(6 minute read)
The word psychology originates from logos, meaning the study and use of, and psyche ie., “breath, energy, consciousness, soul or spirit” (Edwards, 2008, p. 132). Yet I was taught nothing about the breath on any of my psychology courses.
However, I think quality breathing could be considered the most effective positive psychology intervention (PPI), in that it is designed to enhance wellbeing (Lomas et al., 2015). Indeed it is well evidenced that people who breathe more live longer! ; p
Yet considering literally how essential breathing is to our very existence and how we navigate our energy in these fabulous flesh vessels during our time on earth, some of us in the West know very little about the breath.
For example, when I had asthma in my younger days, I was not educated about the condition nor taught how to breathe consciously or effectively. Instead, according to the Western medical model of health, the condition was diagnosed and symptoms were treated, while ignoring spiritual or psychosocial factors. I was given an inhaler (which profitted the pharmaceutical industry and the nation’s economy) and I was expected to “get on with it”. Yet I continued to breathe ineffectively, probably shallow mouth breathing, which negatively impacted my health, wellbeing, and quality of life.
It was only ‘by accident’, when I embraced the practice of yoga and pranayama (yogic breathing) and eventually changed my stressful lifestyle in my thirties that I felt I was able to breathe fully again. Since then my energy and vitality has increased and I feel fitter and healthier in my forties than I did decades ago. I have cultivated a wonderful relationship with my breath.
But, breath is nothing new.
Although we came without an instruction manual and have only been breathing since our first day out of the womb, ancient wisdom regarding the power of Breath and its impact on health and wellbeing has been passed down over thousands of years, most evidently in places such as Asia and Africa.
Breath psychology holds that conscious breathing is a key to solving many such problems as well as the way to return to the ‘Breath’ beyond breathing, a euphemistic way of recognising a greater ‘Breath’ breathing us, which has been called many names, Spirit, God, Almighty, Absolute, Allah, Tao, Brahmin, etc.Edwards (2008)
Obviously my interpretations are massively oversimplified. But to give you a sniff of how breath wisdom has been incorporated around the world, Edwards (2008) mentions how the ancient Egyptians believed essential heaven and earth energies merged in the breath-energy body, or Ka, “to educate and enlighten humanity” (p. 143).
Indigenous Zulu healing involves ancestors breathing through the healer, iSangoma, and a ceremony incorporating rhythmic, breath-coordinated movement. Although for the majority of people, using breath-energy with dancing and singing raises consciousness, builds strength, endurance, and motivation (p. 144).
Conscious breathing means focusing your attention on the perpetual exchange that is taking place between your personal body and the extended body of your environment. You exchange ten billion trillion atoms with your surroundings with every breath you take. The atoms you inhale every day have traversed the bodies of living beings across the universe and across time.Chopra & Simon (2004)
In India, Ayurveda posits that disorders are the result of an imbalance with the environment, body, mind and soul. However, this can be improved with breath-energy work (among other things) to release blockages in the chakra energy system (respectively associated with systemic functions of elimination, reproduction, digestion, circulation, respiration, enervation and ultimate realisation through relation with the cosmos – Edwards, 2008). Consequently, energy can flow freely through the energetic pathways of the body to maintain wellbeing.
Breath-energy work is also incorporated in physical activity and exercise, whereby the breath oxygenates the cells and remove toxins. Thus to prevent dis-ease and promote health and wellbeing, breathing appropriate to the activity, and deep, diaphragmatic breathing should be enjoyed when necessary.
To manage stress and energy, inhale for longer if you need more energy. If you need to reduce stress, make your exhale longer than your inhale to relax. Edwards (2008) asserts the better we breathe, the better the quality of life for everyone : )
The air around us is shared. When it enters individual lungs it creates consciousness, responsibilities and personal choices as to its use. Given such ecological threats as global warming, pollution and overpopulation, optimal use of the breath becomes an ethical, planetary and cosmic imperative.Edwards (2008)
How do you choose to breathe today?
Inhale and exhale onwards and strongwards xXx
Chopra, D., & Simon, D. (2004). The seven spiritual laws of yoga. Wiley and Sons.
Edwards, S. D. (2008). Breath psychology: fundamentals and applications. Psychology and Developing Societies, 20(2), 131-164.
Photos by cottonbro on Pexels.com
Chakra photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.com
Breathe photo by Olya Kobruseva on Pexels.com