Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Breathing ... One Of Those Important Little Things!

We can survive on average, before brain cells start to die or the body begins to die, 3 minutes without oxygen, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food.

Think about the things we do to keep ourselves healthy - we pay attention to our food and drink but we often forget the breath. Breath in the short term can have the most subtle affect on our health, but in the long term the effects are profound. Pay attention to your breath.

The average person - 25 % lungs with each breath! Some much less even. Swami Gitananda maintained that people today use less than one-tenth of their breathing capacity! If we breathe into only 25% (or even less) of our lungs’ capacity with each breath, then we are breathing in only a quarter the potential life-giving, live-sustaining, vital energy each and every moment.

If we look into the various breathing patterns of creatures in nature, we see some interesting parallels between breath and behavioural characteristics. For instance, those creatures that are easily excitable (quick to jump, or edgy) breathe with higher rapidity. A mouse takes 50 breaths per minute and a monkey, a cat and chicken all around 30. The horse takes 16 breaths, an elephant 10, and the most immovable of all creatures, the tortoise a mere 3 breaths per minute! When we consider longevity, the maximum lifespan of a mouse is but a meagre 3 to 4 years compared to the elephant which lives on average for 70 years. The lifespan of a tortoise is 193 years!

A healthy person breathes on average 21,600 times per day - 15 breaths per minute.

That number can vary from anywhere between 11 or 12, up to a distressing 20–24 breaths per minute in the most unhealthy of individuals. How about you?…

Exercise 1 – How many breaths per minute Get yourself a stopwatch or get someone to time you for sixty seconds. Breath normally as you would, don't try to deepen or lengthen your breath as in meditation. Count your breaths for one minute. How did you do?

"Evolved human beings have a very calm breath. Normally you breathe fifteen times a minute. If you breathe ten times a minute you’ll be very energetic. If you breathe five times a minute you’ll be very intelligent. If you can breathe one time a minute you will become invincible. The power of breath should be under your own control." Yogi Bhajan

Our breathing is too shallow and too quick. We are not taking in sufficient oxygen and we are not eliminating sufficient carbon dioxide. As a result, our bodies are oxygen starved, and a toxic build-up occurs. Every cell in the body requires oxygen and our level of vitality is just a product of the health of all the cells. Shallow breathing does not exercise the lungs enough, so they lose some of their function, causing a further reduction in vitality. We need to breathe more slowly and deeply. Quick shallow breathing results in oxygen starvation which leads to reduced vitality, premature ageing, poor immune system and a myriad of other factors.

Why Is Our Breath Fast and Shallow?

There are several reasons for this. The major reasons are:

1.Hurrying - Our movements and breathing follow this pattern.
2.Stress - modern living makes us breathe more quickly and less deeply.
3.Emotions - We get too emotional too easily. We get excited easily, angry easily, and most of the rest of the time we suffer from anxiety due to worry. These negative emotional states affect the rate of breathing, causing it to be fast and shallow.
4.No need - Modern technology and automation reduces our need for physical activity. There is less need to breathe deeply, so we develop the shallow breathing habit.
5.Pollution - We are working indoors more and more. This increases our exposure to pollution. As a result, the body instinctively inhales less air to protect itself from pollution. The body just takes in enough air to tick over.

The Effects of Shallow Breathing

1.Reduced vitality, since oxygen is essential for the production of energy in the body.
2.Increased disease. Our resistance to disease is reduced, since oxygen is essential for healthy cells. This means we catch more colds and develop other ailments more easily. Lack of sufficient oxygen to the cells is a major contributing factor in cancer, heart disease and strokes.

With our 'normal' sedentary way of living, we only use about one tenth of our total lung capacity. This is sufficient to survive and just tick over, but not sufficient for a high vitality level, long life and high resistance to disease. The ancient yogis knew the importance of correct breathing and developed techniques not only to increase health and life span, but also to attain superconscious states.

The Chinese have a saying, "The man who breathes to his toes will live to be 100 years old."

Exercise 2 – Breathing completely into the abdomen. Lie comfortably on the floor. Place your hands on your abdomen. Breath normally for a moment and see if you breath only into your chest or see if your belly rises with each breath. Spend a few minutes now breathing deeper, allowing the lungs to push down causing the diaphragm to drop and the belly to push up as you breath in. It should fee like a baloon expanding gently and then going down again. Breath into your belly then into your chest with each breath. This is the correct way to breathe. With practice it comes naturally, you'll be surprised how may don't do this already. We all far too concerned with holding our tummys in! How about you?

Importance of Breathing Through The Nose

The first rule for correct breathing is that we should breathe through the nose. This may seem obvious, but many people breathe principally through the mouth. Mouth breathing can adversely affect the development of the thyroid gland. It can retard the mental development of children. The nose has various defense mechanisms to prevent impurities and excessively cold air entering the body. At the entrance to the nose, a screen of hairs traps dust, tiny insects and other particles that may injure the lungs if you breathe through the mouth. After the entrance of the nose, there is a long winding passage lined with mucus membranes, where excessively cool air is warmed and very fine dust particles that escaped the hair screen are caught. Next, in the inner nose are glands which fight off any bacilli which have slipped through the other defenses. The inner nose also contains the olfactory organ-our sense of smell. This detects any poisonous gases around that may injure our health.

The yogis believe that the olfactory organ has another function: the absorption of prana from the air. If you breathe through the mouth all the time, as many people do, you are cheating yourself of all this free energy (prana). The yogis say this is a major factor in lowered resistance to disease and impairs the functioning of your vital glands and nervous system. Add to this the fact that pathogens can enter the lungs via mouth breathing, and you can see that it's impossible to be healthy, not to mention vital, if you breathe through the mouth. It is easy to break the habit of breathing through the mouth. Just keep your mouth closed and you will automatically breathe through your nose!

Exercise 3 – Breathing through the nose. First spend a few moments just breathing in and out through the mouth. Then breathe in throught the mouth and out throught the nose. See how that feels. Then spend a few moments breathing in throught the nose and out through the mouth. Now try breaathing in through the nose and out through the nose. Feel the different qualities in the breath.

"When the breath wanders the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed the mind too will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath." Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Try just for a few moments each day to bring awareness to your breath. In times of stress it will calm you, in times of depleated energy it will revive you and in times of unbalance it will bring you back to your centre.

The Dreadess xx

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