Not many people breathe correctly for optimum energy.
Most people think they do.
Because they have been 'breathing' every day of their lives.
But not if your average respiration is only around 3-4 seconds.
Which is what most people do - around 15-20 times every minute or well over 20,000 times every 24 hours.
You are very rarely aware of it and most people do it very badly especially as we get older.
Next time you are sitting down with a few people watch how they breathe.
It is a good bet that you can see their chest moving - is yours also?
It means that you are using the muscles of the upper body, neck and thorax to breathe.
And often people who breathe like that do so with their mouths open. Do you?
I have been teaching breathing classes for for more than a decade at the award winning SenSpa at Careys Manor in the New Forest until the lock down in 2020.
My class began with people lying down on a comfortable mat and just asked to breathe through the nose and relax. After a few minutes I pointed out that they were all breathing from the abdomen using their diaphragms, as we all do when we lie down and most were surprised.
I then asked them to try to remain aware of the way they were breathing for the reminder of their one hour session always breathing slowly and rhythmically through the nose.
Later in the class I would ask them to sit in an upright position - close their eyes and breathe normally.
Pretty much all of them reverted to breathing from the lower chest - around sternum high - as they would subconsciously do each day of their lives.
It would take a conscious effort to drop their breathing centre to the lower abdomen using the diaphragm and most achieved it.
Because their body automatically did this for them each and every night.
And now they had discovered the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing through the nose which they could consciously try to do each day as it felt so good.
And most assured me that they would try to create their very own "breathing spaces".
And to breathe correctly is something of an art.
With amazing consequences.
The ability to think, feel, move, eat, sleep and even talk all depends on energy generated from oxygen.
Oxygen is the only element capable of combining with almost every other element to form the essential components necessary to build and maintain our bodies.
For instance, oxygen + nitrogen + carbon + hydrogen = proteins.
Oxygen + carbon + hydrogen = carbohydrates.
Oxygen + hydrogen = water.
The combination of oxygen in the air, water, proteins and carbohydrates creates life energy.
90 percent of our life energy comes from oxygen.
We can live without food for weeks and without pure water for between three to five days.
But how long can we live without oxygen?
Just a few minutes.
Our brain needs oxygen to process information.
Our body uses oxygen to metabolize food and to eliminate toxins and waste through oxidation.
Oxygen energizes cells so they can regenerate and provides vital cellular flexibility.
All of our organs need a great deal of oxygen to function efficiently.
Each of the body’s trillions of cells require oxygen for each and every one of its metabolic processes.
You need oxygen in order to combust foods to provide energy for the heart, brain and cells.
All functions of our body are regulated by oxygen.
Our bodies literally starve without oxygen.
That's why it must be replaced on a moment-to-moment basis.
This from James Nestor in his book Breath.
"Shut your mouth.
Mouth breathing is terrible.
After just 10 days of mouth breathing under lab conditions, testing and research study my catecholamines and stress hormones spiked.
A bacterial bug had infected my nose
All the while my blood pressure was through the roof and my heart rate variability plummeted.
By night we snored.
A few days later we choked on sleep apnea.
Nagging fatigue, irritation, testiness and anxiety - the horrid breath and constant bathroom breaks and stomach aches.
Our bodies have evolved to breathe throght two channels for a reason.
It increases our chances of survival.
Should the nose get plugged the mouth becomes a back up ventialtion system.
Chronic mouth breathing is different.
The body was not designed to process raw air for hours at a time - day or night.
There is nothing normal about it."
The nose acts as a filter and retains small particles in the air, including pollen.
The nose adds moisture to the air to prevent dryness in the lungs and bronchial tubes.
The nose warms up cold air to body temperature before it gets to your lungs.
Nose breathing adds resistance to the air stream. This increases oxygen uptake by maintaining the lungs’ elasticity.
When you work out outdoors, not only are you exercising your heart and your muscles; you’re also exercising the nervous system in your nose.
You may not realize that you’re breathing through your mouth instead of your nose, especially while you sleep.
People who breathe through their mouth at night may have the following symptoms:
Gingivitis and gum disease
A sore throat and cold symptoms
Bad breath and higher risk for cavities
Reduced oxygen supply
Bad breath (halitosis)
Waking up tired and irritable
Dark circles under the eyes
George Catlin was a 19th-century American painter, author, and traveller, who specialized in portraits of Native Americans in the Old West. Travelling to the American West five times during the 1830s, he wrote about, and painted portraits that depicted, the life of the Plains Indians He was also the author of several books, including The Breath of Life (later retitled as Shut Your Mouth and Save Your Life) in 1862.
It was based on his experiences travelling through the West, where he observed a consistent lifestyle habit among the Native American communities he encountered: a preference for nose breathing over mouth breathing. He also observed that they had perfectly straight teeth.He repeatedly heard that this was because they believed that mouth breathing made an individual weak and caused disease, while nasal breathing made the body strong and prevented disease. He also observed that mothers repeatedly closed the mouth of their infants while they were sleeping, to instill nasal breathing as a habit.
STAND UP STRAIGHT!
Remember those words?
And the reason we were told this at boarding school in South Africa was so that you could breathe properly using your diaphragm in an upright position just as easily as you naturally breathed when you lay down to sleep.
Oh and the other reason was that not standing up straight or thereabouts looked sloppy, slovenly and unattractive.
In most of the figures above it would plainly be difficult to use the diaphragm as the breathing muscles of the neck, upper back and chest and the intercostal muscles (between the ribs) would not be relaxed enough for optimal breathing.
Many aches and pains can be caused by the way a person moves, walks, stands, kneels, sits, lies down, gets up, balances, turns and last but not least, sleeps.
I have seen this time and time again over the years as it mostly comes down to chronic psychological and environmental stress which causes muscular tension in the back, neck and torso, and poor posture can and often does result.
If your spine is subject to any regular unnatural postural deficiencies, such as stooping for example – this can easily become habitual and is very difficult to change, particularly if induced occupationally and this requires extra effort to reinforce permanent alterations to an upright posture.
The thing is, in my experience, when standing normally, there should be no tension in the neck, chest, shoulders, upper and lower back, the hips and the upper legs and buttocks.
The way you stand defines you.
For an ideal posture, the sternum should be held high, but not stiffly so – the shoulders should be relaxed and not raised so that the muscles of the neck are soft too – the chin should be dropped so that the eyes are level - and the head is shifted slightly back so the ears are in alignment with the middle of the shoulders.
The lumbar in the lower back should be concave- again, not stiffly so - the belly soft.
Equal weight should be placed on both feet, which is felt at the front of both ankles, which should be about a foot apart and be directly under each hip.
When I am standing still in this way and breathing slowly using the diaphragm it allows all my muscles to soften and my joints to open a little, towards a total state of standing relaxation.
Being aware of standing in this way for a while becomes a pleasure for me.
The way you sit does too.
By far the best way to sit is with an upright spine.
The most relaxing way to sit that will reduce stiffness when sitting for a long time is to have your knees slightly below the level of your pelvis - see diagram - and not at 90º as your lower back will not be concave which will not allow you to raise you rib cage easily and settle your head back on the middle of your shoulders for relaxed sitting.
This is the posture I adopt every day for my meditation and even after an hour I don't feel any stiffness in my neck, shoulders and back - only a little in my buttocks, upper legs and hips, which soon goes.
So if you are working in an office you really should not be in contact with the back of the chair at all but nearer the front of the seat.
Try and place a cushion that is thicker at the back of the seat and thinner at the front to sit on - its so much more comfortable.
Every 45-60 minutes stand up without the help of your arms* and get ready to move around.
After you have been sitting for this period of time just stand still, breathe slowly, wait 10-15 seconds and then move.
It quickly allows for blood to flow more freely in your hip flexors, thighs and buttocks.
The ideal posture for long meditation is where the knees are lower than the hips, (see left) as it tilts the pelvis forward, thereby making the lumbar a little more concave, allowing you to raise your rib cage a little making breathing easier and more relaxed.
And we all know that this is just too much to ask for sitting the way we do with our spines bent in all manner of ways as we "relax" and do what we do.
And after watching our favourite programmes for an hour or two we get up with a painful groan and stretch ourselves back into some acceptable shape and go to the loo.
Well, it i more often than not the loo at our age!
That also goes for how you walk.
Look around when you are out and about and watch people of all ages just walking and doing things.
In most cases - unless you are in a military location - you will find people walk with their heads in front of their shoulders causing stooping or rounded shoulders - see above. This causes their centre of gravity to move up from where it should be in the lower abdomen to the lower chest and causes tension in the neck and back. This causes shallow breathing and eventually pain in the area too.
I have learnt to become aware of my breathing when I am out walking - it reminds me to straighten up and to become aware of my proper centre of gravity which is in my lower abdominal area. The Japanese call this area the Hara and the single point in the lower abdomen called the Tanden is about an inch below my navel. And that is exactly where your centre of gravity is.
I find the key is to balance my head on my shoulders as best as I can whilst out walking. I know this is sometimes difficult to do, but try not to look down at your feet by bending your neck when walking.
Just keep you head up and use you eyes to scan the area in front of you.