The Breath of Life
The magic breath of life began the moment you were born and it continues until the day you leave this planet. Breathing is so primal to our survival on this planet and is something we have done for so long that we don’t even consciously think about it. Everyone takes for granted that they know how to breathe properly, but far too many of us have restrictions to our breathing which have created a multitude of symptoms in our lives physically, mentally and spiritually. So much of our spiritual and physical health depends on how we breathe.
Of all the different lifestyle choices you could make to optimize your health, such as exercise and diet, none is more impactful to you, physically and spiritually, than changing HOW you breathe. Conscious breathing is a simple activity that can be practiced even by those who are not in optimal physical condition. Although I use the word "simple" to describe this activity, I’m not implying that it’s easy to do. The mind tends to wander and get caught up in the worries of everyday life, but mental discipline and mastery of conscious breathing can gracefully transition you into better health.
Breathing supplies our body with vital oxygen and our spirit with prana, or chi, its vital life force. By maximizing your breathing, you’re maximizing the nourishment of both you as a spirit and your physical vehicle. Conversely, chronically shallow breathers do not nourish their body nor their spirit and start to wither, just as a tomato left unwatered will die on the vine. If your goal is optimal health, physically and spiritually, it must include conscious breathing. Having this information is like having control of a faucet that determines how much flow of energy comes into your body, and you control that flow by how often you take a conscious deep breath.
From an emotional and mental standpoint, if you are in fear and stressed about that which you fear, conscious breathing can be the most direct route back to centeredness, where you re-achieve peace of heart and mind. This is, after all, the goal everyone is seeking – a state where your body is optimally pain-free and energetic, combined with a sense of unity with all of creation in your soul. Many people live in a constant state of fear/anxiety of various degrees and feel a tension in their bellies, the third chakra, and a sense of separateness from every thing in the material world. This can be alleviated by doing conscious breathing.
Remember, the key is to focus on your breath and remembering who you are as a spirit, and not to be distracted by the challenges you face moment-to-moment during your journey on this planet. If you do become distracted, re-focus your attention and resume your conscious breathing. No one is expected to master this on their first attempt. Rather, it is like learning to play the piano; the more you practice, the more expert your technique becomes. In the case of conscious breathing, its mastery leads to spiritual growth and physical health. It helps you maintain a virtually constant state of peace of mind and heart and keep you from getting caught up in "negative" thoughts and emotions which create your reality. If you want to raise your vibration to higher levels, start by practicing conscious breathing and focusing on opening your heart unconditionally to all life, everywhere.
If you’re not sure if you are a shallow breather or not, start to pay attention to your breath. Awareness is the first step to change. Once you know you are a shallow breather, make the commitment to change. Perhaps just start by giving yourself permission, out loud or in writing, to allow yourself to experiment with conscious breathing. If you’re not sure whether or not your breathing capacity is adequate, put a tape measure around your chest at nipple level. Take excess slack out of the tape but don’t pull too tight. Exhale fully, take a reading and measure again as you reach maximum inhale. The difference between full exhale and full inhale positions of the rib cage should be between 2-4 inches in adults. If your rib cage cannot expand at least this amount, you are not going to be able to adequately inflate your lungs within, for they are able to expand only as freely as the rib cage allows. There are quick, long-lasting ways to improve the mechanics of the rib cage. Feel free to contact me for help with this on an individual basis. There are many different breathing exercises I teach my clients. The following few will give you some ways to start your journey with conscious breathing.
Conscious breathing (aka yogic breathing) can be performed in any positon at virtually any time or any place, making it ideal as a quick energy pick-me-up and centering tool performed mid-day for even those with hectic schedules. Straighten your spine, relax your body and exhale. Now, push your belly out forward as you begin to inhale. This gives the diaphragm more room to descend, causing the lungs to inflate more fully. After you have maximally pushed your belly forward, take a chest breath; that is to say, expand your ribs maximally. Next, slightly force a little bigger breath, then hold for two or three seconds to avoid hyperventilating, reversing the process to exhale. First, keeping the belly forward, contract the rib cage. When the rib cage is fully contracted, then contract the abdominal muscles to fully exhale. Repeat as often as you want to feel energized and more optomistic.
This set of breathing exercises helps to relax overworked, spastic neck and shoulder muscles. When you give a friend or loved one a neck rub, you head for this area instinctively because most people hold their stress here and need healing help with this area of their bodies. Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Center your pelvis over the front of your heel bones so you feel "light on your feet". Most people weight the arch or forefoot with too much weight and cause their whole body to lean forward. This places extra work on the spinal muscles, which have to work harder than intended when you assume a relaxed balanced posture. Place both arms out to your sides, horizontal to the floor. Left palm should face the sky, right palm faces the floor. Place the tip of your tongue on the ridge just behind the front teeth on the roof of the mouth. When this acupuncture point is touched with the tip of the tongue, it connects the six yin meridians with the six yang meridians and helps flush the chi through the entire acupuncture system, energizing you during the conscious breathing process.
Take a VIGOROUS, FAST full inhalation through your nose, and exhale just as vigorously through your nose. Do ten reps, leaving enough time between breaths so you DON’T hyperventilate and fall over. Next, repeat the same pattern, only exhale out your mouth instead of your nose. Keep the tip of your tongue on the ridge of the roof of your mouth as before. Let your lips be totally limp and relaxed,(ie. opposite of what you do when you whistle) so the forced air escapes around your tongue past the lips. Again, do 10 reps, leaving enough time between breaths to avoid hyperventilation. Next, sit with your upper body fully flexed so your arms are between your knees, touching your feet. The fingertips are to touch under the arch of each respective foot, the thumbs are to rest on the top of the arch of each respecive foot, facing away from your midline. Place the tip of the tongue on the ridge of the roof of the mouth again and take ten SLOW, DEEP breaths, in and out through the nose. If your rib mechanics are appropriate, you should feel much better after taking these 30 breaths.
Another wonderful breathing exercise that helps correct postural problems, expand your ribcage and fight the effects of gravity is to stand with your arms at your sides, take a deep breath, simultaneously tilt your head back and extend your arms backwards, palms facing out. Expand your abdomen, chest and rib cage as fully as possible. Imagine you are trying to touch the backs of your hands together behind you. Exhale as you return to the beginning position. Repeat 10 times slowly. If you are getting lightheaded, you are simply moving and breathing too fast. Pause between breaths to avoid hyperventilation.
Those who suffer more severely from low oxygen intake due to past injuries that never fully healed may take longer to feel these positive effects. If you are not feeling any benefits, remember to measure your rib motions and ensure that your body has the movement capacity to breath normal, deep breaths. If you don’t see a movement of at least 2-4 inches, these exercises will only provide you limited benefits. Just as when the air filter of your car becomes clogged over time, the effect is poor oxygen availabilty to combust the fuel mixture in your engine. Consequently, the performance (and fuel efficiency) wiil decrease until you replace the clogged air filter and supply the engine with more optimal levels of oxygen. So if your rib cage mechanics are suffering and need a tune up, call me and we’ll get you breathing normally, for your optimal health and spiritual well being!
Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. With appropriate variety and intensity of exercise, the body is stimulated in a number of healthy ways. Exercising based on heart rate is a good way to maximize aerobic stresses while minimizing anaerobic over-conditioning syndromes. You can derive your appropriate training heart rate by consulting Dr. Phil Maffetone’s fitness training information. His 180 Formula gives you a range of cardiovascular stress to stimulate the aerobic physiology of the body while avoiding excessive strain, which would promote a stress reaction on top of the benefits of exercise.You can download a 180 Formula PDF here to get you started and use Dr. Maffetone’s book to learn more and refine your exercise technique.
By exercising in the appropriate heart rate range, you maximize the burning of fat as a fuel for muscular activities. Muscles, like engines, consume energy to do work. The energy they consume is determined in part by the intensity of work you are doing. If you are exercising at a lower heart rate where you are easily breathing and taking in the oxygen required to burn stored fats as a muscle fuel, that will be your predominate source of energy. If you are doing higher intensity work, such as sprinting, your body will be forced to turn on an anaerobic energy production system, which would be a conversion to glycogen (carbo) burning for energy. When the body does this, it is due to an inability to get enough oxygen from the lungs to maintain the fat burning process. We have muscle stores of glycogen for short term use, but once those are depleted our body tries to replenish them from blood supplies of glycogen.
This physiological information flies in the face of the historical myth of "no pain, no gain," which has been hawked by countless fitness experts. But the fact is, if you’re listening to your body and supplying what it needs in the moment and not overtaxing it, you will gain fitness as well as health. Many people assume that these two terms are synonymous when they are far from it. Fitness is the ability to do physical work, such as running a mile or riding a bicycle. Health is an expression of the overall vitality of the organism, manifesting as an abundant amount of energy to do whatever drives that soul. A perfect example of this is the runner Jim Fixx. He was very fit, but died of a heart attack. He had the ability to run long distances but his heart did not have the heatlh (nutrition) it needed to work properly.
Simply walking can get you started on a healthier exercise regimen. Many people think they have to push themselves right out of the starting gate. Do something that you enjoy, whatever the sport, and start slow, building up your health and fitness. You don’t have to qualify for the Olympics right away! Cross-crawl marching is an excellent exercise that also builds back muscle and activates your brain to wake up and have better control over every part of your body.
Cross Crawl Marches
The cross-crawl march is one of the fastest and easiest ways to stimulate your brain, reducing stress and helping your body to cope with the negative effects of stress. Stand straight and march in place, lifting opposite arms and legs. Lift your knees as high as possible, and extend your arms up as high as possible to get the maximum range of motion. Repeat as often as necessary for a great brain rejuvination. Do not go beyond the point of early fatigue. As you practice this, your endurance will increase. Work up to 100 repititions, 3-5 times per day. Many people eliminate all symptoms of chronic back pain with regular use of this simple but neurologically profound exercise. This is a great stress buster when done periodically each day!
Many chronic injuries that I see result from overtraining, where a person simply does not exercise the aerobic system appropriately, and spends most of their time exercising the anaerobic system. This leads to an imbalance in the body and the inability of the adrenal system to cope with these excessive demands. At some point the body will simply fail and the accumulation of stresses will lead to chronic tendonitis, bursitis, or arthritis, or whatever inflammation symptom you can think of. These "itis" symptoms are signs that the adrenal glands have failed through excessive stimulation and they’re now fatigued and unable to produce the natural amounts of anti-inflammatory steroid hormones to keep our bodies from being inflamed.
When exercising anaerobically, you can tell you’ve pushed your body too far at too high of an intensity when you get an incredible sweet tooth after your workout. If you can’t wait to get your hands on a candy bar, that’s a pretty good sign that you’ve exceeded your aerobic heart rate range and have been in an anaerobic phase. These principles are important for everyone, whether it’s the occasional jogger or an Olympic athlete focused on world-class competition. The physiology remains the same despite the level of perfection attained. If you honor that physiology, you’ll be rewarded with the health and fitness gains you deserve.