Friday, August 28, 2009

The Breath of Life: Part 1 of 2

Once upon a time, for a very short period of time, you were alive without breath. When you were born there was a period of seconds, maybe even a minute, where you were in transition between an aqueous and an airborne state. Either peacefully on your own, or with some intense stimulation, you inhaled your very first breath. The air inflated your infant lungs like a sheet in the wind. Still high from the post-delivery adrenaline rush, you put forth your first vociferous cry: “Here (or hear) I am. “

Your parents and everyone in the delivery room were nervous or even fearful that your little blue self might not turn pink. Instead of calm, anticipation, the moment that your lungs inflated might well have been a moment of fear for your parents, which may have lead to careful monitoring of you in your crib and benign checks to make sure you were still breathing. It is interesting to consider what if any impressions you may have of your first breath, what stories you may have been told about it, and what emotions even reading or thinking about it calls up.

For most of us breath is not something we think about and when we do it can conjure funny feelings that may relate back to our first breath. Comments like “I don’t know how to breathe” or “I can’t breathe” or “I’m not sure if I’m doing it right” suggest that the intensity around our first attempt to oxygenate stays with us and informs our relationship to our life force or what the yogi’s call “prana.”

Practice Opportunity 1: Breath Awareness
Take a moment now to observe your breath. Probably reading those words produced a shift in your inhalations and exhalations to suit your image of what good breathing feels like, so see if you can go back to your regular breath. Notice where you feel movement in the body and where you feel stillness. Observe whether your breath feels easy or labored, deep or shallow, relaxed or tense. This is your normal breathing climate which acts like your personal weather channel, reporting on a second to second basis what it’s like in the emotional/physical/spiritual biosphere of your body. What did you find?

Practice Opportunity 2: Deep-Three Part Breath
Now lie down on the floor on your back. You may want a bit of cushioning under your head to promote relaxation or under your knees if your low back is tender. Let the breath roll in more deeply and feel the movement of your body in relationship to the floor. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest and continue to breathe. Notice if you are able to feel movement in both locations. Now imagine that the breath is like water and your body is like a pitcher. As you inhale, fill the pitcher from the bottom to the top inflating your belly first and then your ribs feeling a lift all the way up to the collarbones. As you exhale, empty from the top down, softening the collarbones, releasing the ribs, and gently drawing in the belly. Continue to breathe like this for a few minutes and then relax back into your normal breath.

Three-part breath cultivates awareness of how much of the body is consumed by the breathing process. When our breath is free and easy we can feel wavelike oscillations all the way to the toes. Our mind becomes calmer, and our lungs begin to inflate more fully.

Practice Opportunity 3: Pelvic Tilt with Breath Awareness
• Lie on the floor once and again and begin the Pelvic Tilt exercise you learned in the first installation of this series.
• As you inhale, arch the back creating more space below the low back. You will feel expansion throughout the torso.
• As you exhale, flatten the back. You will feel the ribs soften and the low belly muscles contract. See if you can contract the muscles inside the body (pelvic floor muscles) and along the line of your pubic bone without restricting the area at the base of your ribs or at your waistline.
• Observe the feeling of low belly contraction when you are not clenching the diaphragm area below the ribs.

Take this week to practice these three exercises and begin to make observations about your breath in daily life. I purposely chose not to talk about the mechanics of breathing just yet because I want you to rejoice in your experience. If you are around children or pets, notice how breath overtakes their body and how the quality of their breathing shifts depending on their emotions and environment. Open yourself up to rewriting the story of your first breath, shifting from anticipation to exhilaration and see what that does to your state of mind.

Next week, we’ll take a look at the mechanics of breathing and how that relates to core support.

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