In this next segment I will discuss the utmost importance, physiology, and health benefits of the action of breathing, as well as how the breath ties in with Acupuncture Treatments. One part of the inspiration of this article is the education of Acupuncture patients as to why we coordinate acupuncture needling with the breath, and the other part an education of such a vital action that is taken for granted.
BREATHE! The Breath, sense the instant we were born, is something we do every second of every day. It is so vital to our existence. However, living in a culture that has become quite busy and outwardly focused, we have not maintained the importance of breathing. Thus, unfortunately, many take breathing for granted as it is always happening regardless of our consciousness. So, if this very important thing happens without effort, why pay attention to it??? The answer to that is that it is of utmost importance to use and connect to the breath for the benefit of our ultimate health. Just like the digestive system, the respiratory system must take attention and proper use. For example, when you eat to much, don’t eat enough, eat at inconsistent hours, eat late at night, eat improper foods, then as a result your digestion becomes disharmonious. Maybe the person experiences reflux, loose stool or constipation, fatigue, lethargy, indigestion, etc. This is true also for the breath. As a result of sedentary life, stress, over-taxation, emotional stress, etc., the breath may become hindered, more shallow, less deep, less full, some may feel chest pains, shortness of breath, fatigue, etc. This is because it IS a system that should be maintained, consciously recognized and a system that we need to respect and use the breath properly.
BREATHE! Now to give some Chinese Medicine Physiology so as people can realize some of the functions of the breath and lungs. Qi is the life force energy. It is all energy (kinetic, chemical, thermal, electrical, etc.), everything that is non-material. The body has energy in every aspect. The way, after birth, that the Qi of the body is maintained and refreshed is 1) through digestion and 2) through the breath. The energy extracted through the digestive process is called “Gu Qi.” The energy extracted from the breath and respiratory system is called “Da Qi.” The energy created through digestion (Gu Qi) is sent up to the chest area to meet with the energy extracted by the breath (Da Qi) and together the combine in the Heart, after which, the heart refines and pumps the energy to the rest of the body with the aid of the lungs. So, from this process it is easy to see that “PROPER” BREATH is as important as proper digestion to sustain our bodies to optimal health.
BREATHE! The importance of the breath is not just a Chinese Medicine Concept. The breath has been a vital focus of many practices from many cultures for thousands of years (that we know of). For example practices in Taoism, Buddhism, Yoga, Tai Chi-chuan, and countless Meditations use the breath to dynamically effect, maintain and heal the body. Yoga practices tend to use a forceful and very specific type of breath to increase prana (energy) and arouse your inner energies. Buddhism uses conscious focus on the breath during meditation to connect your mind to your true self and your true heart to experience true reality. Tai Chi coordinates the breath with the movements as to add an subtle element to the posture that will enhance its effectiveness and increase energy levels and flow. If you are having a hard time relating to this subject because of a lack of exposure to it, you can also view it from a western medical perspective. The force, rapidity, and volume of air by which you breathe physically changes the quality of the blood to be more acidic or alkalitic by adjusting the levels of CO2, thus adjusting levels of Carboxylic Acid (H2CO3). This is a basic example to show how the breathe can create physical changes within the body, not to even mention the energetic and spiritual changes.
BREATHE! Acupuncture uses the breath during treatments. Often the practitioner will tell the patient to breathe a certain way with the insertion of a needle. This reason is many fold. Most people believe it is just to relax the person before a needle is inserted. However, this is a very specific and taught technique. Inhaling and exhaling are specific functions. When a person inhales the chest is filled with air energy (Qi/Prana) and the body absorbs this. When the person exhales, the extra air energy is released, but also the collected energy is dispersed to course throughout the body. Think about it and try it. When you breathe in you literally feel your body, rib cage, neck muscles, diaphragm expand… Hold IT… and when you release you feel a big relief, relaxation, and a sense of melting. This is because when things flow freely, there is true relaxation. In contrast, when things stagnate due to… lets say stress… things tighten… muscles, nerves, breath, etc. So, to needle as the person exhales is in general a tonifying or strengthening effect. To needle on an inhale is a dispersal effect. This is the most basic concept or way to use the breath in chinese medicine.
BREATHE! In addition to the concept of energy, the lungs have many roles in chinese medicine. They are the most superficial organ in the body and also referred to as the delicate organ. The lungs, thus, connect us to our outside environment as any worldly experiences are absorbed through the lungs. It is almost as breathing in your experience. Due to this, in chinese medicine, the lungs are said to store the spirits called the Po or corporeal soul. This may be a difficult concept, but it is easier to just think of this as a body “function.” Therefore, in chinese medicine, the spirit of the lungs handle many of the “worldly” functions of the body, such as taking care of physical needs and worldly experiences that nourish and support (or in some cases not) the self. To add an element, it is the lungs that have much to do with the processing of grief. Either grief from a loss of a loved one or separation from a person, but also separation from a place or other things that could cause worldly attachment. Other functions of the lungs in chinese medicine include defense against external illness as the common cold or flu, and regulation of the body hair, pores and skin. The lungs are a very sacred element.
BREATHE! In closing, I hope this gave a sense to the utmost importance of the breath. In addition, I leave you with some inherent breathing tips. Sit, and notice your breath. The ideal breath is consistent. The inhale and exhale are slow and steady. The time it takes to inhale matches the same time it takes to exhale. The breath should not stop in the chest, but should fill all the way to the belly, as the abdomen should expand with an inhale as it is filling, and contract as you exhale. If you watch a young child or infant, their abdomen is constantly moving with the breath. As we get older we tend to loose this technique if it is not maintained. The breath should fill the lower belly first, then the ribs, then the chest. Slow and steady is key. Some teachers say, the slower the breath, the more heavenly you become. So in conclusion, Slow, Consistent, Full, reaching the lower, middle, and upper body. An example of using the breath is, if you breath rapidly into your lower belly, through your nose, you can increase your energy in that moment. By contrast, if you steady your breath, making it full and slow, this will decrease your heart rate, reduce over excitation and reduce blood pressure.
Breathe! I hope this article enlightened some as to the ancient technique of utilizing the breath for health. If you have any further interest in learning or using your breath for health, proper instruction should come directly from an instructor of some kind. Yoga, Tai Chi-chuan, Meditation all have their uses of the breath. Breathe, and Be Well.