A guest post by Scott Brukman, LMT
That sounds like good advice to me. And I think that most doctors would agree with it too. But how many people really stop to think about their breathing? I do, because it’s something that my yoga teachers must have drilled into me a thousand times over the years.
“Remember to breathe…”
This past year, as I engaged in the wonderful (and often rigorous) journey to become a Massage Therapist and Thai Yoga Massage practitioner, I often heard that mantra repeating itself over and over in my brain. “Remember to breathe!”
Breath, and the art of breathing, has a very special place in my heart. The very first style of yoga that I was trained in is called TKV Desikachar. It is a lesser-known style in which the focus primarily is on breathing and voluntary breath control. In yoga, this is called “Pranayama”. It taught me that the breath is the gateway between the mind and the body, and that breath is also the best tool to focus the mind on the body.
But we’ll come back to that later…first, let’s look at some interesting facts about breathing:
- The average person takes 21,600 breaths per day
- There are approximately 1500 miles of airways in the human lungs
- The average human body requires 88 pounds of oxygen each day to survive
- In human beings, the left lung is smaller than the right lung to accommodate the heart
- The average human uses only 10-15% of their total lung capacity with each breath
Whoa….wait a minute. Was that last one right? That most people only use the top 10-15% of their lungs to breathe?? In fact, it is! That’s amazing, isn’t it? Especially when you consider just how necessary and vital respiration is not only for our well-being, but for our very existence! And not only is it vital, but it’s also very versatile too. If you stop to think about it, breathing is the only system in the body that goes about its business automatically (21,600 times a day!) without any conscious thought or effort on your part, and yet it can also easily be controlled at will with the conscious mind. You can’t tell your heart “stop beating”, or your blood “stay where you are!”, but you can easily override the automation of breathing and hold your breath until you turn blue. So it’s sort of a “cross-over” system between automatic and manual control. It’s the only autonomic system in the body that anyone can easily control even without any special training or skill. And that makes breathing very special indeed. (See? I told you I’d get back to the mind-body gateway thing)
In Yogic tradition, inhalation nourishes the body with Prana, which is a Sanskrit word for “vital energy” or “life force”. Exhalation expels from the body Apana, which is negative energy. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, breathing supplies the body with Kong Qi (chi), which is one of the three basic types of vital Qi, and is the one that is acquired from the air around us. (The other two are Yuan Qi and Gu Qi, which are the Qi that you are born with and the Qi that is acquired from food, respectively)
One of the things that I really like about practicing Thai Yoga Massage is that it forces me into good habits of breath as part of the practice. A large part of Thai Yoga Massage is proper synchronization of breath to movement, and of breathing between the therapist and client. This is one of the foundations of a good Thai Yoga Massage, as synchronized breathing between the therapist and the client is the key to the energy exchange that makes Thai Yoga Massage so effective.
Let’s face it, proper breathing is even more important to the body than proper nutrition is. And yet, even though almost everyone tries to “eat right”, how many people do you know that make a conscious effort to breathe right? Not many, I’m sure. However, as we’ve already seen, proper breathing is crucial for optimal well-being. So make it a point to give some conscious thought to not only how you breathe, but also how you don’tbreathe.
There are many simple exercises that you can do to assist you with this. Most of them can be done as you’re going about your everyday life. One of my favorites is to count an even number of steps for inhale and exhale while walking, and half that many steps in between breaths. For example, take six steps for each inhale, hold the breath for three steps, and then take six steps for each exhale. Try different variations of this to see what feels right for you. You can use this exercise, find many more online, or even make up one of your own. The main goal should be to lengthen and deepen the breath. Ultimately though, any exercise or practice that focuses thought to the breath is beneficial. But no matter what you do, always keep in mind the most important thing of all:
Scott Brukman of Narada Wellness