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Have you stopped to breathe today?

February 1, 2022

By Nathalia Toledo

In one of my most recent personal journeys, I, a journalist and curious, immersed myself in a yoga teacher training with a single goal: to delve into a subject with which I have always identified (and practiced), but always swimming in the shallow. I needed to know more. Well then, what happened, as I imagined it, was that a universe of knowledge opened up in front of me, a long road that will take me more than a year of training to travel (more than a lifetime, perhaps). But, before this text becomes a personal and philosophical reverie, what I want here is to share a piece of knowledge as simple as revolutionary that I have had access to in recent months: the power of breath.

That there is no life without breath is a preschool truism. It’s instinct. But have you ever realized that there really is no good life without good breathing? No wonder when we are distressed, we feel the “tight chest”. No wonder the chest-head duo usually screams first and makes itself noticed in a moment of difficulty, whatever it may be. And why is that?

The Brazilian psychiatrist and writer José Ângelo Gaiarsa (1920-2010) recalled in one of his video classes the following basics of physiology: the brain demands (a lot) oxygen, and the laws of physics combined with our anatomy do not facilitate the arrival of circulation until the head. Not coincidentally, the first recommendation for someone in a panic crisis, according to him, is to lie down. Facilitate the arrival of oxygen at the top. Hence, the importance of helping the conduction of oxygen to the brain through breathing, which is mostly in automatic mode.

But what Dr. Gaiarsa said is that it is not an automatic mechanism. Definitely not. The human being only developed the ability to speak, for example, because of the control of breathing. And we can do much more if we appropriate that control. Ancient Vedic and Hindu scriptures already extolled the importance of conducting the air through practices such as pranayamas, breathing control exercises. The West is delving into the matter with scientific research proving that rapid, shallow, unfocused breathing can contribute to a range of problems, including anxiety, depression and high blood pressure. Science increasingly shows that developing greater control over our lungs has many physical and mental health benefits.

Moving on to the practical part, thinking about our daily lives: are you in a rush, taken up by the tasks to be accomplished? Stop and breathe. Are you distressed, with a tight chest and a choked voice? Stop and breathe. Are you stressed and overwhelmed? Stop and breathe. Not to find a miracle cure and instantly change standards. But to allow yourself to make the next choice peacefully and consciously – be it an email, a break, or a visit to a doctor.

I learned on my yoga journey that self-observation of when the breath becomes short or when we stop breathing shows us where the tension is to be released. We have the best tool in us. For me, the best summary of Gaiarsa’s teachings is in this quote: “If you want peace, follow your breath carefully from moment to moment. If it is calm, you are calm.” The power of a long inspiration and a longer expiration is a journey of discovery itself. Go on, begin yours.