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Take a Deep Breath - by Jerry Ryan, Ph.D.

What is the most vital nutrient to our overall health? Proteins to help rebuild the daily damage? Carbohydrates to fuel the brain and other systems? Fats to supply the necessary Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids? Water to help transport the nutrients and clean out the waste?

Well, let’s look at this from a really simple viewpoint. Our bodies can survive for weeks without any food. We can even survive for a few days without water. But without oxygen, we can only survive a couple of minutes. Making sure that we have enough oxygen seems to be the starting point to building good health.

The respiratory system is unique in that it is the only automatic function of the body over which we have control. You can’t stop your heart beat, you can’t raise your body temperature but you can certainly hold your breath. By choosing to pay attention to your breathing, you maintain an active control of your body.

Respiratory functions in many people are below average due to the lack of practicing breathing deeply. Complications such as pneumonia are a high risk as we grow older because the decreased air exchange does not allow for the lungs to expel the carbon dioxide, water and other waste products of respiration. Their accumulation in the lungs makes the oxygen intake even more difficult.

In addition, this reduced volume of air moving in and out of the lungs directly results in less oxygen in the bloodstream. This means that each of our individual cells are not receiving an adequate amount of oxygen. That makes it difficult for the cell to maintain its healthy environment and eventually threatens the cell’s ability to survive. In fact, it is known that cancer cells thrive in an oxygen deficient environment.

This is important to understand because oxygen is necessary for 90% of metabolic processes or daily activities in the body. Food is only needed for 10% of those processes. So it doesn’t matter how well you eat if you aren’t breathing properly.

It seems that the main problem is that folks simply don’t know how to breathe deeply. Our culture is geared toward tight, shallow breathing centered in our chests. A full, deep breath should truly begin in the stomach, using the diaphragm like a bellows to draw the air deep into the bottom of the lungs.

The concept of deep breathing is similar to filling a glass with water. You fill it from the bottom up. Place your fingers on your diaphragm (the point where your chest and stomach meet at the front of your ribs). Breathe in slowly, feeling the area move outward against your fingers. When you feel you stretched your stomach as much as you can, begin to expand your chest, filling that area with oxygen. As a last effort to fill the very top of the lungs, continue to breathe in and raise your shoulders.

There is also a breathing pattern that helps to ensure the active exchange of oxygen and waste products. It is quite simple but will take a little practice. You inhale, hold your breath, then exhale. The key is the timing of the breath. The pattern for timing is 1-4-2. For example, if you breathe in for 4 seconds, you would hold the breath for 16 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds. This allows the body to take in maximum oxygen and blow off maximum waste. In fact, this is a great technique to flush toxins out of your lymph system which is somewhat like your cellular sewage system. You may feel lightheaded when first practicing deep breathing so be sure to take it easy. Remember that it’s not a contest. You are doing something good for yourself.

Try taking 5-10 deep breaths a couple of times each day. I find deep breathing to be particularly helpful in stressful situations, like before public speaking or going to dental appointments. The increased oxygen seems to produce a calming effect and provide better mental clarity. Adding deep breathing to your daily activities can make a significant change in your energy level, your concentration skills, and your health in general.

Jerry Ryan, Ph.D. is a Natural Health Coach who teaches individuals and group classes on the scientifically documented benefits of natural health techniques.  He is also an internationally published author and has been a guest speaker at such places as NIKE World Headquarters.  For more information, his website is http://www.JerryRyanPhD.com

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