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In the beginning, there was breath.

The word for breath in isiZulu is ‘umphefumulo,’ which also translates to soul or spirit. To breathe is 'uku-phefumula' but when someone has passed away we also say, “um-phefumulo wakhe usuhambile,” translating to 'their breath/soul has departed.' Therefore, soul and breath are deeply intertwined, and we deduce this connection through the key our ancestors left in language.

Could this imply that we are breathing with our soul that will one day depart from the physical and return to its origin?

As someone who practices meditation, this double meaning in the word ‘umphefumulo’ stood out for me. The information it relays to us is that our ancestors understood the significance of breathwork, typically practiced through meditation. It is not a teaching that originates from the eastern world, but language informs us that it exists on the African continent we have just forgotten.

In the conversations I have encountered with many religious people, it is argued that meditation is ‘demonic’ in favor of prayer. Prayer is beautiful but there are times for quietness, stillness, and presence. And you cannot say 'umphefumulo' is demonic unless African languages are now demonic?

Through meditation (ukuzindla) breathwork or soul work is practiced.

When we practice breathing, we connect to our soul, which is how we truly connect to our Creator, uMdali. I once heard it said best, 'Breathing is like dialing the number to God.'

Nature is our best teacher, when observed it shows the simplicity of existence; from the trees, rivers, mountains, blooming flowers, insects, and animals. In a world where our lives are over-complicated to find pockets of stillness and silence is pertinent to our mental health. Breathwork (ukuphefumula) and meditation (ukuzindla) help us to locate the state of simple existence as creation intended.

Clues left in our language show us that Africa has practiced this sacred ritual since the beginning of human existence. So breathe, phefumula mntana wethongo, and connect to your higher consciousness.

A simple breathing exercise (in preparation for sleep).

(You can sit with your legs crossed or lie down)

  1. Open your mouth and breathe in deeply, hold your breath, then inhale again through your nose.

  2. Gently hold your breath for as long as you can.

  3. Slowly breathe out all the way.

(Repeat 5 times)

You will now be breathing in and out deeply and consciously.

  1. Become aware of your entire body, scan your whole body and clear all ailments through breath.

  2. Become aware of the silence and rest in it for as long as you can.

  3. Focus on your heart and let go of the heaviness of the day.

  4. Stay aware of the silence, which is the sacred space.

NB: There are people who say they can't meditate because of how chaotic their thoughts become, but that is exactly the purpose of meditation. When you quieten your mind, thoughts will immediately begin to flood, and meditation is the consistent practice of getting back to the quietness even if it lasts for short periods. As your practice, you'll improve.

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