Breathing, it’s the first sign of life when we enter the physical world. The pulling in of air and exchanging it for a scream, that sense based reaction to the sudden shocking change in our surroundings and signaling to those present that we are alive, another being to add to the species. A celebration. From this point on, breathing is one of the autonomic functions of our medulla oblongata that will keep us alive without conscious thought until we pass away.
In most wellness and relaxation practices, a session’s beginning and end points revolve around the breath, making it a conscious action of pulling in, filling up, emptying completely, and pausing for moments to acknowledge the points of peak fullness and emptiness. It’s a method of using our lungs to define the space we occupy. Through the conscious filling, we can locate the edges of our rib cages, the width of our diaphragms, how our organs move to accommodate the air, and even the rigidness of our spine, the steadfast infrastructure protecting our neural superhighways in flexible cages of collagen and calcium.
I like using these exercises not to free my mind of thoughts or focus so completely that my lungs start to burn, but to imaging air rushing past the boundaries of my lungs and invading every crevice in my viscera. I see air wrapping around my liver and weaving through my intestines, a fantastic voyage of my own within my own cells. It’s an attempt to use the air to reverse some of the damage I’ve done to myself through poor diet and poor choices as if I could will myself restored to factory settings.
It’s in the moments of pausing at the peak of full or empty, I can feel my pulse suddenly radiate throughout my body, as a primordial panic sets in when the usual undulation of the breath is interrupted. Here too, I can define the edges and start to feel my own body against itself. My heartbeat intensifies; my pulse sending signals so fast that my fingers and toes begin to tingle, fight or flight activated, ready to protect the body in which I reside. Here then, the focus of my breathing shifts to slowing down, using this exchange of air as a cardiac massage to calm the pulse and relax my body from my chest to the end of each capillary. It becomes an almost sadistic cycle of stress and comfort as a way to reassert conscious control of my body through this vital function.
This is where we truly begin our practice, by reminding our primordial brain of this powerplay between body and person, where the failure of either one could end the existence of both. It is why we start with the power of breath.
I cannot tell my heart to stop beating or my neurons to stop firing. I would need external forces to override those circuits. But it is my breath, the circular exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, that I can interrupt, groom, and cultivate. It is my own fertile soil to sow.