When we enter this world, we take our first deep breath and when we exhale one final time as we leave our bodies to reunite with spirit.
How often do we pause to contemplate the breath? What happens to the body when we inhale and exhale?
In many traditions, the breath is known as the gateway to the spirit.
In the ancient Upanishads, prana (breath) is described as the oldest and greatest element of living. Of all the other functions of life; Sight, speech, hearing, thought – The breath remains. Of all our bodily organs, the text exclaims, “The prana alone is all of these.”
In the Pitaka Sutra- “Verses of the elder monks,” The breath is described as a path to enlightenment:
One who has gradually practiced,
Developed and brought to perfection
Mindfulness of the in-and-out breath
As taught by the Enlightened One
Illuminates the entire world
Like the moon when freed from the clouds
The Sufi mystic Ibn ‘ Arabi describes the importance of breath, as translated by William Chittick like this:, “God articulates each creature as a ‘word’ in his own breath, so the underlying substance of each thing is breath.”
Highly influential in the Hindu Bhakti movement, Muslim-born poet, Kabir expressed the vitality of breath:
What is God? He is the breath inside the breath.
Muslim’s believe that we breathe in the whole universe in each breath.
In the Bible, the Breath of Life is referenced in the Book of Genesis and persists throughout as a gift from God. The book of Job references the breath of life as a creative force and divine gift.
In the Jewish tradition, Meditation on the breath is a direction meditation on God. Many traditions that advocate meditation teach us to focus on the breath to steady the mind. In the breath, we find the silence between thoughts.
The Hawaiians refer to it as Ha, also meaning the breath of life.
The founder of contemporary dance, Martha Graham wrote of the breath this way:
“Every time you breathe life in or expel it, it is a release or a contraction. It is that basic to the body. You are born with these two movements and you keep both until you die”
Reconnecting with the breath has been said not only to connect us with spirit, ground us on earth and return our awareness to the present moment and the body. When we become familiar with our breath, we are better able to scan the physical body and respond to whatever the it may need, physically or emotionally. Connecting to deep mindful breathing enables us better management of our emotions, because we know what they feel like in the body. Breath allows us to navigate whatever life throws our way. Focusing on the breath brings us immediately into the present moment and into awareness of what we are feeling in the body.
So many traditions remind us to breathe mindfully and reconnect the body with our breath. Many mindfulness practice teach us of its benefits, yet how much time do we actually spend thinking about how it fills us with life.
The breath is a basic necessity of humanity, without it, we do not exist. When I exhale, the person standing next to me breaths in the same molecules of oxygen I just exhaled from my lungs. We share the breath of life with one another. The breath of life keeps us alive. Perhaps its time to take a breath and reflect on its power. Feel the air send energy through your cells, into your muscles, into your organs. Breathe as deeply as you can, try to push all of this energy to your toes. Listen to what your body tells you on the inhale, on the exhale. Take care to pay attention to what it has to say. If life indeed comes from the breath, perhaps what it says is important, are you listening?