Use of the breath has been advocated as part of spiritual healing throughout different civilisations and used since ancient times by indigenous healers in Africa, India, China and other parts of the world. In essence the healing task has been described as aiming to balance and harmonize various patterns of energy flow within and without our physical and subtle bodies. This also extends to our relationships with one another and the wider community and within nature through tuning in to the rhythms/vibrations of the cosmos, nature and humanity.
This healing energy is typically experienced through the life-breath as a form of bridge between nature, God, ancestors, body, mind and world. Breath-based spiritual healing may be viewed as holistic, contextual and essentially psychological, in the original and literal meaning of this term, in its concern with the logos (study) of the psyche (breath, energy, consciousness, soul, or spirit of life that leaves a person at death and continues in some other form).
In Christianity in John’s gospel we read: ‘Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.’ This surely is an echo of God breathing life into Adam but here the disciples are empowered by the breath to become alive and do the will of God.
In Buddhism the practice of breath control – pranayama is a way of focusing on the breath. Sandra Sabatini writes that all you have to do is to ‘breathe and be aware of how you are breathing. Breathe through the nostrils easily, naturally’. Here the emphasis is on the level of attentiveness:
‘notice how the breath comes in and goes out
notice what happens at the end of an exhalation
notice what happens at the end of an inhalation
notice, listen, observe
by putting your attention on the breath
and just being aware’
This is the start of healing and removing the physical and psychological toxins that have built up in the body. She says it may appear that this is nothing much but ‘minute rearrangements have taken place at a very deep level and …their echoes like a ripple, will go on resounding inside you for hours, for days.’ Following this practice breathing (the breath of God) then becomes a magic event, ‘delicate and exquisite.’
‘You will find that this increasing observation of your breath opens a door to the unexpected. This simple instrument will lead to infinite discoveries. When you are in a difficult situation, if you are in pain, or when everything seems to fail, you can reconnect to your breath and find relief. As you learn to be in its company all the time, you wonder how you could have forgotten about it for so long.’
In other words – just keep breathing…but sometimes mindfully…