Breath of Life


The other day I had my first experience with Ayurveda, the Indian system of medicine which claims to be the oldest in the world. The practitioner, a lovely woman named Alpa, who is also part of the holistic center that I work from, explained to me that Ayurveda means "knowledge of self", or "knowledge of life". She asked me what I knew to be the essentials for 'living the life', and waited for my responses with a sheet of paper in her hand, marked with numbers 1 through 4.

She listed the things I recited, such as healthy food, exercise, inward reflection... none of which she jotted down in the number one spot. What was I missing?

And why was what should have been the most obvious thing, especially as a bodyworker, eluding me?

I guess it was no surprise -- considering that the issue I brought to her was about support for my Lung meridian (which I intuited my primary challenge to be) -- that I was totally blanking on oxygen. We can go for some time without food, even longer without exercise, and go our entire lives without meditation, but we wouldn't last longer than a few minutes without air. Duh.

Alpa then took me through pulse palpation and a brief marma point massage (similar to acupressure or shiatsu points), accompanied by deep breathing exercises. "Breathe! Breathe! More, more, more! Now let it go..." she kept admonishing me, until I thought I might pass out. I didn't, of course, but I was profoundly aware, upon sitting up, of fully inhabiting my upper body for the first time in a while. It was amazing.

She then revealed to me that, during the shiatsu treatment I had given her a few days ago, she noticed that I hadn't been fully breathing. Me?!? Ahem. Ah, Gina, remember Shiatsu 101? Before all else, breathe.

But this is something we all forget. Sure, we breathe enough to survive, but for many of us, only just so. How much of our aches and pains, mental fuzziness, fatigue, anxieties, lowered immunity, digestive issues, and depression are a result of just not breathing properly?

And I was obviously becoming aware of this in myself. I had been noticing periods of breathlessness, upper body weakness, weird and vague flu symptoms that would come and go as soon as the air got drier, and periods of inexplicable sadness. In shiatsu, the Lungs are responsible for intake of chi (or ki, in Japanese), and for dispersing it downwards and outwards.. therefore governing the ki of the whole body. Fatigue or lack of vitality can be due to a Lung imbalance.

From a psychological perspective, and taken from the book, Shiatsu: Theory and Practice by Carola Beresford-Cooke: "When our Metal energy [Lungs and Large Intestine are associated with Metal] is healthy, we feel that we are individuals in a situation of exchange with the universe. Not only do we feel our own value, but we know instictively that we are connected to everything of value outside our own boundaries... Quality, worth, whatever we most prize, is "in here" in abundance as well as "out there" and we are secure in our ability to connect with it.

If. on the other hand, our Metal is out of balance, no such security exists. Perhaps we reinforce our boundaries in order to clamp down on what little we feel we have and to avoid further loss ... Or we may seek outside our own boundaries for an ideal perfection which we constantly pursue because of our own intrinsic sense of emptiness and a lack of worth."

How many of us does this describe, I wonder? Referring back to this earlier post, and observing our postural tendencies as a whole, I think we can safely assume that re-learning to breathe would be useful lesson for all of us.

Alpa reminds me that breath, prana, is life.

"And what happens when you don't breathe?" she asks me. "You die?" I offer, my face smushed in the cradle of her table. "That's right..."

She has assured me that after practicing these exercises for thirty days, I will notice a difference. I'll be sure to let you know how it goes, and be back to revisit this topic.