Just wrapped up a series of voice lessons. When we moved, a friend sent me a link for an organization that offers music lessons to kids within the foster care system. It has been perfect for me. I needed something during a way less busy season of life.
Every time I get a new student we start with the fundamentals. We talk about range, intonation, about finding your distinct sound, about the diaphragm, how vocal registers work and of course…breathing. We start by taking some deep breathes in, and generally the same thing happens. As they begin to inhale the chest and shoulders lift. (Feel free to play along. Stand up or sit up straight and take in a deep breath.)
Then, I draw this picture. It’s my kindergarten art version of a pair of lungs and I ask this question, “Which part of the lungs do you think we use the most?” They generally circle the whole picture but I explain that based on what I just watched they are focusing on the top part of the lungs (not exactly what was happening mechanically, but it works for kids.) Then I ask, “If this is where we focus our breath what’s missing?” I’ll skip to the end and give you the answer. We are missing accessing the biggest portion of our lungs. We are filling our lungs from the top down rather than expanding the ribs, using our core, and filling our lungs from the bottom up. (Now, sitting up straight or standing, place your hands surrounding your rib cage and try to take in a breath that pushes your hands out. See the difference? Make sense?)
I think we are designed for full-lung, bottom-up breathing.
Watch an infant breathe. Their belly moves. Watch yourself breathe. Your shoulders move. I jokingly oversimplify with my students that at some point, something must scare us; we gasp, tense up in our shoulders and neck, and then forever breathe more shallow than we are intended to. So we have to retrain our body to support our breath how it’s designed to. (If you’re a pulmonologist, I know I’m probably not accurately portraying our respiratory system, but it helps me, help people, sing better. So forgive me.) And forgive me if I’ve spent too much time setting up my analogy…
I’m not sure life doesn’t work this way. We are made to breathe in life fully. We are designed that, “we may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) but the “may have” part trips us up. At some point, for most of us, something startles us, something shakes us and we often decide to stay in the shallow part of the life pool, we start breathing with less than what’s actually available. A “thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10 again) and we now breathe a different way.
I’ve been working on this tool to help us get a glimpse of how we may be currently “breathing” in terms of our spiritual growth. Something that hopefully encourages us to breathe with our full lungs, using our whole self to experience life; looking at how we can expand and reclaim some of that space that we have stopped accessing because life has knocked the wind out of us.
Let me ask. How deeply are you breathing? Have you fallen into a rhythm of a half-breath life? Have you forgotten how to breathe?
There are so many great verses that reflect the meaning of Christmas, but I’m not sure we will find John 10:10 on any Christmas cards or vinyl-ed on something surrounded by holly, or arched above a nativity scene. Still, I think it is just as fitting as any Christmas verse:
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
I have come that they may breathe deep. I have come that they may breathe fully. That’s why this whole thing started. That is what Christmas offers. A reminder to breathe deep. A reminder that, no matter why or when we started settling for the shallow, we can learn to breathe fully again.