Each breath gives us life. Each breath takes us that smallest step closer to the end. Closer to the end of the day, closer to the end of the task in hand and closer to, well, the end.
We can’t opt out of breathing.* But it is nice to have the occasional reminder of the boundless benefits breathing can bring.
My friend Heather Bussing is a superb photographer. I always look forward to her daily Twitter share of a beautiful landscape or nature picture*, accompanied by a single word:
There is huge benefit to be had by taking the time each day to allow yourself a second simply to breathe. To take a single breath and to draw in whatever beauty and peace there might be in the world around you. It’s called inspiration for a reason.
Your relationship with your breath
“You will soon realise that your relationship with your breath is key.”
This is Adriene Mishler,*** on the central importance not only of breath, but of how we breathe, to yoga. It is just as critical to all that we do, all that we think, and all that we are. We can go our whole lives without giving a second’s thought to the how of breathing. But life can be so much better if we do. Taking small steps to improve the quality of breathing can make an immense difference to the quality of life.
Breathing can be used finely to calibrate our response to or preparedness for a situation. In an excellent episode of Rangan Chatterjee’s podcast****, Patrick McKeown (author of The Oxygen Advantage) discusses the benefits that can be gained from improved breathing habits. He feels that he did not experience the world correctly until the age of 25, when he learnt to breathe through his nose. McKeown shares numerous examples of how to breathe better. For example, he explains how he uses breathing through his nose to conquer anxiety before public speaking engagements:
“So what would I do? Before the event, I would go into a separate room and I would really slow down my breathing and take my attention out of the mind and on to the breath and bring a quietness to my mind and bring myself into the zone. But then I’m too relaxed. I have focus, but I’m too relaxed. Then I do five strong breath holds because this increases blood flow to the brain. It opens up my nose, it opens up my lungs, it puts me into that state of preparedness.”
We will come out the other side
We all of us need to be in a state of preparedness right now. I don’t really want to add to the ocean of words about the novel coronavirus pandemic. This is a fast-moving and potentially grave global situation facing each of us. But as breath plays a tragically critical role in how it is spread, it would be remiss of me not to write about it here.
How we react to and deal with the novel coronavirus should be at the forefront of all our minds. We can only do as best we can to try to contribute to the fight against the pandemic. Hygiene and good habits can help to reduce risk and to limit the spread of novel coronavirus. The World Health Organisation (WHO) website offers excellent guidance on the steps you can take to protect yourself and others.
The novel coronavirus pandemic is an issue that cannot be ignored at this minute. But it won’t always be at the centre of things. In an excellent blog post on the moral issues raised by the outbreak, Neil Morrison says:
“Whilst we are in the eye of the storm, it will feel as if this will go on forever. But it won’t, time will move on and we will come out the other side, one way or another.”
There will be a time to breathe freely once more. We will all at last be able to breathe out again.
* Well, obviously we can… but not for very long, one way or another.
** I am indebted to Heather for her kind permission to feature a selection of her photographs here. Please do consider following Heather on Twitter to see so many more examples of her excellent work, and to follow the words of a wonderful presence in this world.
*** These words are spoken in Adriene Mishler’s Runner’s Yoga videos, which was listed in My top 5 Yoga With Adriene videos. See also My top 5 Yoga With Adriene videos: YouTube playlist.
**** Thank you to my good friend Nicky Texeira for recommending Dr Chatterjee’s podcast on breathing to me.
- My thanks to the lovely Heather Bussing for her kind permission to use her photographs here. Please follow Heather on Twitter – and please do drop her a line if you are interested in buying one of her prints. Namaste.