Tuesday, September 20, 2005

First take a deep breath

I have to confess - I got a new book. I know, I know. Well, goodness, I gave up Cokes and chocolate; don't make me forsake all pleasure! The title of this book intrigued me: The Slow Down Diet. I didn't buy the book because of the word diet; I bought it because of the word slow. One of my many weaknesses is the inability to slow down. I walk fast, I talk fast, I eat fast, I type fast, I read fast, and I move fast. (This is why I have so many accidents.) This book by Marc David is all about eating, and slow is the operative word. You wouldn't think it would take a whole book to teach a person how to eat slowly, but apparently it does. He urges the reader that the worst thing one can do is eat under stress. He says the body under the stress response directs circulation away from the digestive system, releases the stress hormone cortisol, and remains on high alert as long as the threat is perceived. To alleviate this stress before eating, he offers a breathing exercise:

Sit in a comfortable position with spine straight, feet flat on the floor. Eyes can be open or closed. Deeply inhale, filling your lungs to approximately two-thirds capacity. Hold your breath for several seconds. Exhale fully. Repeat this cycle ten times.

As hard as it is to imagine the need for a book on teaching us how to eat, it is even harder to imagine the need for a book to teach us how to breathe. After all, breathing is what we do, all day, all night, without even thinking about it. Well, maybe it's time to think about it.

I was reflecting on this act of breathing when I realized that I was really thinking about inspiration. That's a strange word, isn't it? We usually think of inspiration with its more common definitions. GuruNet lists them as follows:
  1. Stimulation of the mind or emotions to a high level of feeling or activity.
  2. The condition of being so stimulated
  3. An agency, such as a person or work of art, that moves the intellect or emotions or prompts action or invention.
  4. Something, such as a sudden creative act or idea, that is inspired.
  5. The quality of inspiring or exalting: a painting full of inspiration.
  6. Divine guidance or influence exerted directly on the mind and soul of humankind.
And then there is this one:
  1. The act of drawing in, especially the inhalation of air into the lungs.
Somehow all these definitions are interrelated. I remember Ed preaching several times on the book of Genesis...."and God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life." And I guess that means we have been inspired.

The more I practiced slow, controlled, purposeful breathing, the more I realized that I spent a lot of time holding my breath. I don't think I was aware of it before, but I am now. Since I am a medical transcriptionist who gets paid by production, I keep my body pretty much on "full alert" in open stress mode most of the day. In doing so, I hold my breath a lot, which has the effect of throwing my whole body into tension. I also noticed that I tend to sit in a slumped-over position, squeezing my diaphragm and making my breathing even more shallow.

I've never done meditation per se, but I have read about various forms of meditation, and I know that conscious breathing is a cornerstone of relaxing the mind, body, and spirit. I have never had difficulty breathing, but I transcribe reports of people who feel as if they are drowning. Their chests are full of fluid, they are gasping for the breath of life, they are totally dependent on oxygen tanks to be able to function in a way most of us take for granted. I can only imagine how horrible that must feel. And the more they panic, the more difficulty they have breathing.

We are meant to breathe, fully, deeply, and to be able to "inspire" in all its meanings.

On the site www.womenpriests.org, there is this observation:
Human beings are a mixture of matter and spirit, of rootedness in the earth while having their origin in God’s creative breath.
I like that. God's creative breath. I think that captures the nuances of inspiration.

My sister's favorite hymn is "Breathe on Me, Breath of God." May we learn to stop for a moment, breathe in, breathe out, consciously feel our lives relax just a little more, our spirits renewed, our hearts inspired.

No comments: