Breath and Gratitude


Ida Rolf taught me that the first objective in the Structural Integration process is to release the fascia of the rib cage. By freeing the ribcage, one frees respiratory movement so that all tissues receive better oxygenation.  Well oxygenated tissues can more readily integrate the manual therapy. For nearly 50 years, helping people restore good breathing habits has been essential to what I write and teach about the body.

Most of this time I’ve been inviting people to value exhalation. There is good reason for this. Exhalation is linked to the part of your autonomic nervous system that slows your heart rate and relaxes your muscles. It’s the antidote to urgency. Asthmatics who struggle to inhale benefit from focusing on exhalation, because the relaxation induced by full and complete exhalation makes inhalation easier.


Meditative systems like that espoused by Pema Chodrun invite you to focus on breathing out. Restoring fullness of exhalation helps calm the hyper-aroused state incurred by the urgencies of modern living. It also prevents the many symptoms associated with chronic hyperventilation syndrome. Complaints such as migraines, digestive issues, sleeplessness, depression, heart palpitations and irritable bowel syndrome have all been associated with poor breathing habits, specifically the truncating of exhalation. Allowing the normal pause at the end of exhalation allows the breathing centers in the brain to assess the blood chemistry and automatically trigger the next inhalation exactly when it’s needed, eliminating hyperventilation syndrome.  (See The New Rules of Posture for more about chronic HVS.)

I invite my students to allow the emptiness the end of the exhalation in a way that primes the body to open and welcome the next inhalation. That momentary death within the pause bids life re-enter. 

Recently I listen to a podcast interview with David Steindl-Rast, whose Ted talk about gratitude has received over 6 million views. At the end of the podcast interviewer Krista Tippett asked him where he finds gratitude in the current geopolitical climate. He answered that it was enough to be grateful for the next breath.

There are many things in life that one cannot be grateful for—illness, death, cruelty, injustice, loss of all kinds. But what a lovely, simple thing to practice being grateful for my inhalation—for the fact that at this moment nothing stops me from enjoying another breath. This experience feels different from what I have taught for so long—to welcome the inhalation. Welcoming is surely beneficial. Being grateful takes respiration to another plane. I find it changes my outlook on the world.


Some Sufi mystics teach that respiration is contained in the name of God. “Ah” means “life or breath,” and “lah” means “the void.”   Our respiration is both.


© 2017 Mary Bond