understood her appreciation!
As an intuitive healer and a yoga teacher, I am constantly reminding people to connect their awareness to their breath. Why? Because breath is quite literally life. The word for breath in Sanskrit (yoga’s language) is prana which translates to “vital life force.” We know breath is 100% necessary for life, yet we pay so little attention to it! Instead, we soldier on through our days which almost always include some type of stress, never giving any thought to our life force. When we simply become aware of how we are breathing, which is usually too quickly and shallowly, we have completed Step 1 toward boosting our vitality and creating inner peace.
Step 2 is diaphragmatic breathing, which means slow, deep breaths allowing the belly to fill up like a balloon and then to contract on the exhale. This type of breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system which helps lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, easing our entry into rest and digest mode. Mindful breathing is also said to shrink the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that activates our fight or flight response.
It’s mind-blowing to realize that we are born with the tools to heal ourselves, but then again, why would we not be? We have the ability to use our breath to remove our attention from unproductive thought loops and bring it into the body, where we become aware of what is hurting or what feels “off.” If we direct breath to these areas with the intention of softening, the healing process begins.
I often tell students that their breath is a secret weapon they can use to calm themselves and nobody even has to know! Our “weapon,” can also help us move or change energy in someone else. I used mine to teach a horse how to pick up his back feet without getting scared and kicking me, and of course I regularly use it to help clients move energetic blocks.
“Every breath is a rebirth,” says Kathleen Booker, a breathwork coach who calls herself The Jedi of Calm. I love this concept. Breath is key to my spiritual practice. It’s my breath that gently guides me into stillness where I connect with my spirit guides and angels. My breath is my prayer for expansion, my request for release. Breath is my connector, my reminder of Oneness, another proof that all is energy and there is no separation. I understand this when I walk outside and exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide with the trees. All living things breathe. (Okay, there is one thing that doesn’t, Henneguya salminicola, an 8-millimeter white parasite that infects the flesh of Chinook salmon, but I digress…)
Breath carries my mantras–those phrases I repeat to replace the untrue stories my ego likes to tell me. For example, inhale joy, exhale peace; inhale I am, exhale worthy; inhale love, exhale forgiveness. And here’s my favorite one of all. One I read in a poem called Remembering and Forgetting written by my friend Allan’s wife, Vanessa, who penned it while enduring a debilitating disease that eventually took her life: “I inhale and feel the vibration of grace. I exhale my note of gratitude.” Inhale grace, exhale gratitude. So simple, so profound.