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Foundational Books: The Breathing Book by Donna Farhi

T

ry taking a breath right now without moving even a millimeter. You can’t. Breathing animates our entire bodies if we breathe fully and correctly. It alters the position not just of our chest and abdomen, but of our entire spine, the neck and head, and the hips and legs. Even the idea of breathing correctly”seems counterintuitive. We breathe about 19,000 times a day – how can we possibly do it wrong? But Farhi argues that one way that stress and trauma and fatigue manifest in our bodies is by changing our natural, full and free breathing patterns. Over time, these altered responses become ingrained and automatic. What’s more, they can contribute to all sorts of disease conditions (think hypertension, migraines, chronic pain, asthma, panic attacks, even hot flashes) and usually go unnoticed. I thought as I read on, “but I teach yoga. I breathe deeply and fully all the time.” And then as I sat in front of my computer for the 4th hour in a row, I noticed that I was holding my breath as I cranked through my to-do list.


Farhi’s book is a tool that anyone can use, by themselves or with someone, to unlearn the bad breathing habits we have picked up just by living. She very methodically takes you through why full and deep breathing is good for you, the anatomy of the breath in the body, simple inquiries to help you determine where your breathing is fouled up, and equally simple exercises to help return the breath to its natural, unencumbered state. Some of the exercises are rooted in yoga, but not all of them are. Interestingly, this is not a book about pranayama, the breathing practices that are part of the yoga tradition. Farhi, a seasoned yoga teacher, specifically calls out pranayama and other techniques that attempt to “alter the breath by mechanical exercises” as having “limited effectiveness, since we are not changing the underlying structures that support healthy breathing.” This view is supported by my studies in yoga therapy. If we can't master a healthy natural breath, we really have no business doing (or teaching) more manipulated breathing techniques.


I definitely recommend this book for anyone looking for a therapeutic tool that they can employ on their own or with a friend to reduce stress and improve overall health. I have also incorporated some of the basic inquiries and exercises into my yoga classes with positive feedback.


Happy breathing!

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