A New Way to Strengthen Your Lungs: Harmonica

Andy Bryner

Harmonica:  Hao’les to Harpin

Contributed by Forever Fit Science cofounder Grayson Fertig


Coming to Hawaii in the early 1980’s one of the first Hawaiian words I learned was “haole,” sometimes delivered  with a pejorative inflection aimed at Caucasians from the Mainland like myself….. (and yes, historically us newcomers did become known for heavy handed coopting of the beautiful Aloha island culture)

However, back then my Hawaiian friend pointed me to a different interpretation of the word nd a much more profound meaning than “insensitive white.”   In Hawaiian, haole literally means “no breath”. As Wiki points out: “because foreigners did not know or use the honi, a Polynesian greeting by touching nose-to-nose and inhaling or essentially sharing each other’s breaths, …. the foreigners were described as breathless. The implication is not only that foreigners are aloof and ignorant of local ways, but also literally have no spirit or life within.”

Throughout history other cultures and disciplines have emphasized the importance of breath:

·      Yogic tradition develops life force “prana” by breathing practices

·      Martial arts coordinate powerful strikes with phases of breathing.

·      Inuit breathing game of throat singing develops life force and connection in a region where the word for breath is synonymous to “poem.”

·      The modern medical world routinely measures your “vital capacity” by having you blow into your doctor’s spirometer.

One of my teachers was asked what was the best form of mediation.  His reply was “whatever form incentivizes you to show up each day and meditate.”   A breathing corollary for you could be:   “What practice or discipline is best to encourage you to enjoy and develop your vital capacity of breathing?”

Now you can add harmonica or “harp” to your favorite menu of breathing practices.   In addition to all those historical breathing disciplines, harpin is fun, personally expressive, and engages a high percentage of your brains capacity by including your what is commonly called right brain functioning.

The harmonica poetry of your breath can express the vast spectrum of life:

From the “straight or blow harp” major keys Americana or cowboy tunes like “O Susannah”  and “Home on the Range “

To the “cross or suck harp” blues wailing out the pain and passion of life from the Deep south or South Side Chicago….like James Cotton’s “slow blues – blues in my sleep” or like the harp of Charlie Musselwhite and Keb Mo.

Or just the sound of your own life breath vibrating your personal poetry on the reeds of your harp.

So in order to experience giving your breath “voice” on a harmonica, we can all thank Beck Wenger for her amazing simply wonderful lesson that will give you an immediate sense of how harpin is connected to your vital capacity of breath.

So when life knocks the wind out of you or leaves you breathless, it is a good time to join Beck Wenger and start harpin on it.


Happy Ha’ole Harper

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