By: Jen Champion
I’ve always been intrigued by the breath and the unique qualities of being able to control and ignore it. We breathe without thinking about it and hold our breath more than we know. Holding our breath and not breathing correctly contribute to body tension and reduced lung capacity. This is not a place where we can function optimally. Breathing is our essence; we must ensure we are familiar with breathing correctly and then do it.
Abdominal/ Belly Breathing. Abdominal/Belly Breathing is a therapeutic exercise that strengthens our lungs, heart, and diaphragm. This practice relaxes the nervous system, lowers heart rate, and helps us gain resilience to stress. Babies naturally breathe in this way. As we move through life, we change our patterns and do not even realize we are not living optimally.
Sit tall with your body feeling the support of your chair. Bring awareness to the opening of your nostrils. Notice how you are breathing. Do you feel it mostly in your chest, neck, and shoulders? Try again. Be aware of your belly and receive an expansion there as you inhale, allowing your diaphragm to descend on the inhale and ascend on the exhale. Do you feel the difference? Keep practicing. Returning to a natural, relaxed breathing state of smooth, deep breathing takes time.
As a child, I would sit quietly and try not to hear the sounds around me.
I started to notice that I could feel and hear my breath. I was able to calm down and zone out. Sometimes I would catch an underlying current of awareness that felt far away from my outside world. I later learned it is called energy, prana, and chi. I continue to foster that connection. I study and practice yoga, aromatherapy, herbalism, and earth-based traditions that enhance my ability to what I now call zone in. My favorite recent discovery is using the breath to inspire the Native American Flute.
The most exciting part about my discovery is I was in a community flute circle with the First Lady of the Flute, Mary Youngblood. I heard about Mary and the Flutestock event from my husband. He plays various instruments, including his friend Jim’s handmade flutes.
At Flutestock, we made our way to Mary’s flute circle. Humorous, humble, and happy, she gifted us lessons with stories, laughter, inspiration, and guidance. Mary introduced herself, “I’m half Alutiiq (Aleut) on my mom’s side, and my father was mostly Cherokee from Florida. When I would say my parents were from Alaska and Florida, people would ask how did that happen? I would jokingly say, White man give us car, but the US Navy had everything to do with that!”
Mary’s eyes twinkled as she told stories and closed them when her breath gave life to her flute. I felt many emotions as she expressed hers through sounds that emanated from nature. I felt the wind around me, the earth below me, and held by something more profound than myself.
Mary began making music as a child, but it was when she was an adult that she began playing the flute. She is the first Native American Woman to record flute music and is honorably the First Lady of the Flute. Mary’s flute recordings have earned her multiple distinguished awards. She was the first female artist to win “Flutist of the Year” in 1999 and “Best Female Artist” in 2000. She is the first Native American woman to receive a Grammy Award for “Best Native American Music Album” and the first Native American woman to have won two Grammy’s, the first for Beneath the Raven Moon in 2002 and Dance with the Wind in 2006. WOW! You may see now why I am highlighting her in honor of Women’s History Month.
Mary enjoys creating music to entertain and comfort people. She offers her songs to help reduce anxiety and stress and provides a relaxing atmosphere for people in hospice settings. Mary uses her breath in specific ways and chooses distinctive flutes to tell her stories. Different notes and melodies express emotions and moods that convey her feelings. Her flute songs are played for ceremonies and celebrations and as a spiritual and healing instrument.
When we take time to sit and breathe with awareness, we enter a relaxed state of “rest and digest”. In that place, we can deepen our insight into our needs and well-being. Whether we intend to have fun or practice mindful relaxing, may we be inspired to unleash sounds, songs, and stories with our voices and instruments. Join Mary and me in our April newsletter. You will access our conversation, where we go deeper into the myth, magic, meditative and healing qualities within and around the Native American flute.
If you have any questions for Mary, send them to me and I will include as many as possible.
Practice with Mary Youngblood
Listen to her Grammy Award Winning Songs through the links below.