And Jehovah Elohim formed Man, dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and Man became a living soul. (Gen. 2:7) (Darby Bible Translation )
Do you remember when you learned to hold your breath? Was it to swim under water? Maybe it was to be absolutely quiet during hide and seek? Could have been an attempt to get rid of a case of the hiccups? Did you ever try to time yourself just to see how long you could do it? Did you ever notice how quickly holding your breath makes breathing the main focus of your attention? Even if you just take tiny, shallow breaths you can easily think about something else, but once you totally stop breathing thinking about something else successfully takes practice and discipline.
Here are a few times my breath has come to my attention:
Unable to Breathe
I don’t suffer from asthma. I have never drowned. My first time of not being able to breathe was probably a little comical to watch. I was in the second grade and I slipped on some ice leaving the school and fell flat on my back. It hurt but I couldn’t breathe to cry to get help. All I could do was lay where I fell, looking up at the gray, clouded sky and wondering if I was dying. A kind man came along and stopped to help me. “You’re okay,” he said. “You just got the wind knocked out of you!” Almost like magic, between realizing that what I was experiencing was something that I had heard people mention before, and my relief at knowing I wasn’t dying, my body relaxed and my breath came back. My kind stranger helped me up and I was back on my way with my new knowledge of how it felt to have the wind knocked out of me.
Only Able to Breathe
Sleep paralysis is how I first discovered the power of breath control. I was about eleven or twelve and I was traveling with my mother and siblings. I fell asleep while mom was driving and woke up and found we had stopped somewhere. I woke up and I couldn’t move, talk or even open my eyes. I could hear everything and I knew I was awake. I was terrified. What if I was paralyzed like this forever? I couldn’t even tell my mom I was awake and I needed help! I didn’t even really know what sleep paralysis was or that it can happen when you are awake. In my panic I started to frantically search for what I did have control over and realised I had control over my breathing. I tried taking deeper and deeper breaths and as I did this my body woke up and I was able to move. I filed this information away in my brain in case it ever happened to me again!
Breathing Too Fast
In high school I had severe menstrual cramps. One time, while hiding in a stall in the girls bathroom, the pain became so bad that I hyperventilated. I didn’t understand what was happening as I lost control of my hands, my arms and then my legs. When the adults found me there I could not stand or walk. They brought me a paper bag to breathe into and my mom had to push me out to our car in a wheelchair.
Breathing Through Pain
Because of my severe menstrual cramps, my mom taught me a biofeedback relaxation exercise to do while I waited for my pain medication to kick in. As I breathed, every time I exhaled I concentrated on relaxing a little bit more of my body until I was relaxing my whole body from head to toe in one exhale. For a long time my mom sat by me and talked me through it. “Relax your toes, your ankles, the backs of your calves…” etc. She was really good at it and it helped me immensely. Eventually I could do it on my own easily. (This was very valuable training, I used the same method of relaxation when I was in labor and it worked amazingly until I hit transition.)
Taking My Breath Back
There have been times in my life when anxiety has hijacked my body. The first time, much like when I got the wind knocked out of me, I was afraid I was dying. I was about twelve and spending the night at a new friend’s house. I woke up in the night needing to go to the bathroom. As I sat there, on the commode, the only one awake in the unfamiliar house, I was overcome with fear and a longing to go home. My chest started to hurt really badly on the right side. I convinced myself that I was having a heart attack but I was unable to call for help. I was too afraid. I prayed for God to help me. I think is was the Spirit of God that whispered to my panicked mind that my heart was on the LEFT side of my chest, therefore what I was feeling was not a heart attack. I was flooded with relief. I relaxed and the pain in my chest faded. I laughed at myself a little, and was able to get up, go back to bed, and fall asleep. Looking back, I think when I got scared I probably started breathing really shallowly and when I was able to relax I started breathing normally, and when I started breathing the pain in my chest got better.
As an adult, my experience has been different. When anxiety takes over I feel like I can’t take a deep breath or sit still or stop crying. It a miserable disconnect between what is actually happening and how I feel. It was a common occurrence for a few years in my late twenties and early thirties. I became more practised at seeing an attack coming and found ways of coping with the disruption. But until last week I had managed to go almost three years without an incident and I found I have become really rusty in my coping skills. I didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late and I was completely overwhelmed. I forgot that the only way I have found to reclaim my hijacked body is through my breath. If I can distract my head and control my breath long enough I can get my body back. I may not be able to breathe deeply but I can control the rhythm of the breathing the air in, holding it, and releasing it. I have also learned in the last few years that I can support my body during the reclamation process with essential oils, and they do help. In fact if I manage to notice the anxiety before it gets a real hold on me with my oils I can usually dodge a hijacking completely. But once I pass a certain point, the the oils will help but the controlled breathing HAS to happen.
Remembering to Breathe
When I was a young woman on a whim I bought an issue of the new Oprah magazine. I liked it. It didn’t make me feel fat and ugly like the other women’s and fashion magazines I had read. Oprah magazine left me feeling empowered and inspired and hopeful. But my very favorite part of the magazine was a two page spread photo of a beautiful landscape or seascape. It was called “Breathing Space”. I loved it because it reminded me to breathe. In my whirlwind of work and school and daily life that was really helpful. I would always stop and take at least one real, intentional and deep breath. I would have bought the magazine just for that. (I kept my old issues for years in boxes. I was unwilling to part with my breathing spaces and so much good, uplifting and educational content. I really intended to read them all again.) The first time I opened an issue and did not find my breathing space I was really upset! They took out the best part!
Learning a New Way to Breathe
I was listening to Tony Robbins on YouTube the other day and he mentioned using Breath Walking to change your mental and emotional state. You breathe in through your nose four short breaths, and the out through you mouth in four short puffs. I tried it. I did it wrong but after five minutes my puffs were trying to turn into whistles and I was grinning. Turns out while Breath Walking you are also supposed to match your steps to your breaths, all the while tapping each of your fingertips to your thumb on each hand. I can’t wait to try that, I’ll probably fall off the treadmill because I am a clutz. (I am always knocking into things and tripping. I have come to believe that this is due to my astounding lack of kinesthetic awareness. (Am I slumping? Are my hands on my hips? Do I still have feet? I don’t know.) This makes it very difficult for me to dance and sometimes for me to walk. I spend most of my existence so deep in my head that I have no idea what my body is doing. In fact, I have a tendency to basically ignore my body until it screams at me that something has gone wrong. I am trying to practice better self care and pay attention to my body’s signals before I am in pain.)
The Breathe of Life
We are made to breathe, for a human breathing is essential to life. Every other living creature was spoken, commanded into existence and life at the same time except us, we were breathed alive. God said, “Let us make man,” then sculpted him from the earth and breathed mankind alive with His own breath. Every single other creation, from a star to an ant, with all it’s amazing beauty and complexity, lacks the breath of God. For humans breathing is more than an action of respiration, your breath effects not just your body but also your mind and your emotions. This is a special blessing that comes of being made in the image of God.
The breath of God that was blown into Adam has been passed down through the ages to each of us. It is the spark of God’s Spirit that keeps our bodies, minds and spirit alive. In fact the scripture tells us that when a person dies their piece of the Spirit actaully returns to God. (Ecc. 12:7)
There is a lovely parallel verse to Genesis 2:7 in John.
“So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”” (John 20:21-22)(NIV)
Here we can see Jesus giving a new breath of life to his disciples. Since the fall of man, mankind had been in desperate need of new life because sin brought spiritual as well as physical death and separated us from God. After Jesus was raised from the dead, it was possible to begin spiritually resurrecting mankind. The disciples were standing before a resurrected Jesus, fully believing the He was the Messiah, and trusting His word completely that His work of atonement had provided salvation for their eternal souls. What most Christians must believe by faith alone they were seeing with their eyes and hearing with their ears. So Jesus gave them new life, breathing on them and commanding them to receive the Holy Spirit. This is how they became what Paul later calls, “Alive in Christ”.
This is what many now refer to as Jesus “coming into your heart”. When you believe in your heart that what Jesus said in John 3:16 is true, you receive as a free gift new spiritual life and the Spirit of God begins to dwell within you. This is different from the coming of the Comforter in Acts 2, which is more equivalent with what is commonly called the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. (Though both gifts can be given at the same time.)
We all breathe. All day every day and all night every night. Awake. Asleep. There is no need to think about it. (Unless you find something is stopping you from breathing). Breathing keeps us alive. But there is a deeper, spiritual breath that we must breathe to be fully alive; and once you have breathed the Breath of Life, your soul will live forever, even after you breathe with your body for the last time.
( Me and Ethan, peaceful easy breathing.)