Breath For Health

Identify Your Partner's Communication Preference

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

In a previous article I described a particular way of breathing. According to this technique, called "long breath," as you inhale move your attention downward and follow the chest expanding horizontally and vertically and then to breath descending into the belly and the pelvis. While exhaling, move your attention upward, slightly pulling in the belly and the solar plexus, following the breath upward to the sternum, chest and all the way to the nostrils.

A concerned reader of my column called to inquire if belly breathing was wrong. I assured him that belly breathing was not wrong and in fact was particularly good for singing, playing instruments like the flute or clarinet and for relaxation. What I presented in that column was the breath for health, particularly good for its effect on overall health.

Make it a habit to breathe consciously. Conscious breathing is the single most beneficial thing YOU can do for your health. In order to understand the importance of breathing for health, let's review the physiological functions of breathing.

Not being an expert in this field, I turn to Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., who has provided an excellent account of the breath physiology in Meditation as Medicine. According to Dr. Khalsa, automatic breathing is often quite ineffective. Unfortunately, most of us tend to be limited to automatic breathing.

One third of us don't breathe well enough to sustain health. Oxygen intake and elimination of carbon dioxide is too inadequate to allow optimal functioning of the heart, liver, intestines and other vital organs.

Let's review the effect of breathing on various physiological systems.

Cellular level: Longevity and health of every single cell in body and brain depend on oxygen intake through breathing.

Nervous system: Deep and slow conscious breathing tones the entire central and peripheral nervous system.

Circulatory System: The quality and efficiency of blood circulation depends on breathing. When tiny air sacs in the lungs receive more oxygen, the heart pumps more blood into the body. The body then absorbs nutrients more effectively. Toxins and wastes are more thoroughly eliminated. Because breathing is so directly and closely linked with circulation, the diaphragm is sometimes referred to as the "second heart."

Muscles: Muscles are developed or wasted depending on the efficiency of breathing and blood circulation. When muscles don't get enough oxygen, they hurt.

Liver function: When breathing is shallow or irregular, the liver cannot adequately transmit the blood to the heart. Accumulated blood in the liver can cause inflammation. However, deep, slow and conscious breathing can suck up excess blood accumulated in the liver.

Digestive function: Khalsa observes that poor digestion, including heartburn, is one of the most common reactions to shallow breathing. Deep and slow breathing by providing more blood to the alimentary canal improves digestion and reduces acidity and gas.

"Rotto-Rooter" function: Conscious breathing even helps the lungs by cleansing the lungs of the toxins and noxious waste. Inefficient lungs may retain all kinds of toxins, pollutants, allergens, viruses and bacteria. Deep and full breaths recruit the entire lung into the act and can clean it of noxious substances.

Mood Management: When the brain doesn't get enough oxygen, we feel anxious, dizzy or lightheaded. With an abundant supply of oxygen, we tend to feel energetic and cheerful. One of the best ways to calm yourself is to breathe deeply.

Many people with emphysema suffer from anxiety and/or depression. Since the breathing has a direct effect on emotions, it appears that compromised breathing, as in emphysema, may contribute to such negative emotional outcomes.

Since I have emphysema, I can tell you that conscious breathing helps to maintain a positive mental attitude, in spite of the illness. Conscious breathing and positive mental attitude aid each other by forming a virtuous cycle.

Immune Function: As the controlled breathing reduces stress and negative emotions, your immune function, too, may improve. According to Dr. Khalsa, conscious deep breathing can prevent respiratory infections including common colds. I have not had a common cold in the last couple of years, thanks to the continuous practice of deliberate deep breathing.

Pain Management: Deep, relaxing breaths and the practice of consciously holding and releasing of breath increase the production of endorphins, which in turn reduce the feeling of pain.

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Copyright 2003, Mind Publications 
Posted March 2003


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