bv Beth Fowler
People who breathe properly become calm, alert, focussed and energised. People who've combined breathing exercises with natural health practices report improved digestion, clearer skin and relief from asthma and rheumatism, to name a few conditions.
The Breath's Path
Your respiratory system delivers oxygen so you can play soccer, munch tortillas, heal wounds, have babies, solve problems, love, live. Oxygen constitutes about two-thirds of your body. The medulla oblongata, at the base of the brain, sends signals via the spinal cord stimulating the diaphragm and rib muscles to move, causing inhalation then exhalation. When blood carbon dioxide levels rise, the medulla oblongata telegraphs for faster, deeper breathing.
Air travelling through the nasal passages gets filtered and adjusted for temperature and moisture. Mucus membrane in the nasal cavity and sinuses kills some germs and prevents others from growing. Moving along the trachea (windpipe), air is then channelled through two bronchia into the lungs.
The lungs carry oxygen to the blood and remove carbon dioxide. Lungs trap, expel and destroy inhaled irritants with four cleaning systems - mucus, cilia, muscle contractions and macrophages. Breathing movements assist lymph circulation.
The lungs rest on the dome-shaped diaphragm. This muscle pushes downward, allowing the lungs to expand. When the diaphragm relaxes air containing carbon dioxide and water vapour is pushed out.
Consequences of Poor Breathing
A few, normally harmless, breathing aberrations are annoying. Yawning is believed to be the body's means of getting more oxygen. Spasmodic contractions of the diaphragm and glottis cause hiccups. Excess weight, alcohol and smoking exacerbate snoring, more common among men than women. Poor breathing deprives the body of adequate oxygen, decreasing efficiencies of bodily systems - lymphatic, circulatory, digestive, nervous, skeletal, and so on. Retaining excess carbon dioxide leads to acidosis. Symptoms vary from headaches, dizziness, fatigue, panting and weakness. Acidosis can accompany lung disorders, diabetes mellitus, severe diarrhoea and other ailments.
Shallow, rapid breaths and falling blood pressure can cause numbness, dizziness, and tingling in the extremities. People who are 'highly-strung' or in stressful situations are susceptible to hyperventilating. Smoke, dusts and other foreign debris impair the respiratory system. (Tobacco addicts claim smoking calms them. Smoking doesn't calm - deep, rhythmic breathing does.) Lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases create a cycle - breathing dirty air causes diseases which cause poor breathing which causes disease, and so on.
We've Forgotten How to Breathe
We were born breathing properly. Then we donned tight clothes, slumped, slouched, held our breaths when afraid or ashamed, imitated others' breathing patterns, sustained physical and psychological injuries, and grew up to be uptight, sedentary caffeine drinkers.
Observe your breathing.
What's your posture like?
Where does air enter? Both nostrils? One nostril? The mouth?
What moves? Shoulders? Rib-cage? Stomach?
Do you unconsciously sniff, sigh, gasp or inhale sharply?
Is breathing audible?
Compare duration, force and depth of inhalations to exhalations.
How many breaths (inhalation plus exhalation) per minute?
Does air get snagged or travel uninterrupted?
The above questions make you aware of your habitual breathing pattern... Now try these breathing exercises.
Breathing Exercise - Part I
(Tape this to play back, or have it read to you.)
Loosen or remove tight clothing. Sit in a solid, stable chair. Don't lean against the back. Place your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart, knees at right angles, your palms resting on your knees. Relax your shoulders. Let your chest sink a little. Lengthen the back of your neck so the crown is tall, without tilting your head back. Close your eyes and mouth. Rest the tip of your tongue on the gum behind the front teeth.
Let the abdomen inflate and deflate with each inhalation and exhalation. Your chest and shoulders are still. Do not pause between inhalation and exhalation. Adults usually take about sixteen breaths per minute (fewer during sleep). Slow down to six breaths per minute - that's five seconds for inhalation, five for exhalation. Count "In-2-3-4-5. Out-2-3-4-5." Breathe quietly. If you need an extra breath, take it. Do this exercise for five minutes.
Breathing Exercise - Part II
Flow from Part I to Part II by focusing your mind 4 to 5 centimetres below your navel. Think of a pleasing colour. Imagine the colour pulsating in harmony with your breathing. Imagine that the air you breathe becomes the pleasing colour. If a colour appears that you didn't conjure up, enjoy it!
Breathing Exercise - Quick Version
Control breaths to be long, even, deep, slow and continuous. Picture the breath travelling down to the abdomen and out of the nose. Do this as often as you think of it.
Self-Healing - Do Part I and II then send your colour to a problem area or organ. Where the mind goes, energy flows. Send healing thoughts.
Power Up - During physical exertion (lifting heavy objects, childbirth, experiencing pain or intense pleasure) repeat the Quick Version as long as needed. Don't hold your breath at the peak of effort.
Stay Cool - Traffic is snarled, your footy team is losing and bills are due. Before reacting, breathe. Proper breathing can't eliminate stress. It tempers our response to stress.
Clean Out - While walking, breathe deeply to massage organs and motivate elimination processes. Proper breathing gives the body oxygen it needs. No breath; no life. Don't just breathe... B-r-e-a-t-h-e.
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