4 min read

“The simplest and most powerful tool for protecting your health is absolutely free and right under your nose.” - HA- The Breath of Life (curriculum designed for 5th and 6th graders in Hawaii)

Breath. From the very first moment we enter into this world, to the very last moment when we transition, it stays with us. Native Hawaiians refer to it as HA, which finds its place in many words describing the most important aspects in Hawaiian life. This included the way people greeted each other, “aloha,” the sharing of the breath of life - and how they referred to their nation kingdom -  “Hawaii, represents Ha - breath, Wai - water, and I- supreme consciousness.  Breath is the first physical function shared by every individual in the world and the foundation of our consciousness in this life.

In the lesson titled, “HA- The Breath of Life,”  fifth and sixth grade students in Hawaii learned the importance of breath in Hawaiian culture, as well as the importance of oxygen and healthy breathing for human life. When a child was received into the world, an initial breath was gifted into the child’s mouth to activate its own breathing response. When the traditional healers, or kahuna la’au lapa’au, created herbal remedies, they added their Ha (exhale) on the herbs to impart mana, or spiritual power. When a kupuna, or elder teacher, was about to transition, the kupuna’s mana and wisdom would be passed to a chosen descendant through breath. Breath was considered sacred, also in part because it carried the words of pule, or prayer. Ancient Hawaiians were able to chant long prayers on a single breath.

In modern science, not only is breathing a vital human function, breath control studies have shown that certain techniques of breathing can successfully lower blood pressure, end irregular heart beats, improve patterns of poor digestion, increase blood circulation, decrease stress, and improve sleep. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6137615/  Research in the last seven years has also shown that much like a fingerprint, our breath, too, can be used as an unique identifying feature - a breathprint. Like snowflakes, the breath emitted by each individual is unique to herself, thanks to the varying assemblies of microbes that inhabit our bodies.

In Chinese Medicine, the breath is governed by the Lungs. Breath is the constant exchange and renewal of Qi that ensures the proper functioning of all the body’s physiological processes. The breath also plays a crucial role in the distribution of the Qi (or vital energy) that fuels our immune system. This type of Qi is particularly referred to as “Wei Qi,” or “Protective Qi,” and is produced through the energy provided by the food we eat. Combined with the action of our Lungs in oxygenating the blood, the Wei Qi is distributed and diffused throughout the body, under the skin. As the organ with the most direct contact with the outside world (apart from the skin, which in Chinese medicine falls under the lung system), the Lungs are the first to be under attack when a person catches a cold or flu. The pathogen will attempt to enter through the sinus and mucus membranes, then into the Lungs. If the Lungs become seriously impaired, the pathogenic attack will ensue into the rest of the organ systems. Practicing deep breathing through meditation and qigong, the Chinese support their overall wellness and work to strengthen their Protective Qi.

Learning to breathe with intent can be key in optimizing not just your immune system, but your entire being - mentally, physically, and spiritually. In the practice of yoga, breath - or Prana, is synchronized and inseparable from the movements that serve as vehicles on the spiritual journey of the yogi. One breathing technique that is especially useful for opening the lung capacity is the Cat Cow Breathing Exercise. This yoga sequence can help improve circulation, clear congestion in the lungs and sinuses, improve lung capacity and center your spirit .

  1. In tabletop(all fours?) position, rest your hands and knees on the floor with shoulders over the wrists and hips over the knees. Place your weight evenly through the hands and knees, fingers are facing forwards. Breathe deeply and fully, into the belly and on the inhale breath, begin to expand the chest forward while elongating your neck so that your gaze begins to make its way to the ceiling forward.  Let this movement flow through your entire spine so that you end in a full spinal arch, ribs toward the ground, eyes to the sky.

  2. With a slow and strong exhale, begin to tuck your chin to your throat, pull in your belly, engage your glutes and really scoop your tailbone to achieve a nice rounded arch upward (cat).  Roll your shoulders forward and down to compress the front chest.

  3.  Inhale to Cow Pose and exhale to Cat Pose with a fluid up-and-down, wave-like motion of the spine and torso. Feel the energy current flowing through your spine, neck and head.

  4. Repeat the cycle 5 times, creating a fluid and undulating movement, breathing evenly and with intention.