“The pulmonary system is primarily involved in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which are vital to the production of the energy needed for metabolism at the cellular level. This process [is] known as respiration…”– Medical Conditions in the Athlete, 3rd edition, Flanagan and Cuppett
We often think of nourishment in relationship to food, yet the definition of nourishment is “the food OR OTHER SUBSTANCES necessary for growth, health, and good conditions.”
At the most basic, we need oxygen for nourishment. So this begs the question – how fully do you breathe? Do you inhale fully to receive oxygen (which nourishes us), and exhale fully to release carbon dioxide (which contributes to free radical formation and oxidative stress)?
“Humans are “belly breathers,” and just above your stomach is a major muscle in the respiration process, the diaphragm. Proper breathing starts in the nose and then moves to the stomach as your diaphragm contracts, the belly expands and your lungs fill with air. “It is the most efficient way to breathe, as it pulls down on the lungs, creating negative pressure in the chest, resulting in air flowing into your lungs.” – American Lung Association
Respiration is “vital to the production of the energy needed for metabolism” at the very building blocks of our bodies, our cells. The most common type of cell injury in clinical medicine is ischemic (through reduced blood flow, as in a stroke or heart attack) and hypoxic (reduced oxygen availability) (Robbins and Cotran, Pathologic Basis of Disease, 7th Ed). Can you make oxygen fully available to your body if you are not taking full, deep breaths?
When we injure our cells, we adversely affect processes like the Krebs cycle (the key to cellular respiration) which transforms fuel into energy. This one cycle includes 10 chemical reactions requiring multiple substrates, nutrients and cofactors (including stress-dependent B vitamins).
In a world where we are wound tight (tight shoulders and aching backs are dismissed as “normal” aches and pains), and we hold our breaths scurrying from one task to another trying to figuratively keep from drowning in the endless “to-do” and also hold our collective breath awaiting the next seemingly inevitable disaster, is it possible to take a full, deep breath in and out?
Over a lifetime, as our minds are increasingly disconnected from our bodies through years of education, professional expectations, and relational overgiving, are you even aware of your breath?
So over the years, as increasing responsibilities weigh heavier upon us, as we tense and hold without releasing, as we breathe ever-more-and more-shallowly, we create an environment where oxygen becomes less available. A physical environment of chronic hypoxia. A physical state of chronic cell injury. And over time, we suppress our ability to breathe fully and nourish ourselves at the most basic level. Is it any wonder we’re always tired?
So breathing, and specifically belly breathing, is fundamental to our physical nourishment.
And attention to the belly also brings us to the body (belly)-centered intelligence trio of the Enneagram, types 8, 9, 1 (which I dub the types of passion (8), passivity (9) and perfection (1)).
Over the next few months of Embrace Grace, we will focus on breathing and these 3 enneagram types.
Three months of attention to breathing, you may ask?
Yes! No matter how good our “diet and exercise,” if we’re not breathing fully, we cannot be fully nourished, and we cannot fully live.
(Sidenote: I was watching an anime series with my son, called “DemonSlayer”. After intense training, the final thing the hero had to learn in order to access his fullest capacity as a warrior was: Total Concentration Breathing. He had to learn to breathe fully all day, every day, while he slept and while he was awake, in order to increase his stamina, his energy, his reflexes, his mental focus, his strength, his power. The ultimate key to his success was his breath.)
So, Yes! After how many decades of not fully breathing, imagine how 3 months of fully breathing will nourish you.
When I “prescribe” medicine of any sort (supplements or prescription), I start with a 3 month trial to determine its full effects. The most fundamental medicine we take for granted: oxygen.
So, for the next 3 months, let’s sit with our bodies and learn to breathe again for physical transformation, and let’s pay attention to the body-intelligence centers of the Enneagram for spiritual transformation.