I'm thinking a lot about breathing this week. What prompted this was my annual asthma review on Monday with a very enthusiastic practice nurse, far more enthusiastically anti-asthma than I've encountered in some years. I've suffered from asthma all my life, so these reviews have become routine, if not an irritation - yeah, I have asthma, it's a chronic condition, treatable but incurable, shit happens, take your inhalers and move on. As such when the nurse asked me if I thought my asthma was "well controlled", I said yes. According to the working medical definition, she told me, no it isn't.
It's good for your ego to come up against the cold, hard truth about yourself every once in a while. Facts don't lie (despite what you may have heard recently from across the pond) and they'll undermine the narrative you may have built about your life at any chance they get. So it was that a quick spirometer test (something less passionate asthma nurses haven't given me before) revealed that I have a "lung age" considerably older than the age of the rest of my body. Turns out I've been taking weaker inhalers than I should have been for years, and probably not even using them properly. Asthma has been wreaking its revenge for my complacency.
Some frantic googling when I got home showed that "lung age" is something misleading of a term. Perhaps it's designed to shock the average non-medically trained patient (hello!) into taking better care of their vital organs. My own personal figure (65) doesn't really tell you I have the lungs of man my dad's age, at least not exactly. Stumbling into some forums I came across COPD sufferers with lung ages in the 140s. Needless to say, these people were not born in the 1870s. Some were younger than I am. Another thing about "lung age" is unlike actual age, it's not linear. My lungs won't necessarily be 70 in five years from now. Hence, new inhalers.
Anyway, enough about me. Let's think about breathing. We all breathe, and we do it without thinking. Perhaps we shouldn't. Perhaps the yoga teachers and mindfulness gurus and compulsive meditators are on to something really important. Focus on your breathing. It's no coincidence that western and eastern spiritual traditions alike have associated breath with the divine. There's just something about a long, deep breath that immediately draws you out of the mundane. It's simple physiology, and it doesn't matter whether you express it metaphysically or not. The deep breath slows you down. It grounds you. Or put more precisely, the inhalation grounds, draws you inward; and the exhalation brings you back again. You feel immediately more alert, more present. A simple boost of oxygen can be all you need, and let's put it in Gurdjieffian terms (why not?) to remember yourself.