Take a Deep Breath
Think back to a time when you were really sad or upset, but you felt the need to stifle your tears. Now think of a time when you were really mad but needed to keep your anger in check. How did your body respond to these directives from your mind? Chances are you throat clamped down and your belly clenched, restricting your breathing to shallow, irregular breaths. But babies don’t hold back their breathing when they are feeling a strong emotion, do they? They wail and scream, right?
Now think about taking a walk on the beach in your bathing suit. Flat, muscled abdomens are considered attractive. As you visualize yourself on this walk, are you consciously or unconsciously tightening your abdominal muscles. Are you hearing a familiar voice from your childhood saying, “Hold your stomach in?” Tightening our abdominal muscles also causes shallow chest breathing. Most of us have come to feel this kind of breathing is normal.
My point is, we have been programmed to breathe shallow so that we can maintain control of our inside and outside selves. These teachings may allow us to appear more socially acceptable, as opposed to wailing and screaming like babies with Buddha bellies, but it comes with a cost. We no longer take in air in a way that optimally oxygenates our bodies, including our brains.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that elderly men with cognitive deficits responded positively to intermittent exposures of 100% oxygen. “Post-treatment performance on psychological tests of cognitive functioning showed highly significant gains over pretreatment levels in experimental subjects, suggesting an improved performance that persisted beyond the temporary increase in arterial oxygen tension levels. Control patients showed no improvement in post-treatment cognitive functioning.”
Other studies have shown that decreased oxygen levels can contribute to chronic fatigue, depression, irritability, poor judgment and other mental and physical problems.
There are claims on the internet that hyper-oxygenation can cure cancer, herpes, AIDS, migraine headaches, skin disorders, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other chronic illnesses. Though these claims have not been substantiated, I do find it intriguing that there is at least anecdotal evidence out there.
The good news is oxygen is free! And, perhaps, this is why oxygen therapy is not getting the clinical research it may deserve. I can tell you from personal experience that since I’ve incorporated both Bellows Breath and a Qigong breathing technique, known as 9 Warriors Breath, in my daily routine, I have experienced some correlated benefits, namely:
• I no longer wake up 3 times during the night and I feel more rested in the morning.
• My blood pressure has totally stabilized (before I had to keep working on balancing my pituitary gland with The Body Code System).
• My feet are not constantly cold.
• I’ve reduced my desire for coffee at 4pm as this is one of the times I use the Qigong “9 Warriors Breath”.
You can find a myriad of breathing techniques that will help you retrain your early programming and re-learn how to breathe effectively. Andrew Weil has an excellent CD titled “Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing”. Practices such as yoga, Qigong and Tai Chi, and certain breathing meditations are excellent ways to incorporate healthy breathing into your life.
To get you started, here is an excerpt from an article about how to reduce stress that gives instruction on how to breathe diaphragmatically. It is from Harvard Medical School’s website www.health.harvard.edu: Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, this type of breathing slows the heartbeat and can lower or stabilize blood pressure.
Here’s how to take a deep, healing, diaphragmatic breath:
First steps. Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit or lie down. Start by observing your breath. First take a normal breath. Now try taking a slow, deep breath. The air coming in through your nose should move downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural). Alternate normal and deep breaths several times. Pay attention to how you feel when you inhale and exhale normally and when you breathe deeply. Shallow breathing often feels tense and constricted, while deep breathing produces relaxation.
Now practice diaphragmatic breathing for several minutes. Put one hand on your abdomen, just below your belly button. Feel your hand rise about an inch each time you inhale and fall about an inch each time you exhale. Your chest will rise slightly, too, in concert with your abdomen. Remember to relax your belly so that each inhalation expands it fully.
Breath focus in practice. Once you’ve taken the steps above, you can move on to regular practice of breath focus. As you sit comfortably with your eyes closed, blend your breathing with helpful imagery and a focus word or phrase that will help you relax. Imagine that the air you breathe in washes peace and calm into your body. As you breathe out, imagine that the air leaving your body carries tension and anxiety away with it. As you inhale, try saying this phrase to yourself: “Breathing in peace and calm.” And as you exhale, say: “Breathing out tension and anxiety.” When you first start, 10 minutes of breath focus is a reasonable goal. Gradually add time until your sessions are about 15 to 20 minutes long.