“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Breathe in, breathe out. Inhale, exhale. A simple exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide. We breathe an average of 23,040 breaths a day. Most of these breaths are involuntary, controlled by the brain stem, varying with our level of activity, anxiety, or excitation. They come and go without us even taking notice. When we breathe without thought, our breath can become shallow, irregular, and inefficient. Our body attempts to shift our breathing pattern when we are disappointed, defeated, frustrated, bored, anxious, stressed, or wishful by emitting an audible, forceful exhale – the sigh. Materializing several times a day, the sigh is often interpreted negatively as a form of passive communication by those around us. However, the sigh is not a means of communicating our emotions to another. It is simply a big exhale, a point to be present, a moment of mindfulness, or a fraction of time to re-focus. It is our bodies response to our unconscious rhythm of breath, a reminder for us to breathe out and let it go.
Plants use carbon dioxide and produce oxygen in the process of photosynthesis. Larger plants, like trees, process a lot of carbon dioxide and in turn, manufacture a lot of oxygen. In essence, they are the lungs of the planet. Scientists have observed fluctuations in the levels of global atmospheric carbon dioxide over a 12 month period. The two hemispheres of the planet have opposite growing seasons. Seemingly, the influence these opposite growing seasons have on global carbon dioxide levels would cancel each other out. However, the Northern Hemisphere has more land area, and therefore more foliage, than the Southern Hemisphere. The growing season in the Northern Hemisphere, especially during the warmer months of the summer, has an effect on the amount of carbon dioxide measured in the atmosphere. Plants use more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they photosynthesize and grow, lowering global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. As deciduous trees lose their leaves in the cooler months and photosynthesis ceases, global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels increase. These fluctuations in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are equivalent to the Earth taking a giant inhale and exhale – a planetary sigh.
Our breath is our anchor, our tether, our connection. When we our conscious of our breath, we can bring our awareness and focus out from the confusing and chaotic clouds of our head down to our calming, compassionate, loving heart center. The simple practice of breathing, the gentle exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide, can help us restore relationships, foster forgiveness, strengthen our capacity for self-love, and create space to hold thought and connection to others and to our environment.