Breath & The Disease Connection

Most humans can live several days without food, sometimes weeks, a few days, usually three, without water, but only a few minutes without air. The unconscious act of breathing is one of the most frequently repeated actions in our daily lives­­ on the average of 17,000 to 30,000 times per day. If those actions are performed in an incorrect manner, tension will begin to develop in the muscles responsible for respiration.

Ancient mystics and yogis understood the importance of the breath and correct breathing and their practice of correct breathing is still taught today. Essentially, we westerners breathe with our chest muscles rather than with our diaphragms and the muscles of our abdomens. Chest breathing is a waste of our energies, does not oxygenate the body well, and can cause dysfunction in those muscle groups. If you want to see correct breathing in practice, watch an infant clothed in just a diaper. Their little abdomens pump in and out moving the air. It is only when they feel traumatized that they begin to hold on to their breath and you see rising and falling of the chest.

As we move through our lives, facing times of stress, illness, physical or emotional abuse, the breathing pattern changes through an unconscious effect to hold on or hold back. Think about the last time you were faced with a serious emotional trauma; more than likely you initially held your breath in in an unconscious effort to not let go. Also, we are taught to hold our abdomens in, shoulders back. This posture automatically causes chest breathing rather than abdominal.

Some of the more common symptoms of dysfunctional breathing are anxiety, tension headache, tight shoulder and upper back muscles leading to pain and dysfunction of those muscle groups. The breath is usually faster and less efficient and, in fact, we are usually overoxygenated, or hyperventilating. The hyperventilation causes a whole other set of symptoms including fatigue, insomnia, numbness, heart palpitations, pain and muscle spasms which can lead to the chronic use of medication, or to more serious kinds of conditions.

Undoing the incorrect pattern of breathing, something that is done unconsciously throughout the day, that many times, will take some work. The key to returning to a more normal pattern of breathing is meditation, yes meditation. We cannot focus on an unconscious act throughout our busy day and get anything done; it's not possible. For the most part we learned this pattern at an unconscious level and that's where we will have to unlearn it.

Most practitioners of meditation teach the individual to focus on the breath. To breathe in through the nose forcing the abdomen out, and out through the mouth, always slowing the breath. The daily practice of meditation, preferably 10­15 minutes twice a day if possible, can retrain the diaphragm and abdominal muscles to be the major muscles of respiration rather than the chest muscles.

Correct abdominal breathing massages the organs, calms the nervous system and energizes the body. It also brings balance and regulates our metabolic functions. There are days when we know we are more "inspired" than others, days when the breath of life flows easily. Try the practice of meditation and breath control for 30 days, you'll breathe easier, feel calmer and be healthier for it.

Till next time, Rebecca.

Posted to Zephyr Online October 16, 1998
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