**This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project. Weeks 3 and 4 are the letter B. For more about PBP, check out their website here.**
As I’ve gone through my studies in the past year, I’ve realized just how important it is to breathe, not only for mundane life or health purposes, but for magickal practice as well.
We all know what breath is. It’s the intake of air on the inhale, which is then released on the exhale. Breath keeps us alive. Without air, without breath, we would die. We all know this. But not many of us seem to appreciate this or really even pay attention to it. We take our breath for granted. People who have choked before, or who suffer ailments like asthma, or who have severe allergies and allergic reactions that affect breath can tell you exactly what it feels like to be without air. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world.
So how do we learn to appreciate our breath? We can breathe deeper. Seriously. Most people breathe too shallowly. I’m very guilty of this. I breathe so shallowly it sometimes looks like I’m not breathing at all. When you breathe deeply, you bring more air into the lungs and help circulate more oxygen in the bloodstream at once. You are rejuvenating your body by breathing more correctly. Humans are supposed to breathe deeply, but we allow things like stress, activity, pollution, etc. to impede the necessity of deep breathing.
Take a few deep breaths, one after the other (spaced out so you don’t get dizzy). Feel how the air flows in through your nose, down into your lungs, and out again. Feel how your lungs expand and make your chest and belly expand. Then feel how they deflate when you exhale. Feel how quickly your muscles begin to relax and tension starts to flow from your body. This is a natural reaction to breathing deeply and well. When we breathe too shallowly, the body is naturally more tense and is able to combat stress less effectively. Meditation is a great practice for discovering the connection between breath and body. Even if you don’t usually use meditation, or don’t want to use it for quieting the mind, you can still use it to improve your breathing and to learn about the breath. It’s also great for learning breath control, which is somewhat different from just improving breathing. If you’re a shallow breather like me and want to breathe more deeply on a regular basis, you have to retrain your body. Most of us aren’t born shallow breathers; it’s something we’ve learned somewhere along the way, either as a reaction to prolonged stress or some other situation, or even as part of a medical condition. Breath control is choosing consciously when to inhale and when to exhale. Improving breathing is changing the body’s habit of shallow breathing to deeper breathing, and takes longer to accomplish than breath control.
In my particular brand of magickal practice (and yes, I realize the following may not be true for other traditions), breath is tied to the element Air and the East. It’s obvious why breath is part of the Air element, but take that connection a step further. When you take a breath, you are inhaling Air. You are taking into your body and personal space the qualities of the element Air. You are letting that element in. If you work with the quarters, deep breathing and attention to breath are one of the easiest ways to connect with the East quarter and Air. If you work with elements and want to see how Air affects you, then study your breath. You will find how changes in breathing affect your body and your spirit when you study your breath. Usually when we think of Air, we tend to think of wind. The question for me was how does wind affect me? I struggled a little until I realized I could find Air much closer to home.