Breathing and 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 the action of breathing is 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. Take a yoga class and you will find that correct breathing will be one of the first things addressed.

Through years of unconscious conditioning, most adults breathe with their chest muscles rather than the muscles of the diaphragm and abdomen which is a waste of our energies and does not oxygenate the blood well. If you want to see correct breathing in practice, watch an infant clothed in just a diaper. Their little abdomen pumps in and out moving the air. It is only when they feel traumatized that they begin to ''hold on'' to their breath and the chest begins to rise and fall rather than the abdomen.

Our ''training'' as young adults included things like sit up straight, hold your shoulders back, suck that belly in. These postures naturally force us to switch to breathing with our chest muscles rather than doing what comes naturally.

As we move through our lives, facing times of stress, illness, physical or emotional abuse, breathing patterns begin to change through an unconscious effort 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 an effort not to let go.

Some of the more common symptoms of dysfunctional breathing are anxiety, tension headache, tight shoulder and upper back muscles leading to pain and dysfunction in those muscle groups. Chest breathing 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 which starts with a simple focus on the breath and where that breath originates. One cannot focus on an unconscious act throughout our busy day and expect it to change; It's not possible. We learned this pattern on 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 the breath out through the mouth, always slowing the breath. The daily practice of meditation preferably 10-15 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 feel calmer and be healthier for it.

Till next time, Rebecca

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online July 24, 2001

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