To breathe is to be alive. Everything from plants to trees to animals to people must breathe to live. From the moment of the infant’s first breath to the last of one’s life, with it there is life and without it there is death.
A person is not only required to breathe, however. How one breathes is in direct correlation with one’s vitality, overall health, and state of mind.
A human being, in his “natural” habitat so to speak, does not need to be taught how to breathe.
I was surprised to learn from a Native American community leader that there were no Native American-born breathing exercises that he had ever heard of. He did say that grief counseling was a large part of his work. Of course, the Native Americans are far removed from their traditional living environment and many live very poorly on reservations. Interestingly, grief is the emotion of the lungs in Chinese medicine.
The people of primitive cultures have no need for breathing exercises, unless they have been exposed to modern ways of living. Just as animals in the wild know naturally how to breath properly, so do humans.
It seems that one of the prices for our “civilized” world has been to have a direct negative effect on our ability to breathe. Observing people will reveal the ways we walk, talk, stand, and sit is simply not optimal. Contracted chests and stooped shoulders are very common.
Qi Gong masters are able to control their Life Force Energy (Qi) and send it to any body part or organ to strengthen or revitalize. They know that the air contains more than just oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen and that respiration is more than just oxygenating the blood and removing carbon waste. They know about Qi, its principles, and its effects on the human body and mind. They know that through controlled breathing, they can not only avoid disease, they can also practically eliminate the emotions of fear and worry. They know that controlling the breath will control the mind and keeps one truly “in the moment”.
Start today with watching how you breathe at varying times of the day and in various emotional states. Watch how your breath becomes more shallow during some stressful times and even stopped at others. Just as watching the breath is a very good way to practice meditation, it can be done any time of day to become more aware of yourself and your place in the present moment.
As your awareness of your breathing patterns improves, try to breathe more deeply, especially when stressed or emotional. Breathe fully, so that it feels as though the air is reaching right down into your lower abdomen (Dan Tian) and notice what happens. Breathe fully to live fully.
Originally published in March, 2004