Yes, breathing is an art, and it is a very scientific art. The act of breathing is much more than inhaling and exhaling air. It triggers off a whole chain of physio-biological reactions, spanning each of the billions of cells that make up our bodies. Extra oxygen in the blood stream stimulates the excretory system, thereby clearing the body of harmful toxins. Extra oxygen in the brain provides additional energy and vitality. Deep meditative breathing is a kind of reminder to the body that all is fine and in control.
Breathing has always been a part of our wellness arsenal, but somehow as one grows older, breathing becomes less and less scientific. It becomes shallow, and we begin to breathe in the chest, rather than the stomach.
So, what is the correct way of breathing?
Have you ever seen a baby breathe? In and out, deep and even, slow, easy and calm. If you look closely, you’ll see that it isn’t the chest that is rising and falling, rather it is the stomach. To put it more precisely, it is the diaphragm, the muscle between the chest and the abdominal cavity, which moves.
Now, compare this with your own style of breathing. Chances are that you’ll find that it differs. If you’re like most people, your upper chest expands as you inhale and contracts as you exhale. Over the years, you’ve learned to hold your stomach in.
The trouble is that this has become something normal in most people’s lives. Over the years, life in a crowded city, with chronic pollution problems and a lack of fresh air can result in the gradual shift from abdominal breathing (also called Belly Breathing) to chest breathing.
This shift in breathing pattern, however, isn’t a natural feature of growing older. Many experts are of the opinion that this is simply a bad habit. They also believe that by breaking the habit, and returning to a style of breathing like that of an infant, we can help rid ourselves of chronic complaints headaches and fatigue. Moreover, by adopting a proper breathing technique, we may be able to ward off stress, lower our blood pressure, strengthen our hearts and much more.
"The way we breathe can have a profound effect on the way we feel," says psychologist Phil Nuernberger, author of ‘Freedom From Stress.’ "Many stress related ailments, whether physical, mental or emotional, may be caused by improper breathing, and fortunately, they can be easily reversed by adopting scientific breathing mechanisms."
Apart from the health benefits, deep breathing also results in a much better feeling of well-being. It encourages creativity, stimulates memory, and calms emotional extremities.
How breathing helps us keep fit
Our body is only as healthy as the cells that constitute it. And, the health of these cells depends largely on the efficiency of the mechanisms to cleanse them of toxins. In the human body, the cells are kept free of these poisonous toxins by the lymph system. This system, comprises a whitish liquid called Lymph, which surrounds every cell in the body. It neutralizes the dead cells and other malignant material in the cells and carries it to the excretory organs. The lymph system is so important in maintaining the health of our cells that if we shut it down for just 12 hours, we would die of intoxication.
Now, unlike the blood system which has a pump: the heart, the lymph system has no pump of its own. Deep breathing is the only way to activate it. In fact, research shows that proper breathing can make the lymph system over fifteen times more efficient.
To verify the importance of breathing, several studies have been conducted on the subject. An important one was headed by American scientist and doctor Harry Goldberg. In this experiment, he took a few rats and divided them in two groups. These rats belonged to a special species, which were known to be free of malignancy. One group of rats were kept in bell jars which had a constant and regular supply of oxygen . The other group had an erratic supply of oxygen, which was completely shut off at periodic intervals. Just four weeks into the experiment, all the rats in the bell-jar with erratic air supply developed malignancy. This experiment was particularly interesting because this species of rats was thought to be immune to malignancy, as it threw new light on the role of oxygen in making cells malignant or cancerous.
Practicing Belly Breathing
Find a comfortable place to sit down. Make sure you are wearing thin and comfortable clothing. Now, place your right arm on your stomach, and breathe in the following manner.
- Breathe in through the nose, counting two.
- Hold, counting upto four.
- Breathe out through the mouth, counting three.
As you breathe in, feel your stomach fill up with air and expand outwards, and as you breathe out, feel your stomach deflate.
Do this ten times, three times a day for the next 5 days.