Sweet sweet breath . . .
Ha in Hawaiian, anáil in Irish Gaelic, respiração in Portugese, ibuki in Japanese, breath is central to life. I tell my students if we want to be great runners, it makes sense to practice running, if we want to be great artists, we could practice painting or sculpting or singing, and if we want to be great at living, we must practice breathing.
But wait a minute, do we really need to practice breathing? If you’re alive, you breathe, so what more do you need to know?
Traditionally, Hawaiians would greet each other nose to nose and breathe in the same air. This practice of honi, kiss, was an honorific way of sharing the same mana, life force. Hawaiians and yogis view breath in very much the same way – as a sacred conduit for life force, known in Sanskrit as prana (mana, chi, ki, mojo, etc.). The more scientifically minded may note this could easily be an ancient recognition of what we would later realize is the oxygen in our breath, fed to us via the respiration process.
The most famous of Hawaiian words, aloha, illustrates another subtly nuanced example of parallels between Hawaiian and yogic philosophy on breath. It’s translated as love, compassion, hello, goodbye, and that je nes sais quoi unique to the islands, aloha spirit. The first part of the word, “alo,” means presence, and the second part, “ha,” means breath. So the Hawaiian frame of mind equates presence of breath with love (not dissimilar to the Hebrew “shalom”)! (There is some linguistic debate as to the “ha” aspect of the translation; subject matter for another blog.)
But back to the breath, back to the point, back to the center of it all . . .
These days, using breathing exercises like kapalbhati, ujjayi and simhasan, I’ve been excavating myself from winter hibernation – albeit slower than I would like. It’s 50 degrees farenheit today, raining and windy, so mother nature is providing special challenges to my quest! Today I’m grateful for breath, for being aware of its importance, and for the capacity to share techniques and perspectives that help make our breath – and lives – abundant, nourishing and generous.
Article on breathing and mood from Psychology Today