Take a breath! Anne Lowry Parr takes us through the fundamentals of healthy breathwork – Breath & Movement
Anne Lowry Parr
One of the most effective tools for health is one we use all day long, every day of our lives, whether we are waking or sleeping. It’s our breath!
If breath is such an effective way to greater health and well-being, and we all do it every day, all day long, then how come we aren’t all as healthy, wealthy, wise and good-looking as we want to be? What do we need to know to transform the everyday breath into the marvelous tool for transformation, health, and radiant aliveness?
A BRIEF HISTORY OF BREATH
In the beginning, the Creator had a marvelous plan to teach us to breathe fully and completely with each and every breath we take. That brilliant plan was intended to unfold naturally at the moment of our birth and within the next 5-10 minutes afterward. The plan went like this.
Emerging from the safety of your mother’s womb at the moment of your birth, you were still connected to her by the life-giving umbilical cord, which had provided you with all the nutrients and oxygen you needed for the previous nine months. In these critical first moments of your life outside the womb, the umbilical cord was still providing you with oxygen as it gave you its one final gift-time to learn to breathe, fully, gently, and naturally on your own.
If you were born through natural childbirth, your introduction to breathing may have gone something like this. Still receiving all the oxygen you needed from the umbilical cord, you tried out your lungs by taking your first breath. That breath no doubt felt very odd to brand new lungs, so you may have cried out and stopped breathing again. After a moment, you breathed in again, a tiny breath. Then you took another, a bit larger this time. Then another, and and another, until finally, in just a few moments you had learned to use your lungs fully. An onlooker would have been able to see your tiny chest, back, ribs and abdomen rise and fall with every complete breathwave you made as you learned to use your lungs to their full capacity in a very natural and gentle learning process, just the way nature intended. At this point, the umbilical cord began to wither and withdraw, having been allowed to completely fulfill its purpose. Babies who learn to breathe in this synchronous natural way learn that it is safe to breathe in deeply, and they grow up trusting that it is safe to drink in lots of breath, lots of love, lots of prosperity, abundance and all that nurtures them!
Many of us were not that fortunate, however. Most of us began life in a hospital delivered by a male doctor, during a time in medical history when childbirth was regarded more as a medical emergency than as a natural process. In this scenario, intervention and interruption of the natural birth processes were considered the “thing to do.” You may have been induced, held back, cut out of the womb by caesarian section, or pulled out by forceps. After nine months of floating with your back and spine in a rounded position, you may have been abruptly pulled up by your heels and slapped on your rump, producing vertigo and great physical pain. Then, rather than being allowed to learn to breathe in the gentle way described above, your umbilical cord may have been immediately severed, converting your first breath from a natural occurrence to a matter of life and death. You had to breathe now with those brand new lungs. No time for gentleness anymore. And that first breath hurt. It felt like fire in your tiny chest. In order to live, you had to breathe, and in order to breathe, you had to hurt.
So the first lesson you may have learned about breath, and about life, in that type of birth, was that it hurt! To cope with that you probably adjusted by breathing in very, very small breaths, and in a very contracted way. You learned to take in just enough breath to stay alive, but no more. You had already learned that it was too painful to take in a lot of breath (which equals taking in a lot of health, a lot of aliveness, a lot of love, abundance, or anything else which would make life truly rich and fun!).
That is why so many of us today are shallow breathers. That is why, when faced with a challenging or painful situation, the first thing many of us do is stop breathing. Have you noticed?
Now, take a deep breath: here’s the good news. It is an easy and joyful process to learn to breathe fully and completely, and to access the benefits of greater health and well-being!
Now that you know it is possible, and preferable, to breathe more fully, more deeply, and more often, you are equipped to begin noticing your own breathing. That is step one. You might want to place little signs or post-it notes in places where you’ll be likely to see them often–on your desk, your mirrors, and in your car. They can say “BREATHE!”, “Are you breathing?”, or “Take a Deep Breath”, or anything else to remind yourself to breathe more often and more deeply. Anytime you have a spare moment, reflect on your breath. You can do this waiting in line at the grocery store or post office, waiting in your car at a red light, or while you’re waiting on hold on a phone call.
Whenever you become aware of your breathing, notice whether you are breathing shallowly or quickly. Allow your breaths to become more deep or more full, right then and there. Depending on where you are and how much time you have, take 3, 5, 10, or 20 full, deep breaths. Let the breath move down into your stomach and out into your chest on the inhale, then opening your mouth wide and completely emptying your lungs on the exhale. Stay physically relaxed as you do this.
Breathe in: As you breathe in, see every inhale as an opportunity to take in increased energy, health, and aliveness. FEEL yourself getting more open and energetic as you inhale. Imagine yourself getting happier, more successful, more abundant, and receiving more of everything you want on the inhale.
Breathe out: See every exhale as a way to release stress, muscle tension, physical pain, emotional heaviness or mental anxiety. Feel yourself getting lighter, softer, and more relaxed on the exhale. Open your mouth and let the breath go like a big SIGHHHHH!!!!!
Do this as many times a day as you can remember to observe yourself and your breath. With attention and practice, the number of times will increase until you gradually develop a more or less constant awareness of the fullness of your breath. In just a little time, you will begin to experience the effects of your more open breathing. You may feel more energetic, more healthy, lighter, or more free.
Dancing with the Breath
In NIA movement form, breath is an integral part of the dance. NIA movement forms embrace and encompass martial arts, dance arts, and healing arts.
Performing martial arts kicks, blocks, strikes, and punches employs the breath in a way that harnesses our energy and directs our movements in a very powerful, explosive way. Breathing in deeply and quickly, we emit a loud, sharp sound that powerfully contracts our belly and diaphragm muscles. “HAI!” “YES!” “NO!” “STOP!” we say, in concert with our explosive martial arts moves. Utilizing our breath in this way serves the dual function of adding power, precision, and emphasis to our move while simultaneously protecting our back muscles by employing the strength of the stomach muscles as we kick, block, or punch.
Moving into the softer, more flowing dance arts, we open to a more gentle awareness of the breath, allowing it to have its own life and its own “will” As we move our torsos and increase the intensity of our movements, our breath naturally “wants” to become bigger, larger, and flow more deeply into and out of our bodies. Thus, the breath becomes like a “partner” as we dance, moving with us. All we have to do is open up the breathing passages and give it a place to dance.
Toward the end of the NIA classes, we move inward, observing the breath. We may utilize our breathing as a way to visualize light and warmth gently moving into us and out again, increasing our aliveness and well being on the way in, releasing toxins and pain, stress, anxiety, discomfort and disease on the way out. We allow the breath to take us back to a place of stillness. Allowing the breath to return to its own normal, natural flow, we are ready to resume the normal flow of our lives; this time from our authentic center, the place where we are always still, always calm, always at peace.
Anne Lowry Parr teaches breathwork as a part of her ongoing mind-body-spirit movement art classes known as NIA (Neuromuscular Integrative Action). Currently, she teaches sixteen NIA classes weekly, in Asheville and Hendersonville, NC. Anne is co-owner of Move Intuit, a NIA and yoga center in Asheville. For more information about breath and movement, contact her at 828-350-7710.
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