Before we’re born, we don’t even have to breathe on our own.
We take in oxygen through the placenta and the umbilical cord. The moment we leave the womb—the moment we are born—we are on our own.
We must breathe or we will die.
We gasp, we scream, we cry. Our lungs fill with air. They expand to full capacity for the first time.
Our first breath is so important, that Dr. Henry Truby of Sweden conducted a study where he was able to predict the personality, weaknesses and relative health of 15,000 children seven years later, after hearing only the form and intensity of their first cry.
These lungs that are expanding to capacity need more oxygen now. They begin to receive more blood flow than they received while we were in the womb. As a fetus, the lungs served virtually no purpose, so the divine intelligence of the body didn’t send a heavy flow of oxygenated blood there. It would have been a waste of fetal energy.
As a newborn, the umbilical cord is now no longer serving us. The body’s divine intelligence, once again, creates changes. The veins begin to constrict. They will eventually atrophy, leaving behind what we know as a “belly button.”
Use it or lose it.
No one teaches us to breathe. The compression of the fetal chest in the birth canal may cause the urge the breath. We are compressed, we are trapped, we need space—so our innate instinct is to breathe.
We know this as a newborn, because we haven’t yet learned to doubt, to mistrust.
We don’t learn how to breathe, but as we get older, we learn not to breathe.
As we grow, we also contract, and constrict as we learn fear, anxiety and stress. Our muscles contract and tense up when we are afraid, stressed or anxious. The fascia clings together. We hold our breath. We unconsciously learn not to breathe, not to fill our lungs to capacity, not to stand tall and take up space. We slouch and we shrink, fearful of being noticed, fearful of standing out.
Then one day we realize that we need to use our breath, our muscles, our body.
For me, it happened when I was about to lose my sanity—I realized I must use my breath and my body.
We are made of space, literally. We are made of exploding star stuff. Our atoms are 99 percent devoid of matter. They are empty.
We need the space—the expansion—that breathing creates.
It helps us to continue creating space, to become devoid of conditioning to continue unlearning the fear, anxiety, and stress that we have learned, the stories that we’ve held on to for dear life, even though they were no longer serving us. We continued using them, we didn’t let them atrophy and fall away like the umbilical cord we no longer needed as we progressed from a fetus to a newborn.
It helps us expand our bodies and our constricted, tightened muscles.
It helps us grow taller.
It helps us let go.
We allow the fear, anxiety, and stress to force us into a corner, until the urge to breathe is so strong that like the newborn baby whose chest was compressed in the birth canal, we let out a gasp, a cry, a scream.
We are reborn in that moment. Our lungs expand. Our awareness expands. We let go.
Every moment is our first breath—it is that vital, that important—the right here, right now.
Every moment can be that beautiful, as beautiful as baby’s first breath; perhaps those first cries are the throes of ecstasy, announcing one’s divinity: “Hello world, I am here!”
Don’t be afraid to take up space—breathe.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta