By Mikayla Gibson
The one constant we can collectively count on is the breath.
Every moment we are inhaling the purest form of life. Now, we can go for moments, seconds, minutes, even lengthy minutes without oxygen; however, we must always return to the breath, whether we know it or not.
This is the essence of our being, and yet, many of us forget about breathing; we hardly pay any attention to it.
Many ancient practices focus primarily on controlling the breath. The ancient practice of SunDo, for example, focuses on properly channeling qi (energy/life force) to the three main tancheons which are the three primary energy centers of the body. When qi is correctly pulled into the body, it is stored and refined in the tancheons. To store and refine qi efficiently, SunDo practitioners use breathing techniques, body postures, visualizations, and meditations. Of these, the breath is most important (4).
Why is the breath the most important?
It connects the outer with the inner, the macro and the microcosms. Breath unifies the body with the outside world thus allowing us to become more in tune with our surroundings.
We can begin to understand more about ourselves when we begin to notice our unique breathing patterns.
Take a moment to reflect on your breath right now. Does it flow down to your lower abdomen? Or does it linger right under the lungs? Perhaps it rises quickly up your esophagus or slows down upon the exhale…
Now…with this in mind, note how your breathing patterns right now relate to how you are holding yourself. Your posture will permit or restrict you to breathe with ease or with difficulty.
Funny how we can make our bodies run less efficiently just because we feel like slouching a bit, or folding ourselves up close to the computer screen.
Take a moment and sit back, sit straight up as if your spine had a rod going from the earth straight up into the sky.
Breathe in deep, deep down into your belly under your naval and imagine this beautiful oxygen swirling around your kidneys, liver and spleen.
How did that feel?Ron Teeguarden states that, “The development of respiratory power and control is fundamental to radiant health. Regardless of the amount or quality of food we consume, it will not energize the body if breathing is insufficient, just as a candle will not burn if there is no air available. Oriental masters insist that all sickness is connected in one way or another to insufficient breathing.” (1)
So our breathing patterns are actually tied to our emotions. When we are heated and angry our breathing becomes hoarse and rough.
When we are sad or depressed our breathing becomes shallow.
When we are shocked or surprised our breath is inhaled quickly.
When we are frightened our breath is frozen in our throats.
When we are frustrated or in disagreement we take short, rapid breaths.
We can even understand how a person is feeling by watching their breathing patterns!
So we can begin to understand that the more control over the breath we have, the more we can develop mastery over our temperament, emotions and well-being.
Then and Now
We can go even further with this idea…
Studies have shown that Tibetan monks can sit naked in the snow and dry ice-cold wet robes on their bodies by increasing their skin temperature.
These are not tricks!
They’re the result of training the physiology with breathwork. Through training with a certain breathwork technique, they were able to raise their temperature in their fingers and toes by as much as 17°F.
Each breath is pure and precious and many of us take it for granted, even now as we sit here and collectively share the bountiful air around us.
Unfortunately, due to the vast amount of pollution due to modern day human existence, the air we breathe has been ridden with toxins and harmful waste.
This causes many of us to have disorders such as asthma, shortness of breath, constant coughing, wheezing, excessive mucus in the lungs and chest pains.
Luckily, there are many beneficial herbs that strengthen the lungs and clears them of the fluids and mucus that build up over time..
Cordyceps is one of the top herbal tonics for the lungs. “It is an extremely powerful life-enhancing agent…[it] is used to strengthen the body and mind at a fundamental level.” Cordyceps is widely used to strengthen the respiratory power in those who require extra energy in order to perform physical work and can be used by those who are deficient in Lung power. (1)
Cordyceps possesses the capacity to open the aorta to allow more oxygen to spread throughout the body.
This is especially beneficial for athletes.
That being said, the ability to control the breath is a necessity for those who train in any field.
Lacking full access (or any access) and potential of the lungs stifles how far any given athlete can excel.
Think about it, if you are a long distance runner (for example), and cannot find a rhythm in your breath, your endurance begins to drop drastically while your body loses energy trying to obtain the rhythm it so desperately needs.
If there is no synchronicity between the breath and the body, it is basically game over.
You can keep this up for a short time but eventually fatigue will overcome the body if constant energy is being recklessly spent trying to calibrate an even pace. It simply cannot work.
Awareness: What to Put in & What to Avoid
We need oxygen to grow, our bodies demand adequate amounts of oxygen to function in this world. We would not survive without it. On that note, I want to emphasize how we can stunt or embrace our personal growth through the awareness of our breath and its relation to our physical and mental states.
|REGIONAL BLOOD FLOW AND OXIGEN CONSUMPTION AT REST|
|Blood Flow||Oxygen Consumption||Blood Flow||A-VO2||Venous O2|
|% ml ml/min||% cc cc/min||O2 Cons.||Content||Content|
|C.O. min 100 gm||Total min 100 gm||(ml/cc)||(ml/dl)||(ml/dl)|
|1. Coronary||5 250 70||13 30 8.4||8||12.5||6.5|
|2. Cerebral||15 750 50||22 50 3.3||15||6.7||12.3|
|3. Splanchnic||25 1250 50||24 53 2.1||24||4.2||14.8|
|4. Renal||22 1100 400||7 15 5.5||73||1.4||17.6|
|5. Cutaneous||8 400 10||2 5 0.1||80||1.2||17.8|
|6. Muscular||17 850 2||27 60 0.2||14||7.1||11.9|
|7. Other regions||8 400 3||5 12 0.1||33||3.0||16.0|
|Total Systemic Circ.||100 5000 7||100 225 3.2||22||4.5||14.5|
As you can see in the chart above, the heart and the brain demand the most oxygen input. It is no wonder that when there is a lack of oxygen the mind and source of energy of the body decline drastically (3).
Making sure the lungs are free of mucus and irritants is another vital factor in achieving radiant health.
As mentioned above, there are countless particles (some bacteria, some toxins like smoke/smog/chemicals) that we breathe in on a daily basis.
The mucus membranes in our airways catch these particles and they can either be swallowed or coughed out. But sometimes, these more aggressive irritants can aggravate the mucus membranes. This causes inflammation and results in excess mucus in the airways and lungs.
This excess mucus is one of the ways your body tries to remove an irritant, but it sometimes is too much, the body cannot dismantle and clear it out thus clogging the airways and straining the lungs.
Triphala has many benefits, one of those is to directly help with removing excess mucus from the lungs and airways, this is because it is has mucolytic properties (2).
It is excellent at preventing infections in the body and is in general, used for its detoxifying properties.
Triphala contains Amalaki, an herb rich in Vitamin C which is a potent antioxidant that may ward off lung damage by fighting free radicals.
One study of school children in Japan found that those with the highest intake of Vitamin C were less likely to suffer from asthma than those with lower intake (4).
There are many other herbs and foods that promote healthy lungs:
- Schisandra Berry
- Seabuckthorn Berry
- Peppermint (many of the mints)
- Lemon Verbana
And many more….
Using steam rooms and infrared saunas are also an excellent way to help clear out irritants from the lungs. Staying hydrated is another key factor to having a strong respiratory system.
Clean, pure, spring water is highly recommended.
That being said, just as important as addressing positive foods and herbs in the diet is avoiding foods that can cause damage to the lungs and airways.
- Limit dairy intake (especially when fighting off a cold)
- Hydrogenated oils (cleaner oils like Coconut or Grapeseed are a much better alternative)
- Avoid excess (or all) smoking and exposure to smoke
Mindful, Stay Mindful
There are many different ways to practice mindfulness aside from eating conscientiously. I mentioned SunDo in the beginning of this article which is a practice that is fading out.
Those who do practice typically live a life of solitude in the mountains of Korea in order to avoid distractions from ordinary life/people and focus solely on cultivation of the breath (4)
There is a common thread that connects ancient and current practices with one another. Which is cultivation of the Dan, the Tantien, Tancheons, Dantien etc that is in the lower abdomen.
With whatever art you are practicing, you learn to breathe in to the lower abdomen. This type of breathing allows your lungs to take in a great amount of oxygen and in Eastern philosophy, oxygen is Yang Energy, so you’re actually refining yin and yang energy in your lower abdomen (4)
There are a vast number of practices with this type of deep breathing as a focal point of the practice:
- Pranayama Yoga
- Kundalini Yoga
- Qi Gong (Medical and Martial Arts)
- Vipassana Meditation
- Martial Arts
You do not need to be engaged in a practice such as the ones listed above to work on your breathing! Check out Logan’s latest video on holding the breath and see what I mean…
Keep in mind that three minutes is an excellent goal people!
On the Exhale…
So we can conclude that to be in control of your breath can lead you to limitless new possibilities
Remember, Lungs are the seat of wisdom. Deep breathing has always been the tool of the masters for letting go of old attachments, old emotions and for extracting the wisdom hidden within the experiences of life.
This may sound overly simple…and it is! that is the best part.
Each new breath can take you closer to discovering your own path of radiant health.
Breathe in, here we go!
- The Ancient Wisdom of Chinese Tonic Herbs, Teeguardan, Ron
- Immunomodulatory Effects of Triphala and its Individual Constituents: A Review
- McKeen, Garvis, Master of Sundo & Breathing Arts, Qi Gong Practitioner