Monday, March 11, 2013

Deep Breathing For Optimum Health

As explained in my recent article, The Most Important Thing in Your Life, there is literally nothing whatsoever more crucial to your health, vitality, longevity and well-being than your breath.  You may survive several months without food, a couple of weeks without water, but you won't survive more than a few minutes without air.  More specifically, it is the oxygen in the air that your body so desperately and consistently needs.  Just a few minutes without re-oxygenating the bloodstream through regular respiration results in immediate and certain death. 

Did you know 90% of our energy comes from oxygen and only 10% from food and water!?  Nowadays due to pollution, de-forestation and other environmental issues we're breathing in only about 19-21% oxygen.  Not only this, but research has shown that each decade of regular aging humans lose approximately 5% of their lung capacity and elasticity which directly translates to less oxygen.  Considering how vitally important breathing and oxygen are to our lives and well-being wouldn't it be a good idea to learn and commit to a daily practice of proper and effective deep breathing? 

Proper oxygenation through Pranayama / Qigong breathing heightens concentration alertness and memory, calms the mind and stabilizes the nervous system, improves digestion, absorption and elimination, strengthens the heart, lungs, and abs, aids in recovery, immunity, longevity and weight control, cures headaches, hangovers, and asthma, moves the lymphatic system, relieves general body aches, pains, stress, depression and anxiety, increases stamina, lung capacity, and mindfulness, internally exercises and massages your organs, improves sleep, posture, poise and patience, boosts energy levels, releases happiness endorphins and elicits the relaxation response in every cell of the body. 

For the past several years I have been diligently learning, practicing, and teaching Pranayama / Qigong and I can say from daily personal experience that this kind of internal exercise is by far the most important, over-looked and under-appreciated, energizing, invigorating, strengthening, purifying, balancing, meditative, relaxing, revitalizing activity possible.  Below are several videos I've made to help people get started with a regular deep breathing routine.  Please try these techniques for yourselves, share them with everyone you can, and subscribe to my YouTube channel for more future tutorials.



The Yogi Complete Breath or 3-Part Circular Breathing is one of the best Pranayamas to include into your daily routine as it trains the lungs to completely expand, completely contract, and utilizes the entire respiratory system properly and effectively.  It improves concentration, alertness and sleep, digestion, absorption and elimination, reduces anxiety, stress, and anger, builds stamina, expands lung capacity, and fully oxygenates the bloodstream.  Begin by exhaling every bit of air from your body then inhale through your nose completely filling up your lungs in 3 steps.  1)  Fill up your lower lungs by inhaling slowly and deeply pushing your tummy outwards like you just finished a big meal.  Imagine a string attached to your belly button slowly pulling out as you fill up the lower lungs.  2)  Once the lower lungs are filled, the mid-lungs will begin to fill up which will expand your chest outwards while pulling the tummy back in.  Imagine a 2nd string pulling on your sternum, expanding the rib cage, while the 1st string on your belly button has been released.  3)  Once the mid-lungs are filled, the upper-lungs will quickly fill up like the top tapered part of a water bottle.  Just lift your shoulders a little to get the last bit of air that you can, hold for a second (or several seconds if you can) then exhale through the mouth squeezing the abdominals to push out every last bit of carbon.  Do this for at least 10 minutes a day every day and you will notice many substantial positive powerful effects!



Reverse Circular Breathing or "The Chi Cultivator" is especially good for strengthening core abdominal muscles and cultivating life force energy (prana/chi/ki/qi) in your lower dantian.  First exhale all the air from your lungs and really squeeze your abdominal muscles forcing out every last bit.  Begin slowly inhaling through your nose bringing the air as deep into the lower lungs as possible filling them from bottom, middle, to top.  Now instead of letting your belly bubble up full of air as in traditional low-breathing, actually pull your belly inwards towards your spine as you inhale.  There is a vacuum vortex point behind your belly button called the dantian in Chinese medicine, and that is the point that will be sucking in, the destination point for the air being inhaled, and the main storage point for life force energy in the body.  Once the inhalation is complete relax your abdominals letting your belly bubble out full of air then exhale slowly out your mouth.  As you relax, practice and lengthen the breath there will come a sound from your throat like a cat purring or Darth Vader's mask.  This is the sound of pranic/qigong ocean breathing which I've exaggerated a bit in the video to make it more audible.



Ujjayi Pranayama or Ocean Breathing is a very important deep breathing technique to master because it is so often used in conjunction with other breaths like the Yogi Complete Breath or Reverse Circular Breathing.  Ujjayi Ocean Breathing warms and slows down the air being inhaled allowing for safe, full lung expansion and optimum oxygenation.  The heat created helps release toxins and builds internal fire, enhances the digestive and nervous systems, elicits the relaxation response, and eliminates phlegm in the throat.  The "ocean" sound comes from the glottis rapidly flapping against the vocal cords and acts as a regulator so you can drastically slow down and deepen your inhalations.



The Nadi Purification Breath or Alternate Nostril Breathing is one of the best ways to clear your sinuses if you have allergies, cold, stuffy/runny nose, snoring, asthma or other breathing problems.  Inhale slowly and deeply into the abdomen through the left nostril while plugging the right.  Then plug the left nostril and fairly forcefully exhale the entire breath out your right nostril.  Squeeze your core muscles to expel every last bit of air, keep the left nostril plugged, inhale through the right then exhale through the left, and continue alternating back and forth like this.  Alternate Nostril Breathing reduces stress, boosts energy, clears the sinuses, cleanses the lungs, increases oxygenation of blood, improves sleep, calms the mind/emotions, and has been scientifically proven to improve brain function. When used in conjunction with a Neti Pot cleansing it's like a complete enema for your head/sinuses!  






The Yogi Cleansing Breath is the perfect detoxification breath for cigarette smokers and anyone with chronic respiratory issues or halitosis.  I personally smoked cigarettes from approximately age 18-26 and beginning daily pranayama practice is what helped easily and effortlessly ween me off cigarettes forever.  All addiction experts will agree that you need a new positive hobby/activity to replace your old destructive habit, and with smoking addiction (an unhealthy respiratory activity) what could be more relevant and advantageous than a new healthy respiratory activity like deep breathing!?  Within weeks of starting my daily practice I became sensitive enough to feel the negative effects of smoking even just 1 cigarette per day.  I slowly ramped up my pranayama and cut down my smoking, consciously improving my health, expanding and detoxifying my lungs, until the act of smoking became so counter-productive that I truly haven't wanted to smoke another one.  To perform the Yogi Cleansing Breath first sit, stand or lay with your spine straight and inhale slowly and deeply through the nose until your lungs are filled.  Make an "O" shape with your mouth and force the exhale out in 3 or 4 quick bursts pushing every last bit by clenching your abdominals.




The Pranayama Breath of Fire detoxifies and purifies the entire bloodstream which in turn feeds every cell in our body.  It improves digestion, helps regulate the pituitary, glandular, and nervous systems, increases vital energy and lung capacity, expels carbon dioxide and other stagnant toxins, and is an excellent abdominal workout for increasing core strength.  To perform Breath of Fire, first sit, stand or lay with spine straight, and exhale all the air from your lungs.  Then in forceful 1 second bursts tightly squeeze your abdominal muscles and exhale out your nose.  A slight vacuum effect will automatically and involuntarily inhale a tiny bit after each exhale allowing you to continue breathing like this for several minutes with practice.  Start by doing 1 second exhales for about a minute and work your way up to faster breaths and longer sessions.  If you feel nauseous, dizzy or light-headed stop momentarily and take several deep breaths.



Shitali Pranayama or The Cooling Breath, like all mouth-inhalation techniques, is only to be used sparingly in situations where the body feels over-heated.  By rolling your tongue and inhaling through the mouth as shown in the video you will feel the air being cooled as it passes.  Breathing like this for several minutes will cure heat exhaustion and cool the body down from the inside out.  It is very important to note that mouth-breathing is something to be completely avoided except in extreme circumstances where the nasal passages are blocked or you're gasping from lack of oxygen.  Mouth breathing is directly responsible for the contraction of many contagious diseases like colds and catarrhal infections.  Experiments have been performed on hundreds of soldiers and sailors showing that those who slept with their mouths open were much more likely to fall ill and contract contagious diseases than those who breathed properly through their nostrils.  During one of the Navy experiments a smallpox epidemic broke out resulting in many deaths among the mouth-breathers, yet not a single nose-breather suffered.

"The organs of respiration have their only protective apparatus, filter, or dust-catcher, in the nostrils.  When the breath is taken through the mouth, there is nothing from mouth to lungs to strain the air, or to catch the dust and other foreign matter in the air.  Moreover, such incorrect breathing admits cold air to the organs, thereby injuring them.  Inflammation of the respiratory organs often results from the inhalation of cold air through the mouth.  The man who breathes through the mouth at night, always awakens with a parched feeling in the mouth and a dryness in the throat.  He is violating one of nature's laws, and is sowing the seeds of disease.  On the other hand, the nostrils and nasal passages show evidence of the careful design of nature in this respect.  The nostrils are two narrow, tortuous channels, containing numerous bristly hairs which serve the purpose of a filter or sieve to strain the air of its impurities, etc., which are expelled when the breath is exhaled.  Not only do the nostrils serve this important purpose, but they also perform an important function in warming the air inhaled.  The long narrow winding nostrils are filled with warm mucous membrane, which coming in contact with the inhaled air warms it so that it can do no damage to the delicate organs of the throat, or to the lungs."  -Yogi Ramacharaka, "The Science of Breath"

1 comments:

Ian Evans said...

Very informative Eric, thanks.