Does anyone really pay much attention to their breathing? Seems so utterly basic, but apparently I need graduate level education. At recent retreat the presenter (Jason Hildebrand, by the way, a fine actor who has a unique gift of discernment – you can learn more about Jason here) took time to give a bunch of us pastors breathing lessons. Jason took time to explain how frequently we stressed out Westerners breathe so shallowly, only up in the chest instead of from deep in the belly. However, our bodies are designed to breathe with our diaphragms pumping air in and out, with our rib cage acting as a bellows.
He talked about the connection between breathing well and connecting with our whole selves. When God breathed the breath of life into Adam, that wasn’t just nice biblical metaphor but also physical reality. So often we live out of our heads, disconnected from the rest of ourselves; learning to breathe deeply, from the belly, helps connect us with a deep sense of self and with God. Somehow breathing as we were designed to links us to things going on in the deeper reaches of ourselves, which then our minds can process, and we are living as the whole, body-mind-spirit people God created us as.
OK, quite a little tangent there so let’s get to the happy point. I couldn’t help but think if some part of any struggle to live in joy alway might be tied into the most basic reality of how we breathe. Here’s a simply little experiment – try to hold your breath and feel deep joy. Hard to do because joy is not simply a thought but also a bodily expression (back to an earlier post on the biblical words on joy, which are more about joy’s bodily expression – you can see it here)
Think of the physiology of joy – you can’t laugh without it coming from your belly. Try it – put your hand on your belly, your lower diaphragm (come on, no one is looking). Start with a snicker – did you feel that slight push of your abdomen to force the air out of your nose. Now try a chuckle – you can’t do it without your belly doing a little rhumba. Now, get someone to tell you a joke and go for a full-out laugh, keeping your hand on your lower abdomen and watch for lots of motion.
You’ve got to breathe deeply, from the belly, to experience joy. It’s a basic bodily reality – and maybe breathing lessons might be the most helpful thing to increase your joy!