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For over two weeks this past summer, the entire world watched, first in horror and then in anticipation, as teams of rescue crews endeavored to find and then evacuate twelve Thai football teammates and their coach who had wandered off and become trapped in a flooded cave. When, within days of their rescue, they were ordained as contemplative novices and spent nine days meditating and praying at a Buddhist monastic temple, they were not only participating in a time-honored tradition, they were also building on a breathing and mindfulness practice that had sustained them throughout their 17-day ordeal.
Breathing is more than just a free commodity. Breathing can empower us both physiologically and psychologically. Few people find themselves trapped and fighting for their own survival inside a flooded cave. Most of us not only enjoy all the amenities of a comfortable life, we also have numerous resources at our disposal to entertain and delight us with the click of a button. Yet modern life, with all its economic, emotional and environmental challenges, often robs us of our vitality. Even the incessant barrage of smartphone pings guarantees that we never find a moment’s peace in our own homes.
Breathing meditation is an ancient practice, but integrative techniques are finally catching the attention of the medical community. Western medicine, which traditionally diagnoses us when we are already sick, has been circling back around and considering a new, integrated paradigm that includes functional medicine. Medical research is even subjecting time-honored and ancient health and wellness traditions to scientific research and then applying a mix of functional medicine therapies, not only to prevent illness, but also to promote healing and wellness environments.
Most people inhale and exhale, on average, about fifteen times per minute without even noticing what they are doing. But not all breath is the same. Breath and movement are interdependent because we are simultaneously flooding our respiratory system with oxygen and then expelling carbon dioxide from our lungs.
Substandard breathing, like shallow breathing, creates an inefficient respiratory cycle. Alternately, optimal breathing promotes positive physiological changes because we are both hydrating our respiratory system and flushing it of toxins, and tension and even emotional baggage.
Whether you are eating your lunch, walking down the street, speaking on the phone or doing all three at once, become aware of what is inhibiting this natural cycle. Are there little lifestyle tweaks we can make that promote wholesome breathing? Breathing and mindfulness meditation is one strategy, but even small changes, like giving basic attention to the breath while sitting, can positively impact your moods and stress responses, and even promote overall health.
“When you educate a woman, she empowers her family, and together WE can evolve a community.”