Breathing Properly is Highly Beneficial

 Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D.

Proper breathing is an important component of a healthy physical and mental life. In fact, breathing is equated with life.  The word "Spirit" is derived from "spirare" which means to breaths.

Many fundamental actions are derived from the action of breathing.  A person is "inspired" by ideas, "aspires" to a higher goal, and "expires" when the last breath is out.  Such was the importance given to breathing by our ancestors.  We breath about twelve to eighteen breaths in a minute which comes to about 18,000 to 26,000 breaths every twenty-four hours.

You would think that if we did it that many times a day, then we all must have got it down pat by now and must be doing it right.  But my experience disproves such an assumption. 

When I teach mental and physical relaxation to people, I rely a great deal on their pattern of breathing.  In order for them to get in touch with their breathing and for me to know if they are breathing correctly, I ask them to close their eyes and observe the movement of their tummy as they breathe in and breathe out.  Most of the time, in a group of 6 or 7 people, I only find one or two who may be breathing correctly, and sometimes, there is not even one person in the group ding it correctly!

It is interesting to note that at one time in our life we all breathed correctly.

Nature starts us off with the correct way of breathing, which is the diaphragmatic breathing.  Look at babies during the first year of their life when they are lying on their backs.  As babies breathe in, their tummy rises like they are inflating a beach ball inside their tummies.  When they breathe out, the "beach ball" caves in.  This occurs because of the use of the diaphragm in breathing.

The diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle in the midsection, over the stomach and intestines and under the heart and lungs.  It is like a dividing layer between the lower and upper sections of our torso.  When you breathe in, the dome shaped diaphragm caves in to allow the lungs to be filled by air.  When you breathe out, the "dome" moves up to push air out of the lungs.

How much oxygen you take in with your breath and how much carbon dioxide you give off when you breathe out depends on how actively your diaphragm is involved in the breathing process.  To appreciate the full impact of this statement, reconsider the information that we breathe, on average, about eighteen to twenty-six thousand times a day.  So, even if you take just a little more oxygen each time you breathe in, it adds up in a day's time.  This will have a beneficial effect on physical and mental health.

You can do this little observation on yourself to check your own pattern of breathing:

Sit in a quiet place and just settle down for a minute or two.  Put your hand, horizontally, about one inch above your navel.  Close your eyes.  Breathe normally without trying to influence your breathing one way or the other.  Observe how your tummy moves every time you breathe in and breathe out.  If you are breathing correctly, you should find that the hand over the tummy moves as you breathe in and out.

As stated earlier, abdominal breathing is a correct way of breathing.  If your chest is moving as you breathe in and out, and you do not have a medical reason to do so, that means that you are breathing shallowly and incorrectly.  Having checked yourself for the abdominal breathing, now you may check if your tummy is moving in the right pattern.

Close your eyes again.  The tummy should move out when you breathe inn and go in when you breathe out.  If that is not happening, and for example, your tummy moves in when you breathe in, you can easily correct it.

Take a slow, deep breath in and breathe out slowly and steadily.  The next breath will come in automatically, that is without your effort.  Your tummy will move outward as you breathe in and move inward as you breathe out.  If you lose it again, no problem.  Take a deep, slow, easy breath and blow it out, slowly and steadily.  Do it as many times as you need to.  It will only make it better for you.

As you begin to pay steady attention to your breathing, it will be easier for you to monitor your breathing.  Any time you find yourself holding your breath or having a jerky breath, breathing irregular or faster, just go back to your belly breathing.

Caution:  In a rare instance, some people get more anxious when they pay attention to their breathing.  If you are one of those people who becomes anxious about breathing, try it only under the guidance of an expert.

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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