Every one of our cells needs a continual supply of oxygen. It is this oxygen that feeds our brain, sparks metabolism and calms nerves. One of the reasons why regular aerobic exercise is so beneficial in slowing down the rate at which you age and warding off degenerative diseases is because it improves your use of oxygen. So can learning to breathe fully. It can also improve your mood, increase your resistance to colds and illness, and improve sleep as well. Full breathing is also an important tool for encouraging waste elimination. It is a kind of spring-cleaning process that can go on all year round every day of your life.
Chinese medicine (which I spent three years studying and working with) has a long tradition of natural-law ageless aging. And a great deal of it centers around the use of the breath. This is something to which we give little attention in the West and it is strange to think that specific breathing techniques are so ignored when the body's use of oxygen is the central determinant of the rate at which we age.
Few people breathe fully. Most of us, particularly if we have sedentary jobs, breathe high - that is we breathe quickly and shallowly concentrating the inhalations in the upper chest area which is the part of the lungs which holds the smallest quantity of air. Not only does this kind of breathing inhibit oxygen intake, it can also encourage the lungs to atrophy and to lose much of their natural elasticity - something which is a common occurrence as people get older. Other people, who allow the air to flow deeper into their lungs are mid-breathers - an improvement over breathing high because it encourages the ribcage to move and brings more oxygen into the lungs for body use. But to make the best use of oxygen for ageless aging it's important to develop the habit of taking total breaths so they become your normal way of breathing.
The Total Breath
This is not something that you can learn overnight for there is nothing more unconscious and habitual than the way we breathe and that takes time and a little persistent effort to change. In breathing totally all of your breathing apparatus comes into play - the chest and ribs are lifted but not by themselves. The intercostal muscles also expand the ribs outward to create a large space in which your lungs can inflate to their maximum. Finally the diaphragm moves down, pulling the lower ribs outward which lets even the very bottom of your lungs fill up completely with air. With total breathing a much higher proportion of your lung power is used, as are most of your chest, rib and stomach muscles. Practice it lying down for five minutes a couple of times a day - perhaps just on awakening or just before going to sleep - and gradually it will become an automatic way of breathing which will not only help in ageless aging but will also improve your resistance to fatigue, improve the glow of your skin and help protect you from minor illness.
- Lying flat on your back with a small pillow beneath your neck, place one hand on your abdomen and rest the other on one side of your ribcage. Now inhale slowly through your nose while imagining that you are sending your breath to a place about 2 inches below your navel. Your tummy will start to well outward rather like a balloon. This has the effect of filling the lower part of your lungs with fresh air.
- As the in-breath continues, let it fill the rest of your stomach and then expand your ribcage outwards to the side as well as the midsection of your chest. You can feel this side expansion by keeping your hand against one side of your ribcage and making sure it moves outward.
- Now let the fresh breath fill the upper part of your chest area as well, watching it as it expands outward and to the side. (The whole process of inhalation should take about 5 seconds altogether.)
- Hold your breath for another 5 seconds. (In time you will find you can hold it much longer which gives your lungs a good opportunity to absorb all the oxygen available to them.)
- Now exhale following the same process you did in inhaling: first contract your lower abdomen gently to move the air upwards then as the lower lungs deflate you should feel the ribcage contracting again followed by the upper chest. This process too should take about 5 seconds.
- Rest for a second or two before beginning the whole cycle again.