I was recently listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Radiolab, who were doing an episode on breath. Yes! You can check it out here. One of the most exciting and captivating stories they told was about our very first breath and the process babies go through to be breathers. I want to share a super simplified version with you, because it was just so cool. And then, definitely go and listen for the full scoop.
When babies are gestating in their mothers, their lungs are full of amniotic fluid. They are not breathers because their mother breathes for them. During the process of labor, babies get squeezed, like, a lot, and through that squeezing, all of the fluid moves out of their lungs and is absorbed into their bodies. Thus, the lungs are empty, ready to take the very first breath. When the baby emerges, it’s the first time they’ve ever been cold. Really really cold. Because of this extreme cold, the skin sends a signal to the brain to WAKE UP the breathing mechanism. And, at the same time, the umbilical cord begins to constrict, cutting off the flow of oxygen between mother and child. This combination of oxygen deprivation and cold basically shocks our system into inhaling. And, tada! Our first breath.
Is this super cool, or what? The body is absolutely incredible. The intelligence of our system blows me away consistently. And, it blows me away even more how little we appreciate our bodies. We completely take our bodies for granted. We don’t want to have to eat well, exercise, do physical therapy, practice yoga, get massages, drink lots of water, etc, in order to be healthy. We just want it to work! And very little is as frustrating as when your health comes into question.
It’s super easy to lose track of your body. If everything is going (mostly) according to plan, we can simply spend all of our time in our heads. Totally disconnected from what our body is telling us. More and more scientists are understanding the important connections between the functioning of the body and our mental health. But for too long, they are have been treated completely separately.
When we are able to listen to all the signals our body sends, we can realize that it’s telling us so much. Yoga teaches us to tune in, to pay attention to the whispers and murmurs and subtle messages from our body. Yoga (especially yoga that is slow and quiet) gives us the great opportunity to really feel things out. How do the two sides differ? What is the shape of the spine? What muscles get regularly recruited and which are left behind? How does movement and breath together land in the nervous system? What is the state of your gut?
In this way, our practice can become a celebration of our body. And damn, it deserves to be celebrated! It’s with you all day, every day, in sickness and in health. Typically, when you treat it well, it responds accordingly. Your body is YOU. So treat yo’self and celebrate it with the practices that serve you best.