The human body can survive for weeks without food and days without water but only a few minutes without breathing. And yet, breathing is one of the most misused functions of the body. Many illnesses can be traced back to poor breathing habits.

Some explanation of how breathing works is helpful. A large breathing tube called the bronchi brings in air and subdivides into very small tubes called bronchioles and these connect to tiny cup shaped alveoli. The individual alveolus measures about .008 of an inch and the lungs are comprised of millions and if they were spread out they would cover about 70 or 80 square meters. Very small veins called capillaries connect into these tiny air sacks. The capillaries are so fine that they will cause the blood cells to flow in single file and perform the important gas exchange between the carbon dioxide carried from the cells of the body and the oxygen coming in from the bronchi.

There are three types of breathing which are: upper chest, mid-chest and belly breathing. Upper chest is very shallow and often occurs when we are under a great deal of stress. Mid-chest breathing is the most common and uses upper chest along with it. Belly breathing is the most natural and infants usually do this type. None of these types of breathing use the full capacity of the lungs and even though a person feels that they are breathing fine, they may have many of these tiny air sacks serving as breeding grounds for viruses and bacteria.

The ancient yogis knew of the importance of breath and devised some helpful breathing exercises. One of these exercises is called the full yogic breath which consists of combining all three types of breathing into one complete and very deep breath with all breathing flowing through the nose. Mouth-breathing is very bad as the nostrils are very important to putting a spin on incoming air and preventing the sinuses from becoming a problem. Here, the breath begins at the lowest part of the lungs and then mid-chest and finally upper chest and done with full concentration on completely filling the lungs with air. The exhaling is also complete with the focus being on fully expelling any toxins from the lungs.

Breath of fire is a little more tricky and can take some practice. In this exercise, the exhale is quick like a cough but is willful while the inhale is passive. The diaphragm is a muscle that expands and contracts to create a vacuum in the chest and activate the lungs. The diaphragm also separates the stomach and intestines from the chest cavity and is strengthened along with the coastal muscles of the chest when performing this exercise.

A round of breath of fire may consist of 70 to over one hundred cycles of inhale and exhale. Something else happens with breath of fire and that is stimulation of the solar plexus. The solar plexus is a network of nerve fibers and is sometimes called the fourth brain with cerebrum, cerebellum and medulla being the other three. With proper concentration and breath of fire, pranic energy can be obtained from the air which is charged by the sun and directed to different parts of the body which may need healing.

Dennis Miller lives in the Shade River State Forest, Meigs County, Ohio.

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