The Value of Breathing
The Value of Breathing: How little we do and how important it is
By Kevin Cordi, Ph.D.
After returning from Japan in 2001 I examined life through a calmer window. It was there people were rushing to meet taxis, running to their jobs, and hurrying to meet life’s demands. However, although they were rushing, there was also stillness in the air. I witnessed a taxi driver walking me to a restaurant on foot so that I would not be lost or late arriving there. I witnessed people taking slow but steady time when addressing me. I saw a quiet appreciation for nature. I saw the strange chaos of the Japanese fish market, but also the quiet teachable times when children learning from their older mentors commerce, fish cleaning skills, and even how to communicate with each other. Despite the blaring of the horns, the massive amount of people running into the market and the sharp distinct fish smell, the place was quiet, restorative, and memorable.
I saw older Japanese quietly not forcefully working with young children to learn how to clean fish. I will never forget a young teenage youth jumping ahead an older Japanese man. The boy almost knocked this gentleman to the ground. I still can see an older man behind the boy, presumed to be the grandfather or relative of the boy, refusing to move. He stood resolute as the boy quietly returned, bow the man he almost knocked down and then bowed to his grandfather. Only then did they enter the market. Although everyone was not following this code of action, enough people did for me to take notice. In Japan I saw how a culture gathering in a hurry but relaxed at the same time. Combing these ideas in my teaching, storytelling, and my life, I have applied a new directional turn in looking at life entitled “No time for a hurry.”
This led me to question, could this simplicity be used to help us make decisions, become less aggressive and simply slow down even though we are raced by clocks, schedules, and other dictates?
“Why does our brain have to race with our bodies? From a non-violent stand point, most people who are violent have not taken time to think of their actions or don’t know non-violence is a choice.
The Buddhist practice is called “mindfulness.” Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Wherever You are There you are (1994) has to do “with with examining who we are, with questioning our view of the world and our place in it, and with cultivating some appreciation for the fullness of each moment we are alive Most of all, it has to do with being in touch.” (3)
Although I am not a practicing Buddhist, I do strive for mindfulness. Drawing from “No time for a hurry,” as an artist, storyteller, and teacher of youth and adults, it become necessary to remember the importance of breathing.
Why should we concentrate on breathing?
As Ruth Sawyer (1942) author of The Way of the Storyteller states,
“Let the first concern be about the breath. Learn to breathe from below the belt, not superficially from the chest. Learn to control the breath by the abdominal muscles, not the throat muscles…Whether one speaks correctly or not, for general health, for keeping one’s voice strong, free, and untiring, one should work regularly at this matter of proper breathing.” (Sawyer, 1942, p. 134).
Most communication theorists and researchers support that up to 70% of all communication depends on how we breathe. However, we spend little time concentrating or practicing our breathing because we think something else is more important. I contend nothing can be done well without first breathing well. Whether I am telling stories or presenting story based programs to young children or senior citizens, we breathe with each program. Whether I am sharing programs or telling stories to five or five hundred, I make every attempt to have my audience and/or participants breathe with me between and sometimes during the stories.
Yoga has been using breathing techniques for awhile, as instructor Alien Sheng reminds us, “Practicing good breathing is treated as an exercise without using energy and total relaxation without stress or pressure. In a yogic viewpoint, a good breathing is to provide more oxygen to the blood and to the brain, and also to control the essential life energy.” (see source) He continues, “Today, in our busy lives, breathing is a way to renovate the balance of our body, nourish our minds, and relate us to our inner source. Deep breathing is used to aid control panic, anxiety attacks, and mental stress. It is been found that there is a relationship between breathing and mental health.”
When developing story programs or telling stories to youth and adults, what purpose does breathing do for the teller and for the audience:
For the Teller
**This can be adapted for teachers, speakers, or anyone who uses speech or story in their occupation.
Often we feel rushed or impulsive or even apprehensive when first starting a storytelling session or program. Breathing slows us down. However, breathing with intent not only slows us down, but also places us in the moment of story invitation. This is where as a teller you focus on the way you begin and visualize the telling with the audience.
For the listener
When you include times for the audience to breath with you, they follow the story with the rate that allows them to quicker visualize the story.
Ways to include them:
From the beginning place breathing in your story starter
At significant times when it seems like you should take a break in the story (a gasp, a startling time, a giant appears, the grandmother finds her ring…) take this time to breath
Transitional times between stories. This serves as a bridge from one story to another but allows your listeners to travel from Africa to Peru to the land of fantasy and back again
At the end, this is a special time to breath back a wonder for the story
Breathing Techniques to Help Story Telling and Story Work with Youth
(This can be used with youth for telling and adults)
Reflect on Breathing: for five full minutes have the students simply place their focus on their breathing. Do they breathe fast or slow? Do they breathe where their shoulders rise (chest breath) or from their stomach (diaphragmatic breathing) Do they rush their mind thinking of other things or simply concentrate on their breathing? Do they relax or are they agitated when they breathe?
Practice Diagrammatic Breathing: Place one hand on the stomach and instruct others or yourself to breathe so that your shoulder does not rise. If this happens, good. If not, don’t force it, concentrate on making it so. When you do, you will be using your diaphragm when breathing and this will not only increase lung strength but also body and mind strength.
Softly Count while Non-forcibly Exhaling: Each day you should count in slow deliberate tones and try to increase the number for each day. However, do not force the exhale, this will be very harmful. Instead, work on casually increasing the number. This will provide more breath resonance and therefore strengthen your energy level.
Visualize Your Story during your breathing: As you become accustomed to breathing, now visualize the story while you county. Do not rush; allow your breathing to let you see the story. Initially start with the whole story and then when you are comfortable you can take certain times in the story to visualize.
Once you try these four steps, adapt breathing in your telling: Now that you have worked with these steps, now you can adjust your breathing, pay particular attention to possible silence or pausing that you can use for your story. You will find your whole story manner has a better sense of control. You are now allowing the story to take shape to compliment your breathing. Practice this and you will develop a new sense of awareness in telling.
Life is worth taking time to experience it. Don’t hurry if you don’t have to. Take time to enjoy it.