What anybody with anxiety knows how to describe is fear. And chaos. And confusion. What they can’t find the words for is the feeling of peace - of tranquility or of rest.
Feelings are important for the anxious person. Though they may not be able to describe them accurately or in concise terms that others can understand, what they know is that they feel deeply, intensely and without any guard rails.
Some may describe it as a storm - a constantly tumultuous tug of wars outside of the natural realm. Others would draw out imagery of an ever-growing, never-ceasing wave that begins to build again just as soon as it crashes. Still others yet describe the constant gnawing of a persistent urgency for an unknown matter of substance - a maddening sense of heightened appeal for nothing and everything all at once. And then some won’t describe it at all except for having some vague sense that things are simply no longer in their control.
With human sense that fails to describe it, yet fully capable of being experienced in the human form, the result is often a smashing, exhilarating and exhausting crash of emotional and physical sensation. And then it usually starts over again.
If you felt a grip at your chest or a knot form in your belly or a pinch at the base of your neck or were reminded of the pain in your back as you read the words above, you might be exactly who I’m speaking to. You might already know that you struggle with anxiety. Or you might not.
Anxiety is real, but it is not your identity. Anxiety is not a pet name for who you are because anxiety is not an end-all, as much as it can feel that way. Anxiety is an ailment that has a remedy and it can start with something as simple as your breath. Anxiety is not who you are and it’s important that we start there.
Anxiety or “stress” may occur for a number of reasons and to varying degrees including mental, emotional or physical reactions. An increased heart and breathing rate are commonly associated to this state as the central nervous system attempts to prepare for real or perceived danger - and therein lies a largely modern problem. Physiologically speaking, the mind and body do not read imagined danger any differently than it does an actually dangerous reality. Your stress about an imagined future is equally as damaging to your health as if it were actually taking place. In a culture especially pressed by deadlines, social media and a high-stakes value on performance, we are stressed out now more than ever.
Because of the intimate connection of your physical responses to your mental state, one of the most apparently impacted physical attributes of anxiety are that of increased tension and rigidity of the diaphragm. The diaphragm in its proper function should move continuously with the inhalation and exhalation of every breath. The pump action of the diaphragm should act in such a way that creates a vacuum effect into the lower portion of the lungs to thereby initiate a calming physical state by activating the sensory nerves of this region. This function should also allow mobility of the visceral fascia, thus enabling healthy gut function, greater mental clarity and recruitment of core musculature. This is how it should work.
Anxiety, along with other dysfunctions, can negatively impact this self-regulatory process. Under stress, the diaphragm will become frozen. Over the course of time, it will become chronically rigid and may begin to manifest in issues ranging from immobility to asthma to disease. And this is where the practice of conscious breath can have an incredibly high value to restoring systematic wellness. Yes, it really can be that simple - though it does not mean easy, by any means.
As many topics can, the conversation around meditation, mindfulness or breath awareness can and will very quickly lead down a wormhole of things. My intention is not to add to the many voices, of which anxiety already has plenty, but to clarify exactly what I mean by a breath practice. What I will not do is lead you down a rabbit trail of tantalizing information and inference. With many experts within the space fielding important, true and intriguing biological research regarding the benefits of consciously improved breathing mechanisms, the purpose of this article is not to reiterate this information already available, but to propose a relatively unspoken point of view. (For the scientific mind, I recommend ‘The Oxygen Advantage’ by Patrick McKeown).
It is not many steps beyond breath awareness that comes a conversation around the spirituality of the human being. Though many people may draw the line here, there will be much missed by stopping short of this recognition. It is difficult to put to words the complexity of the multi-dimensional soul of man and terminology such as self-awareness, awakening and self-care are quickly followed by ideas of divinity, sovereignty and globally unified human consciousness. These terms of universalism go almost hand in hand with the community that surrounds the topic of breath practice - the religion of the New Age.
If there was nothing new to be said or nothing more true to be altered in the conversation, you would not be reading this article for it would not have been written. What the world is hardly in need of is more of the same, flawed thing.
Where Christian religion has admittedly fallen embarrassingly short is speaking up in the New Age with practical and reasonable affirmation of what it claims to be Truth. Not the relative kind of truth that one finds for him or her Self, but the eternally dividing words written within the book that leads such believers - the Holy Bible. Believing, or at the least hypothesizing, this to be actually true we would need to address the topic of breath through the perspective of a divine creation as it is relayed by biblical text.
In our translation of the creation story, the first mention to breath comes in the second chapter of Genesis when God “breathed” into man’s nostrils. The simple clarity of breath being given and welcomed through the nostrils portrays powerful significance in and of itself, but what I will focus on here is the terminology used to describe this act, the Hebrew word ruach.
Ruach is the original word that has since been mostly substituted in English translations as the “Holy Spirit,” an aspect of Godhood that is referred to as the Trinity. As a modern culture that gives little attention to the concept of the human spirit at all (versus Eastern cultures), this translation rapidly loses the power of its context. Ruach by its original definition refers to the "wind, breath, spirit and life force" of both human and God. The conceptual thought of this is acknowledged and worshipped within New Age thought at the human level. Where the divergence of belief occurs, however, is that the Bible also uses this term ruach in conjunction with the sacred name of a singular God to where we find that this word actually occurred even earlier than the creation of man back in the second sentence (verse) of the very first chapter when the “Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
According to the biblical account, then, the Spirit of God came before the spirit of man and is therefore a separate entity, spirit or being in and of itself. This starkly contrasts the New Age interpretation that man himself is God (or god or goddess) or can become one with such universal spirit independent of personal salvation, but rather, by empowerment of the Self - sometimes referred to as a Kundalini awakening. Though conceptually similar in the subtleties, the need for distinction is ultimately the defining clarity between black and white.
What I am clarifying apart from the worldly space of breath consciousness is that there is a spirit or life force that is apart from our own manifestation as human and that this breath or wind, aside from our Self, is something that we can actually experience because of the saving grace of the death of Jesus Christ. Only after the account of life, ministry, death, resurrection and promise of return by history’s most controversial figure does the text make apparent that the ruach of man and the ruach of God can be reunified as one - what some call a “baptism of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2). As intended by the initial creation, this unity was divided only by the detrimentally curious betrayal of man and woman who sought after spiritual enlightenment apart from Creator - the infamous allegory of Adam and Eve at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Whether you believe this depiction to be purely metaphorical or a literal historical account is not so relevant as to recognize that the Kundalini awakening, or other synonymous terminology, is precisely the same motif.
The practice of breath awareness alone may be in line with some degree of truth, but is not the authentic intention of the experience of ruach - the Breath of God. Un-truth can look very much similar to the Truth and that when it comes to the inherit spirituality of the practices into self-awareness this is the particularly deceitful reality into which an individual is bound to face. What I am saying is that at some divisive point, there is a choice you get to make. What I am not saying is that anyone can give this to you except whereby you choose to accept the invitation yourself.
Because anxiety is hardly the root of the problem - the choice is not about whether you will or can manifest a greater reality or not. Anxiety is the symptom of fear and fear is the warfare upon the human soul for territory of mind and body and therefore identity, purpose and action - or the frozen rigidity thereof. What we need to be talking about in the spiritual conversation about breath practice isn’t about enlightenment and expansion of the Self, but about salvation. If we cannot first address the truth about fear and the sovereign power of God who has overcome it, at best we will experience a sense of freedom found in a dangerously skewed sense of identity only addressed after incredible pain. At worst, we will continue down the black hole of this falsehood until nothing about Creation remains.
What we need to be talking about in the spiritual conversation about breath practice is ruach. What we need to be talking about is the Holy Spirit. What we need to be talking about is the Breath of God. And then, we listen. Then we know. Then we act.
Breath practice as an embodiment of supernatural reconciliation is really a practice in prayer.