The lungs are to the body what the bellows are to the fires of the forge. The more regularly and vigorously the air is forced through the bellows and through the lungs, the livelier burns the flame in the smithy and the fires of life in the body.
Practice deep, regular breathing systematically for one week, and you will be surprised at the results. You will feel like a different person, and your working capacity, both physically and mentally, will be immensely increased.
A plentiful supply of fresh air is more necessary than food and drink. We can live without food for weeks, without water for days, but without air only a few minutes.
The Process of Breathing
With every inhalation, air is sucked in through the windpipe or trachea, which terminates in two tubes called bronchi, one leading to the right lung, one to the left. The air is then distributed over the lungs through a network of minute tubes, to the air cells, which are separated by only a thin membrane from equally fine and minute blood vessels forming another network of tubes.
The oxygen contained in the inhaled air passes freely through these membranes, is absorbed by the blood, carried to the heart and thence through the arteries and their branches to the different organs and tissues of the body, fanning the fires of life into brighter flame all along its course and burning up the waste products and poisons that have accumulated during the vital processes of digestion, assimilation and elimination.
After the blood has unloaded its supply of oxygen, it takes up the carbonic acid gas which is produced during the oxidation and combustion of waste matter and carries it to the lungs, where the poisonous gases are transferred to the air cells and expelled with the exhaled breath. This return trip of the blood to the lungs is made through another set of blood vessels, the veins, and the blood, dark with the sewage of the system, is now called venous blood.
In the lungs the venous blood discharges its freight of excrementitious poisons and gases, and by coming in contact with fresh air and a new supply of oxygen, it is again transformed into bright, red arterial blood, pregnant with oxygen and ozone, the life-sustaining elements of the atmosphere.
This explains why normal, deep, regular breathing is all-important to sustain life and as a means of cure. By proper breathing, which exercises and develops every part of the lungs, the capacity of the air cells is increased. This, as we have learned, means also an increased supply of life-sustaining and health-promoting oxygen to the tissues and organs of the body.
Bad Effects of Shallow Breathing
Very few people breathe correctly. Some, especially women, with tight skirtbands and corsets pressing on their vital organs, use only the upper part of their lungs. Others breathe only with the lower part and with the diaphragm, leaving the upper structures of the lungs inactive and collapsed.
In those parts of the lungs that are not used, slimy secretions accumulate, irritating the air cells and other tissues, which become inflamed and begin to decay. Thus a luxuriant soil is prepared for the tubercle bacillus, the pneumococcus and other disease-producing bacilli and germs.
This habit of shallow breathing, which does not allow the lungs to be thoroughly permeated with fresh air, accounts in a measure for the fact that one-third of all deaths result from diseases of the lungs. To one individual perishing from food starvation, thousands are dying from oxygen starvation.
Lung culture is more important than other branches of learning and training which require more time and a greater outlay of time, money and effort. In the Nature Cure regimen, breathing exercises play an important part.
The effectiveness of breathing exercises and of all other kinds of corrective movements depends upon the mental attitude during the time of practice. Each motion should be accompanied by the conscious effort to make it produce a certain result. Much more can be accomplished with mental concentration, by keeping your mind on what you are doing, than by performing the exercises in an aimless, indifferent way.
Keep in the open air as much as possible and at all events sleep with windows open.
If your occupation is sedentary, take all opportunities for walking out of doors that present themselves. While walking, breathe regularly and deeply, filling the lungs to their fullest capacity and also expelling as much air as possible at each exhalation. Undue strain should, of course, be avoided. This applies to all breathing exercises.
Do not breathe through the mouth. Nature intends that the outer air shall reach the lungs by way of the nose, whose membranes are lined with fine hairs in order to sift the air and to prevent foreign particles, dust and dirt, from irritating the mucous linings of the air tract and entering the delicate structures of the lungs. Also, the air is warmed before it reaches the lungs by its passage through the nose.
Let the exhalations take about double the time of the inhalations. This will be further explained in connection with rhythmical breathing.
Do not hold the breath between inhalations. Though frequently recommended by teachers of certain methods of breath culture, this practice is more harmful than beneficial.
The Proper Standing Position
Of great importance is the position assumed habitually by the body while standing and walking. Carelessness in this respect is not only unpleasant to the beholder, but its consequences are far-reaching in their effects upon health and the well-being of the organism.
On the other hand, a good carriage of the body aids in the development of muscles and tissues generally and in the proper functioning of cells and organs in particular. With the weight of the body thrown upon the balls of the feet and the center of gravity well focused, the abdominal organs will stay in place and there will be no strain upon the ligaments that support them.
In assuming the proper standing position, stand with your back to the wall, touching it with heels, buttocks, shoulders and head. Now bend the head backward and push the shoulders forward and away from the wall, still touching the wall with buttocks and heels. Straighten the head, keeping the shoulders in the forward position. Now walk away from the wall and endeavor to maintain this position while taking the breathing exercises and practicing the various arm movements.
Take this position as often as possible during the day and try to maintain it while you go about your different tasks that must be performed while standing. Gradually this position will become second nature, and you will assume and maintain it without effort.
When the body is in this position, the viscera are in their normal place. This aids the digestion materially and benefits indirectly the entire functional organism.
Persistent practice of the above will correct protruding abdomen and other defects due to faulty position and carriage of the body.
The following breathing exercises are intended especially to develop greater lung capacity and to assist in forming the habit of breathing properly at all times. The different movements should be repeated from three to six times, according to endurance and the amount of time at disposal.
(1) With hands at sides or on hips, inhale and exhale slowly and deeply, bringing the entire respiratory apparatus into active play.
(2) (To expand the chest and increase the air capacity of the lungs.)
Jerk the shoulder forward in several separate movements, inhaling deeper at each forward jerk. Exhale slowly, bringing the shoulders back to the original position.
Reverse the exercise, jerking the shoulders backward in similar manner while inhaling. Alternate the movements, forcing the shoulders first forward, then backward.
(3) Stand erect, arms at sides. Inhale, raising the arms forward and upward until the palms touch above the head, at the same time raising on the toes as high as possible. Exhale, lowering the toes, bringing the hands downward in a wide circle until the palms touch the thighs.
(4) Stand erect, hands on hips. Inhale slowly and deeply, raising the shoulders as high as possible, then, with a jerk, drop them as low as possible, letting the breath escape slowly.
(5) Stand erect, hands at shoulders. Inhale, raising elbows sideways; exhale, bringing elbows down so as to strike the sides vigorously.
(6) Inhale deeply, then exhale slowly, at the same time clapping the chest with the palms of the hands, covering the entire surface.
(These six exercises are essential and sufficient. The following four may be practiced by those who are able to perform them and who have time and inclination to do so.)
(7) Stand erect, hands at sides. Inhale slowly and deeply, at the same time bringing the hands, palms up, in front of the body to the height of the shoulders. Exhale, at the same time turning the palms downward and bringing the hands down in an outward circle.
(8) Stand erect, the right arm raised upward, the left crossed behind the back. Lean far back, then bend forward and touch the floor with the right hand, without bending the knees, as far in front of the body as possible. Raise the body to original posture, reverse position of arms, and repeat the exercise. Inhale while leaning backward and changing position of arms, exhale while bending forward.
(9) Position erect, feet well apart, both arms raised. Lean back, inhaling, then bend forward, exhaling, touching the floor with both hands between the legs as far back as possible.
(10) Horizontal position, supporting the body on palms and toes. Swing the right hand upward and backward, flinging the body to the left side, resting on the left hand and the left foot. Return to original position, repeat the exercise, flinging the body to the right side. Inhale while swinging backward, exhale while returning to position.
The diaphragm is a large, flat muscle, resembling a saucer, which forms the division between the chest cavity and the abdominal cavity. By downward expansion it causes the lungs to expand likewise and to suck in the air. The pressure of air being greater on the outside of the body than within, it rushes in and fills the vacuum created by the descending diaphragm. As the diaphragm relaxes and becomes contracted to its original size and position, the air is expelled from the body.
(11) (To stimulate the action of the diaphragm)
Lie flat on floor or mattress, the head unsupported. Relax the muscles all over the body, then inhale deeply with the diaphragm only, raising the wall of the abdomen just below the ribs without elevating either the chest or the lower abdomen. Take about four seconds to inhale, then exhale in twice that length of time, contracting the abdomen below the ribs.
(12) (Internal massage)
Lie on your back on a bed or couch, knees raised. Relax thoroughly, exhale and hold the breath after exhalation. While doing so, push the abdomen out and draw it in as far as possible each way. Repeat these movements as long as you can hold the breath without straining, then breathe deeply and regularly for several minutes, then repeat the massage movements.
Next to deep breathing, I consider this practice of greater value than any other physical exercise. It imparts to the intestines an other abdominal organs a "washboard" motion which acts as a powerful stimulant to all the organs in the abdominal cavity. Internal massage is especially beneficial in chronic constipation. This exercise may be performed also while standing or walking. It should be practiced two or three times daily.
Breathing Exercises to Be Taken in Bed
(13) With hands at side, inhale slowly and deeply, as directed in Exercise Number (1), filling and emptying the lungs as much as possible, but without straining. Practice first lying on the back, then on each side.
(14) Using one- or two-pound dumbbells, position recumbent on back, arms extended sideways, dumbbells in hands. Raise the arms with elbows rigid, cross arms over the chest as far as possible, at the same time expelling the air from the lungs. Extend the arms to the sides, inhaling deeply and raising the chest.
(15) Lie flat on the back, arms at sides. Grasping the dumbbells, extend the arms backward over the head, inhaling. Leave them in this position for a few seconds, then raise them straight above the chest, and lower them slowly to the original position. Exhale during the second half of this exercise.
As a variation, cross the arms in front of the body instead of bringing to sides.
It is a fact not generally known to us western people (our attention had to be called to it by the "Wise Men of the East"), that in normal, rhythmical breathing exhalation and inhalation take place through one nostril at a time: for about one hour through the right nostril and then for a like period through the left nostril.
The breath entering through the right nostril creates positive electro-magnetic currents, which pass down the right side of the spine, while the breath entering through the left nostril sends negative electro-magnetic currents down the left side of the spine. These currents are transmitted by way of the nerve centers or ganglia of the sympathetic nervous system, which is situated alongside the spinal column, to all parts of the body.
In the normal, rhythmical breath exhalation takes about twice the time of inhalation. For instance, if inhalation require four seconds, exhalation, including a slight natural pause before the new inhalation, requires eight seconds.
The balancing of the electro-magnetic energies in the system depends to a large extent upon this rhythmical breathing, hence the importance of deep, unobstructed, rhythmic exhalation and inhalation.
In order to establish the natural rhythm of the breath when it has been impaired through catarrhal affections, wrong habits of breathing, or other causes, the following exercise, practiced not less than three times a day (preferably in the morning upon arising, at noon, and at night), will prove very beneficial in promoting normal breathing and creating the right balance between the positive and the negative electro-magnetic energies in the organism.
The Alternate Breath
Exhale thoroughly, then close the right nostril and inhale through the left. After a slight pause change the position of the fingers and expel the breath slowly through the right nostril. Now inhale through the right nostril and, reversing the pressure upon the nostrils, exhale through the left.
Repeat this exercise from five to ten times, always allowing twice as much time for exhalation as for inhalation. That is, count three, or four, or six for inhalation and six, eight, or twelve, respectively, for exhalation, according to your lung capacity. Let your breaths be as deep and long as possible, but avoid all strain.
This exercise should always be performed before an open window or, better yet, in the open air, and the body should not be constricted and hampered by tight or heavy clothing.
Alternate breathing may be practiced standing, sitting, or in the recumbent position. The spine should at all times be held straight and free, so that the flow of the electro-magnetic currents be not obstructed. If taken at night before going to sleep, the effect of this exercise will be to induce calm, restful sleep.
While practicing the "alternate breath," fix your attention and concentrate your power of will upon what you axe trying to accomplish. As you inhale through the right nostril, will the magnetic currents to flow along the right side of the spine, and as you inhale through the left nostril, consciously direct the currents to the left side.
There is more virtue in this exercise than one would expect, considering its simplicity. It has been in practice among the Yogi of India since time immemorial.
The wise men of India knew that with the breath they absorbed not only the physical elements of the air, but life itself. They taught that this primary force of all forces, from which all energy is derived, ebbs and flows in rhythmical breath through the created universe. Every living thing is alive by virtue of and by partaking of this cosmic breath.
The more positive the demand, the greater the supply. Therefore, while breathing deeply and rhythmically in harmony with the universal breath, will to open yourself more fully to the inflow of the life force from the source of all life in the innermost parts of your being.
This intimate connection of the individual soul with the great reservoir of life must exist. Without it life would be an impossibility.
While the alternate breathing exercises are very valuable for overcoming obstructions in the air passages, for establishing the habit of rhythmic breathing and for refining and accelerating the vibratory activities on the physical and spiritual planes of being, they must be practiced with great caution. These, and other "Yogi" breathing exercises, are powerful means for developing abnormal psychical conditions. They are therefore especially dangerous to those who are already inclined to be physically and mentally negative and sensitive. Such persons must avoid all practices which tend to refine excessively the physical body and to develop prematurely and abnormally the sensory organs of the spiritual body. The most dangerous of these methods are long extended fasting, raw food diet, that, is, a diet consisting of fruits, nuts, oils and raw vegetables and excluding the dairy products, "Yogi" breathing, and "sitting in the silence." That is, sitting in darkness, in seclusion or in company with others, while keeping the mind in a passive, receptive condition for extraneous impressions. These practices tend to develop very dangerous phases of abnormal and subjective psychism, such as clairvoyance, clairaudience, mediumship and obsession.