First, perhaps, an update. Three weeks since the sidewalk sprawl and healing is some kinda miracle in motion. There’s still sharp pain moving certain ways, end of day ache. Using a splint on/off because I can feel how immobility makes it worse. Gentle movement in all available pain free range as my skilled right hand treats the fascial binding ‘tween the two long forearm bones. Learning so much first hand! Elbow to fingertips is a non-weight bearing version of knee to toes. In this past week healing has included creative single-handed camping AND total immersion in breath. Breath…that’s what I really want to write about today.
Interesting factoid: we inhale and exhale 25,000 times daily. Give or take. Despite this constant practice, by the time we’re 50, most of us lose 12% of our lung capacity. The news gets worse: decline hastens with age, women fare worse than men. By 80 we take in 30% less air than we did in our 20’s. This is why we see some elders breathing fast and hard. Mega-evidence links this habitual change to a host of issues like high blood pressure, immune disorders and anxiety. This factoid came from James Nestor’s 2020 book Breath: the new science of a lost art. I’ve literally inhaled this book. More about this extraordinary pulmonaut later.
So what’s a body to do? Well, the good news is we can absolutely change our breath habits. Bonus: it takes no extra time. I am all about the movement of breath and how it informs a body in motion. Integrating this new/old information is bound to define the next chapter of my life—teaching, treating, living. Synthesis happens when we spiral back to old ways of understanding and weave in the new. It’s how I fly. Like in 2015, when my left hip met a book by Donna Farhi and I spiraled back into all things psoas.
I had already been down that psoas rabbit hole (more than once) but it was new to consider asymmetry in these tender loins. Old ways of conceptualizing merged with the new. I had to explore this first in my own body. And then, through years of seeing feeling listening, your body. Psoas took me on a pilgrimage with many side roads through the nervous system, stress, emotion, diaphragm…breath.
Eight focused years delivers integration, perhaps even some mastery. And I certainly was not scanning the horizon for The Next Thing, just minding my own business. But it came in book form again. Just like in 2015. The author of Breath, James Nestor is an intrepid investigator after my own heart. He calls himself, and a few others on the planet, pulmonauts. For a decade he travelled the globe personally immersed in a multitude of breath practices while he researched and synthesized current science with ancient wisdom. Want to be fascinated with this thing you do 25,000 times a day? The book is a quick 230 page read. You will be inspired. I promise.
I’m writing this missive on my last day of a week of camping. I had nothing to do but fall down this book rabbit hole and breathe. The illuminating fusion of old/new information is filtering into my practice. No doubt it will find its way into my work in the world. It’s how I fly.
Sample health-changing tidbit: your nose is super-important. Nostrils are the optimal entry way for breath. Some of us mouth-breathe 24/7. Some mouth-breathe with speaking or exertion. Some mouth-breathe at night (think snoring and sleep apnea). This habit completely wreaks havoc with our blood chemistry. There are many interventions, but it starts with just noticing. It may or may not apply to you. If it does, proceed very slowly, gently making a shift to nose breathing when possible.
One more tidbit. We breathe too much. Also a blood chemistry havoc-wreaker. Optimal breathing is 5.5 seconds in, 5.5 seconds out. Resonant breathing is a great practice at any moment. The ancients knew it. Om mani padme hum is chanted precisely with this timing: twice for the inhale, twice for the exhale. Start simply: same count for in and out. Then gently start to lengthen the count. Get your stopwatch out after awhile and see if you can nail it. Personal testimony: I’m feeling some subtle and not so subtle changes, hard to put in words. I’m gratefully sliding down this rabbit hole.
If you’ve been with me, you already know how movement of breath and how it informs a body in motion is integral to my teaching and physical therapy. I just want you to know that this marriage of breath and movement is under expansion. If you want to feel this in connection with your dance, I’ll be leading at South Yuba Club, Grass Valley this Sunday August 13, 10:00-noon. I’ll be a student with you at Release and Realign this Friday and next, guided by Jeanne Munoz. My turn to teach is Friday August 25. Come feel something new in your yoga breath. Wondering about 5Rhythms at Clara? Wednesday Waves and Sweat Your Prayers are on our traditional August sabbatical. We begin again September 6.
Rumi says “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.” I really think he was on to something.