By Ness white
In yesterday's article I wrote about the breath being an important key, a tool the Black Lives Matter organization -- and offshoots -- can use in their fight against oppression. I'd like to broaden my view, opening it to include all people who consider themselves oppressed or part of an oppressed group -- with their oppression particularly resulting in high stress.
To recap briefly, I wrote a graduate paper in 2013 that talked about how feminists of various races, classes and orientations can use the breath as a tool to fight oppression. Because research shows that oppression of all forms has been directly and unapologetically related to stress and stress has been directly related to breath, my belief is that breath can be used to address and combat stress, therefore addressing and combating the oppression meant to cause it.
"If focused, directed, breath can be developed, slowed down, relaxed -- even during stress -- enough to aid us in consciously addressing the effects our oppressions have on our entire beings," I wrote. "At its best, unhindered, unstressed, breath flows throughout our bodies, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually promoting life, health, vitality, calm, peace.
"Upon receiving stress signals from our brain, our breaths -- due to what is considered the natural 'fight or flight' response -- become shallow, quick. While considered to be a natural response to stress, helping us fight or flee immediate danger, if our stressed breathes are prolonged, they can have damaging, adverse effects on our bodies, hearts, minds, spirits.
"However, interestingly, breath utilizes the only muscle in our bodies that functions voluntarily and involuntarily, allowing it to be controlled: the diaphragm. With this ability to control the diaphragm, we are able to control our breathing -- more specifically its rate and depth -- reducing the harmful effects of stress on our bodies, hearts, minds, spirits."
During our interview for yesterday's article, yoga instructor Markedia "Moka" Hinds, brought up the term "diaphragmatic breathing." Other leaders and experts on breathing also call it "abdominal breathing" or "belly breathing," as it involves gently pushing the belly out upon inhalation and gently pulling the belly in when exhaling. This type of breathing is believed to help counter the harmful results of stress, as it induces a relaxing, calming response.
While the term "diaphragmatic breathing" might sound daunting, there are various articles online that offer insight on this type of breathing, particularly how to do it. For example, a recent article I came across on the Frederick (Maryland) News-Post website, "Ask Doctor K.: Fight Stress with Relaxed Breathing," shares some knowledge for beginners:
1. Sit down or lie down in a quiet and comfortable place.
2. Close your eyes so you won't be distracted.
3. Relax the muscles in your abdomen.
4. Inhale slowly, deeply. As you do this, allow the air entering your nose to move down into your lower belly. You should then feel your belly expand.
5. Exhale through your mouth. As you do this, your abdomen will become smaller.
Over the past few years during my own practice with diaphragmatic breathing, I've come across people who visualize images when they breathe in and out -- particularly inhaling life force energy and exhaling the parts of themselves they want to share with the world. Not necessarily necessary during this exercise, it's an added option for those who wish to do so.
Also, there are plenty of other resources available online. If you happen to come across some, feel free to leave links to them in the comment section for other readers to check out.