Like a contented baby who breathes with sublime bliss from its belly, we too can learn to breathe deeply again. Breath is the basis of any silent or moving meditation, just as it is the basis of dancing, singing, or laughing. Breathing from the belly is something we do in deep sleep. Most of us, during our waking hours, return to the more shallow breathing area of the rib cage, which utilizes only one-third of our lung capacity.
Oxygen is so strongly connected to good health that it is helpful if we can learn to discipline ourselves to return to the more contented and balanced method of breathing, using the diaphragm and our entire lung capacity. Fear and anger are emotions that create controlled, frozen, or spurted breathing patterns high up in the chest. Outrage generally comes from the area of the gut, the belly. Laughter also comes from the belly and is always a strong, spontaneous medicine.
At the age of three or so, a child’s breathing moves from the belly more into the chest. This is a good age at which to remind children about belly breathing, teaching them to use it on occasion to calm grief, anger, fear, and other strong emotions. Adults, set in patterns developed and acquired during the course of life, often need more consistent practice. Breathing is a form of meditation on its own, and many old cultures still practice it.
It is also the basis of all life: real, full life. Perhaps the most attractive thing we are all capable of doing is laughing— whether at jokes, clowning about, funny movies, or slapstick humor. I make it my business to have these around me because I have always been attracted to laughter-making entertainment and fi nd it vital for my own well-being in the work I do. Very often, after a day spent treating the pain and distress of others, laughter provides almost instantaneous medicine.
I’m a great fan of comedy and have a growing collection of humorous videos so that I can get a quick laughter fi x to balance all the other more serious things in life. In the United States, where many progressive theories come from, music is being used directly for pain relief, relaxation, alleviation of psychiatric problems, and blood pressure reduction. In Britain’s National Health Service, a hospital in Oxford is at present offering treatment using music for stroke patients, together with massage at mealtimes to help digestion and at nighttime to aid sleep