by Michael Ketterhagen
“the Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground
and blew into his nostrils the breath of life,
and the man became a living being.”
--Genesis 2:7 (NABRE)
Most of us take our breath for granted. We go about our day often unconscious of the fact that we are breathing. We pause it without knowing it. We speed it up involuntarily when we are afraid or feel threatened. We never really contemplate the wonderful gift of life that the breath provides, until we can’t breathe.
Our society is now keenly concerned about our breathing because the coronavirus and pneumonia, which often accompanies it. These viruses are taking away our breath. We are even aware now more than in previous decades that the air we breathe needs to be much cleaner than it is because it contains so many pollutants, like mercury and carbon dioxide.
So, let’s contemplate this precious gift and let’s look at how we can nurture it and protect this God-given Life Force.
We all know that without breath we do not live. Yet, we may not be aware of how often we hold our breath. When we hold our breath, we are, ever so slightly, stopping the Life Force (prana on the subtle level) from moving through our bodies. When we unconsciously do that, our body, which is in direct communication with the functions of our nervous system, gets worried. The body doesn’t know what to do except to prepare for a threat to its life. So, the body produces stress chemicals, like adrenaline and cortisone to keep us prepared for what it thinks is coming. When we unconsciously start to breathe again or, after we have become physically unconscious from holding our breath too long, the body returns to its breathing pattern and life continues.
We are often not aware of our unconscious cessation of our breath. It happens when we are deeply contemplating an idea, or when we get a startled, or when we watch a horror movie. Every time we experience some sort of fear, we hold our breath. This creates even more stress and the body experiences even more fear, because it doesn’t know what’s happening—“Why is s/he stopping her/his breathing?”
So, what do we do about our unconscious breathing patterns? How do we cultivate healthy breathing, which is called diaphragmatic breathing. Healthy diaphragmatic breathing is smooth, continuous, even, deep and quiet breathing. How do we keep God’s life force flowing through our bodies? How do we keep ourselves breathing diaphragmatically?
In yoga, the easiest way to learn and maintain healthy diaphragmatic breathing is to practice a yoga posture called crocodile (makarasana). All we need do is lie on our belly and prop our chest up with our arms and allow the forehead to rest on the forearms or our hands which are crossed in front of us on the floor.
After three to four minutes of breathing in that posture, diaphragmatic breathing automatically happens. The breath starts to become smooth, continuous, even, deep and quiet.
The wonderful consequence of practicing crocodile two or three times a day for five minutes each time is that is also strengthens our immune system, which would be very helpful during the coming flu season and the current coronavirus season.
Through this practice, may you find the beauty and joy that God wanted for you when God “blew into [your] nostrils the breath of life.” May this help you realize more deeply what it feels like to be “a living being.”