We don’t have to remind our body to breathe; if something prevents us from breathing, our brain alerts us to take steps to breathe. In my years as a healer and practitioner of natural spirituality and shamanism, I have discovered that this necessity to breathe and to join with all other living, breathing beings in this way can be a basis for finding meaning in life itself.
Like most of us, the beginning of my life is enshrined in family stories. Apparently, when I was pulled from my mother’s body by a pair of large steel forceps, I was held aloft by my ankles, head down. My response to this was to take a gulp of air and howl. This meant that I did not receive the customary smack on the behind, which, in those days, was designed to initiate you into breathing.
We acknowledge that human life, once we are outside our mother’s womb, begins with that first breath. What we don’t think about is that the rest of our life, in a sense, will be about how we breathe.
Do You Think About Breathing?
I remember as a small child being frightened by the campaign to eradicate diphtheria. This is an acute contagious disease where bacterial toxins cause serious inflammation of the heart and nervous system. According to the graphic posters of the time, diphtheria also caused a membrane to grow across your throat so that, eventually, you could not breathe. “Do you want your child to suffer that?” the caption thundered.
My father disapproved of vaccination, but I never caught diphtheria. Then, in the middle of a severe winter, I contracted measles. The water pipes in our house burst and my bout of measles turned into pneumonia. I stopped breathing a number of times, but my only recollection of the experience is of swimming in a soundless sea of swirling colors. I was out of my body. I was being looked after.
During the experience of pneumonia, and my inability to breathe, I was learning about the preciousness of the breath and its link with ill health. I was also being reminded of my existence before the breath, and that I exist with the breath and, on some level, without it.
The Rhythm of Running Feet and the Breath
Years later, at school, I developed a love for long-distance running. I found that I ran best when I coordinated my breathing with the rhythmic beat of my feet on the ground. Breathing responds to rhythm.
After school, judo training showed me how to use the breath to overcome the effects of my childhood illness to develop a strong body and a calm mind. Through judo I discovered how the breath was linked to thought. Fear causes people to lose control of their breathing, whereas control of the breath creates a sense of calm, strength, and confidence.
I have not forgotten the words of my instructor: “When you need to be relaxed and serene, breathing is the key. When you need a clear head, breathing is the key. When you want to act quickly and efficiently, breathing is the key.” Sometimes, once a judo throw was mastered, the accompanying breath control allowed me to enter a space where thinking disappeared. I did not know it then, but this was the meditative state to which all forms of breathwork and bodywork can lead.
Conscious Breathing & Walking in Nature
My early childhood in the Gloucestershire countryside opened my heart and mind to the wonders of the natural world, giving me a lifelong interest in natural spirituality and shamanism. I have been fortunate to work with Native American medicine people, such as Wallace Black Elk, and to learn about Native American practices where conscious breathing is a feature of healing, chant, ritual, and ceremony.
There is an important place in all indigenous spiritual practice for simply being still. Some call this meditation. I have always found that the types of meditation that attract me are those linked to breathing, chanting, and movement (you will find some simple but effective meditation methods in this book). But, most of all, I enjoy walking in nature. Here, my breathing becomes slow and steady, my mind is stilled, and immersion in the natural world induces a trancelike, meditative state where I feel quite safe and can walk without thinking about it.
I lived for a while with an Indian couple in London, and this sparked an interest in yoga. This ancient system of physical and mental exercise is based on the science of breath — pranayama — named after the Sanskrit word for the life force, prana.
Subtle Energy and the Breath
Energy is the fundamental substance of nature, continually transferred between all its parts, including human beings. It is the process that initiates all change.
Energy has many physical forms, such as the heat released when we metabolize food in our body, or the electricity generated by a turbine. Energy also has many subtle forms, such as the life force that animates living things and those used in self-healing, hands-on, and distant healing.
Subtle energies travel faster than, or just above, the speed of light and one of the properties associated with their high vibratory speed is that subtle energies can travel in an instant within oneself or to another person, being, landscape, or situation, at any distance.
Breathing: Absorbing The Life Force
As well as carrying gases, such as oxygen and carbon dioxide, breath is the agency for transferring the subtle energy of the life force, present in air, to every cell in our body via the blood. The life force is one of many subtle energies that together create the subtle energetic base for all life.
Through our breathing, we absorb the life force; it circulates throughout every level of our being; and then we breathe it out into the universe. In this way, the breath also unites us with all other beings.
(subtitles by InnerSelf)
©2010, 2012 by Jack Angelo. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Healing Arts Press,
a division of Inner Traditions International. www.HealingArtsPress.com
Self-Healing with Breathwork: Using the Power of Breath to Increase Energy and Attain Optimal Wellness -- by Jack Angelo.
Providing 57 conscious breathing and visualization practices, Jack Angelo shows how breathwork can relieve stress and anxiety, improve sleep and digestion, increase creativity and mental focus, promote emotional calm, boost energy levels, enhance meditation, clear negative energy, and provide support for physical healing. He shows how, through conscious breathing, we can harness the healing life force available in each breath for energetic balance, heightened consciousness, and overall wellness as well as a deeper connection to the sacred source of all life.
About the Author
Jack Angelo is a well-known healer and teacher of subtle energy medicine and natural spirituality who has worked with individuals and groups for more than 25 years. He lectures and gives workshops on breathwork and healing internationally and is the author of several books, including Hands-on Healing and Spiritual Healing: Energy Medicine for Today. He is also a national trainer for the National Federation of Spiritual Healers. He has a healing and counseling practice in Gwent, South Wales.
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