Breath is Life

Breath is life.


In so many cultures and languages around the world, the word breath has the same linguistic root as the word spirit. Greek gave us “pneuma,” which is synonymous for breath and also soul and vitality. In Latin “spiro” means both to breathe and to be alive, in Hindi and Sanskrit “prana” means breath, life, spirit and soul. The Chinese word “qi” refers to life force energy and breath. Hebrew word “ruach” refers to breath and to life, and in Greenlandic “Anerssaaq” means both breath and life. 


Breath is life. 


The very first thing we do in life is take a breath in. As we come out of our home in our mother’s womb, that first cry signaling to the world, “I am here!” is fueled by a breath in. The first sweet sip of air into our lungs. And the very last thing we do in life is exhale a breath. A sigh, an exhale, our last gift to this world is breath released. One long breath from birth to death.


Breath is life.


Breathing is one of the few body functions that is both autonomic and controlled. We can hold our breaths, voluntarily or involuntarily, and we can manipulate our breathing, taking big belly breaths in and out to signal our nervous systems to shift from a high alert state to a calmer one. A big breath into your center, your diaphragm, your core and another gulp of air into your heart, your lungs, your chest and then let it go with an open relaxed mouth. This is the power breath, the working breath, that activates your system and allows you to tune into the embodied intelligence in your physical body. No words, just feeling and perceiving. Breathing. Existing.


Breathing is a powerful act. And a basic human right.


“I can’t breathe,” - Eric Garner, George Floyd, and so many, many, many others harmed by white supremacy.


“The most fundamental right is the right to live.” -- Ibram X Kendi.  


And life is breath, so it is a human right to breathe. Every chokehold and every stranglehold by a police officer is a human rights violation. 


Breath is life. 


Taking away a person’s breath is an act against their life. Polluting the air in black and brown neighborhoods more than the air in non-BIPOC neighborhoods is a racist act and a human rights violation. Breathing clean air is a human right. 


Breath is life.


In breathwork practices we lead people through breath patterns that help us feel transformational states of awareness. We breathe through trauma that is stored in our bodies, through collective shared experiences, and we breathe through happiness and joy. Everything that arises in our experiences as we breathe is accepted and welcome: Rage, fear, sadness, anger, joy, peace. And that is what comes to us at the end of a session: Peace. 


Breath is life.


Peace is something we work at feeling. If rage is present, we breathe in for that, allowing it and accepting it and making peace with it. Anger is necessary, it teaches us boundaries and what is right and what is wrong. Anger is legitimate. And expressing it is necessary. Breathing moves our anger through us and into action, whether that anger is collective or personal, shared or silent, long-suffering or borne of a new awareness. We breath through Gabrielle Roth’s 5 rhythms of physical emotions: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, Stillness; through Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance and one added by her student and collaborator, David Kessler: Meaning. 


Breath is life.


And what is life without meaning? Without purpose?


We find our way home, breathing in that first breath again. Touching life through an inhale for the first time again. And again. And again.  Breathing out like it is our last breath. Letting go of life with each exhale. Again, and again, and again. 


In this way, we human. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we are made human together.” I may come into this world instinctively knowing how to breathe, but you teach me to feel, to know moral rights and human injustices, to live. You teach me to speak a language to share thoughts, words, feelings and articulate the better world that I want to live in. And so, breathing together, we human together.


Breath is life. 


Let’s breathe together. For breath is life.


Let’s breathe for those who can’t breathe, who can’t catch their breath right now, who have high rates of asthma, of lung issues, a case of a global virus that affects our lungs, for those who live in neighborhoods where breathing is dangerous to their health.  Breathe for yourself, breathe for them, breathe for each other. We human together, we breathe together.


Breath is life.