The initial thing that we do as individuals is to take our first breath. We are brought into this world dependent upon the person who birthed us. Taking in oxygen through the miraculous placenta and umbilical cord is something we do from the support of the body we are housed in utero; our lungs are collapsed and don’t take in air at this point. The first action we carry out on our own is to fill our lungs with air and breathe… this may come as a scream or cry but it is still our first breath.
Before I became pregnant I was unaware of this.
After witnessing the miracle of birth and the first breath of my son Everett, I know now without a doubt that there is even more fascination with the breath that I have yet to discover.
During the first month with my baby it was interesting to watch his little body become accustomed to breathing on his own. There were moments when he would breathe more rapidly; others that were more sporadic, and often lengthy stretches of time would go by without a breath. As a new parent it was very unnerving and I was on the edge of my seat waiting to hear his next breath. My husband Jeff and I were constantly checking him during his sleep to hear his breath.
When Everett turned two months old I would watch him take long sweet deep breaths into his belly. It is the breath of trust, love, and simplicity. The weight of the world wasn’t weighing down on him and he doesn’t even know what the word stress means. He was in a constant state of rest and digest of the parasympathetic nervous system.
Now that he is six months old, the world is starting to open up to him and I can see that his emotions are beginning to take charge. The perceived stress from not being able to grab a toy just out of his reach, when he wants a sip of my tea, or wants to play with something that isn’t for six months old to play with gets him worked up. When this is happening I pick him up, hold him to my chest and breathe deeply. Often I’ll add a sigh so that he can hear it and feel my breath on his chest. Almost instantly his body responds and he calms down. This is all the proof I need to know that these pranayama practices work.
Prana is vitality, life force energy, and respiration. Yama means to extend, regulate, and control. The two words coming together to form Pranayama meaning to extend our vitality and respiration, as well as move energy throughout our body with different breath exercises. Pranayama can help regulate our mood, digest our food and emotions, and bring us into the present moment. What always amazes me is that this is what our body is built and naturally equipped to do.
As life starts to get more complicated, our natural inclination of taking those deep belly breaths starts to decline and it can become a habit to keep the breath at a shallow place in our chest. Stress and anxiety can cause us to take more shallow breaths as a response to fight or flight, operating from the sympathetic nervous system. We become wired for stress and anxiety, and this becomes a normal way of going about life. When this happens it can be very easy to find a quick fix that will mask the stress in the form of something that can be damaging like alcohol or drugs.
What if we could just trust in this built in pranic system that we already have inside of us that the yogis discovered hundreds of years ago. It only takes a few seconds to close your eyes take a deep inhale and a deeper exhale.
Now if only as adults we had someone around us at all times to pick us up, hold us against their chest and remind us to breathe.
Being a mother is my biggest daily reminder that life is so precious and that each breath is amazing and each breath counts.
“There is one way of breathing that is shameful and constricted. Then, there’s another way: a breath of love that takes you all the way to infinity.” – Rumi