“I think 2020 will surely go down in history as the year of the breath. The year the global pandemic catalysed a global consciousness of what it means to breathe, to live, to die, to be human, to be vulnerable, to be creative.”
These are the powerful words of Dr Ela Manga, an integrative medical doctor, author, and founder of Breath Africa, an organisation that promotes the use of breathwork for transformation at all levels of society. She was speaking at the Breath Symposium, which took place in October and November 2020.
Dr Manga has written a series of books on breathing, the first being Through the Lens of Breath, where she collaborates with street photographer Simon Kehagias. In this visual book, Manga and Kehagias explore through words and images the expression of authentic energy in mind, body, heart and nature. She has also written a book called Burnout to Breathing, which can be downloaded on her website, drelamanga.com. This book helps upgrade your body-mind software using the ancient technology of breath.
Dr Manga also has a podcast called Threads of Healing, in which she speaks to experts from different industries such as doctors, journalists, entrepreneurs, and activists.
The year 2020 was filled with many tragic events that affected one's breath to some degree. We were reminded of the long-term damage our planet is suffering when we saw wildfires scorch through the Amazon. We saw life leave George Floyd when a police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes, and we remembered Eric Garner, who also died at the hands of police (in 2014) and uttered those words. We remembered all those who cried “I Can’t Breathe” while in police custody, we were reminded of how suffocating injustice can be for a black person. And then we were faced with an infectious disease that left many gasping for air, fighting for their lives and leaving many without their loved ones. We also have to note the suffocating anxiety that comes with living in a world that has been overrun by a deadly viral disease.
Dr Manga speaks of some of these issues in her presentation at the Breath symposium. She shared with us why and how the art and science of conscious breathing has the potential to catalyse a revolution in healthcare, in education, and in our politics. To return basic agency to us as individuals, back to our greatest human capacity for compassion and creativity, and connection.
She says “the breath is a bridge between an embodied experience, science, our history, our ancestry, and our story as humanity”. Over many years, Dr Manga explored the correlation between breathing and its connection to how it affects the body. And through this exploration she found that “it has been estimated that 90% of the general population has dysfunctional breathing patterns created as a result of chronic stress, past trauma, poor diet, postural tension patterns, and environmental pollution”.
Dr Manga emphasises the connection between our health and breath. She says “our unconscious breathing habits reflect our patterns of thinking, our feelings, our emotions, our behaviour, and our posture. This explains so much to so many people. Often when one feels suffocated by obstacles they are faced with, your mind and body are deeply affected. It is in the way you walk, what you eat, how much you eat and generally how you interact with people. However the relationship we have with our breath assists us to get through whatever challenges you may be facing. It could be taking a deep breath, meditating or practicing other breathing exercises that may give you control of self again.
It is amazing that the simple act of breathing can have a major impact on one's health. Dr Manga shares with us that breathing through the nose, which many don’t do, has major health impacts. She says “50% of the general population will breathe chronically through their mouth. And this will exacerbate the stress response and may even trigger anxiety as a separate factor. By teaching people to breathe through the nose again, we are teaching them rather to regulate the stress response, to increase the heart rate variability, to increase the heart coherence, and reduce blood pressure. And this seems to have a significant impact on levels of fatigue and improves sleep significantly”.
Dr Manga’s presentation reminds us of the holistic importance of breathing in society and in our lives in general. That lack of breath affects our psyche, the way we interact socially as well as our health. Breathing is something many don’t take seriously other than that it validates that they are alive. Breathing goes way beyond that. It provides a compass for who one is in their entirety. We part with Dr Manga’s last words from the presentation: “It is my greatest desire, that we will bring conscious breathing into our school curriculum and into our healthcare system. That the breath will take centre stage in the restoration of our health and our hearts. That as systems break, and collapse, we are ready to build the bridges within us and between us and armed with our most powerful inner resource one day at a time, one breath at a time.”