The Breath of Life: Inspiring and Expiring

Inspiring and Expiring

Breathing is one of the great miracles of our existence.

It is our connection to life, for vitality and for healing. 

“Natural” breathing keeps us connected to our feelings; it’s our personal “genie in a bottle”.

It’s therefore essential that we breathe freely.  We can survive for weeks without food, days without water but holding your breath for more than a couple of minutes? Good luck with that!

When you inhale, it’s simply your body refuelling.  Inhaled oxygen becomes part of your circulatory system. It binds with red blood cells, creating the fuel you need to produce energy and to remove waste products. 

This fuel is the “electrical juice” your body needs to keep the lights on.  Many people are effectively blocking the free flow of breath during the day, slumped over keyboards, devices, holding back emotions, or worrying unduly about invisible germs.

It could be said that the degree of freedom in your breath is directly related to the degree of freedom in your life – mentally, emotionally, financially.  Breathe fully and your system gets what it needs in any moment in order to function properly.

“To breathe is to live; to breathe fully is to live fully.”    Dennis Lewis

Early dental journals in England refer to mouth breathing (as opposed to nose breathing) resulting in more dental cavities because the saliva dries up with the mouth open all night and the pH levels drop. Saliva is what encourages the remineralisation process. 

Our human ‘battery’ or life force is charged from clean air, clean water and clean food. The simple act of drinking water these days has increasingly becoming an act of faith; our food is laced with a ridiculous number of additives or has been subjected to questionable methods of growth……and the air we breathe has become a terrifying cocktail of chemicals, not helped by the toxic wildfires burning around the world.

We breathe oxygen constantly. There’s no alternative. What many people don’t realise is that breathing also destroys pathogens, toxins, heavy metals and poisons that threaten our health.  

The ancient Taoists were the original “breath whisperers”. Their traditions offered insights into many aspects of breathing for health and wellness. To them, health and longevity were never separate from spiritual evolution and immortality.

Supported by 4000 years of experimentation they found that natural breathing has a powerful influence on energy levels and thus on the quality and direction of people’s lives.

It makes sense that our body needs proper levels of oxygen for its normal cycle of building, repair and elimination.

When we become distressed, emotionally or physically, our levels of oxygen decrease and our breathing becomes erratic and shallow. Such breathing can be the cause of physical as well as physiological reactions within us.

My favourite book on the subject is Dennis Lewis’s “The Tao of Natural Breathing: For Health, Well-Being, and Inner Growth”. I read it years ago and still refer to it.

Breathing Exercises

The spiritual pathfinder G.I. Gurdjieff once said ‘Without mastering breathing, nothing can be mastered.”  Well, he clearly never met a stubborn pair of lungs.

He also played the “Don’t-try-this-at-home” card, warning that tinkering without a reasonable knowledge of our body organisms, especially the inter-relationships of the rhythms of our organs, efforts to change our breathing habits can cause harm.

Teaching some of the Advanced Yoga Breathing Techniques to unprepared Westerners can be fraught with danger.

In his book “Hama: The Vital Center of Man” German diplomat, psychotherapist and Zen master Karlfried Durkheim stated that even if yoga teachers try to get their students to relax before giving them breathing exercises, they do not appreciate that the letting go required for deep relaxation can be acquired “only after long practice”.  

You might wonder, “Why on Earth do we need breathing lessons? We’ve been breathing since forever.” Well, turns out, we’ve picked up some dysfunctional habits as we grew. Stress, bad posture, mouth breathing and shallow breaths have turned our lungs into the equivalent of a rusty old bicycle pump.

As we become more tense, our heart rate increases, our blood flow constricts, we become more anxious and produce more stress hormones.

So it’s possible that engaging in breathing exercises prematurely may graft new tensions onto already established ones and bring about an artificially induced vitality, usually followed by exhaustion and eventually disappointment.

Before you type ‘Breathing Exercises’ into YouTube or sign up to courses given by Breathing Gurus, Breathing Coaches or  Breathwork Teachers, know that while their information will be valuable, you may be doing yourself more damage than you know by not preparing yourself properly. 

It’s important to ask for their help on this aspect first.  Your lungs will thank you.

Fitness vs Breathing 

A sports team decided to spruce things up by hiring a new fitness coach. On his first morning he brought in a young child and invited that child to do or play at wherever he wanted in the gymnasium.  

The coach told the players in the team to mimic that child’s movements.  

Although at peak fitness, the team first thought this a bit weird but the coach was new so they played along. 

Mimicking a toddler’s movements in a gym?” they thought. Sure, why not!

At first everything went well but one after another, the players started dropping out, exhausted. Not one of the team players training that morning kept up with the child.  

Their exhaustion came not from a lack of fitness but from their inability to breathe properly.

Here’s a clip of your diaphragm moving within your ribcage (0:45)

Belly Breathing: The Hydraulics of Respiration

Based on the principle of hydraulics, this is how breathing should work. Your primary breathing muscle is your diaphragm – a thin yet wide sheet of muscle that plays referee between the rib cage and the abdomen. 

The diaphragm’s high-domed shape flattens out when it contracts. That dome-shape is much more pronounced than most people realise, and it’s important to understand.

When the diaphragm contracts, that dome flattens significantly, and, as it flattens it pushes downwards on the viscera like a piston in a cylinder would. Since the watery viscera cannot be compressed, they have to get out of the way. So they go outwards! 

The abdominal contents are forced down and out. When you inhale with your diaphragm, your belly expands. When your diaphragm moves, your belly must move — if it doesn’t move, you simply aren’t using your diaphragm. So good breathing is described as “belly breathing,” “abdominal breathing,” or “diaphragmatic breathing.”

It’s worth appreciating that Pranayama is the conscious awareness of breath. The term comes from Sanskrit, Prana meaning breath, respiration, vitality or energy and Ayama means expansion or stretching. The word Pranayama therefore implies extension and control of breath.

Vanda Scaravelli

There are many different yoga styles to choose from, each with their own particular attributes.  When I came across a form of yoga developed by Vanda Scaravelli (1908-1999) I was more than impressed.

Scaravelli’s distinctive approach adopts an almost effortless use of grounding and breath, allowing the body to open up and energise very gently. As people age, this suits them well.


Dr Elmar Jung

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