Fri | Mar 23, 2018

Ounce of Prevention | Poor breathing robs energy

Published:Tuesday | May 31, 2016 | 12:00 AM

We humans are oxygen-dependent. We use our lungs to extract this oxygen from the air we breathe. One can live for weeks without food and for days without water, but we can only survive for a few minutes without oxygen.

Each day, we automatically unconsciously breathe about 20,000 times, with each breath taking in up to six litres of air into your lungs.

This inspired air is about 78 per cent nitrogen, 20 per cent oxygen and the rest is water vapour, carbon dioxide, other gases and pollutants. The process of extracting oxygen from the air is done by the respiratory system, which includes the nose, throat, voice box, windpipe, and lungs. With each inspiration, air enters through your nostrils or mouth, and your lungs fill and expand and then empties as you breathe out.

As the air is inhaled, the mucous membranes of the air passages filter, humidify and control the temperature of the air preparing it for the sensitive lungs. These air passages lead the air into hundreds of millions of small balloon-like structures called alveoli. As the air enters these little sacs, oxygen passes out into the bloodstream and waste gases like carbon dioxide enter to be released from the body when we breathe out.

Poor breathing robs energy and negatively affects mental alertness. Abnormal breathing habits, and even the ageing process itself, can create a 20 per cent reduction in oxygen blood levels. People under 30 years old take in double the amount of oxygen in comparison to an 80-year-old. Rapid, shallow breathing often caused by poor posture, weak or stiff muscles or stress, leads to poor oxygen uptake, respiratory disease, sluggishness, or heart disease.

Stiffness of the rib cage and weakness of the surrounding muscles make it more difficult to inhale deeply to fill the lungs and to fully exhale and properly empty the lungs. All this prevents fresh oxygen from reaching the blood stream.


Benefits of breathing


Physical effects: Oxygenation, energy, detoxification - eliminating acidic carbon dioxide, improved circulation of blood and lymph, stimulates organs like the liver and colon. Although it is well known that our cells cannot survive without oxygen, most people don't known that many bacteria and viruses, and even cancer cells, are killed by high levels of oxygen

Mental and spiritual effects: Calming, relaxing, relief of tension, anxiety and stress, meditation-enhancement tool.


Importance of the diaphragm


The diaphragm separates the chest cavity from the abdomen and is the most important muscle for breathing. When it contracts, it pushes down into the belly and creates a suction or vacuum, which draws air into the lungs. When it relaxes, the air is then expelled as the diaphragm pushes up. Learning to breathe from your diaphragm (belly breathing) is most important. Below are some useful breathing exercises.


Belly breathing exercise


The following exercises are simple ways to breathe more deeply. They will detoxify the system, increase energy and decrease tension. (Do not try this exercise if you are driving your car.)

Lie flat on your back (small pillows placed under the neck and knees can be used to reduce strain) or sit back in a comfortable chair. Natural diaphragmatic breathing in these positions will cause a rise in the belly while inhaling and a fall upon exhaling.

Place the palms of your hands on your stomach just below the rib cage, middle fingers barely touching each other, and take a slow deep breath. (As the diaphragm pushes down, the stomach will rise slightly causing the fingertips to separate somewhat.)

This movement indicates a greater expansion of the lungs, resulting in a truly deep breath. When you exhale, the fingers come together. This belly breathing is the most efficient way to breathe and infants and small children naturally breathe this way. Chest breathing only fills the middle and upper parts of the lungs.

Practise this exercise for five minutes in the morning and evening.


Complete breathing exercise


Begin by slowly exhaling and emptying the lungs. Then inhale while you relax the belly muscles and feel the belly filling up with air.

After filling the belly, continue inhaling. Fill up the middle of your chest, then the upper chest as your and rib cage expands.

Hold the breath in for a moment, and then begin to exhale as slowly as possible.

Empty in the reverse order - the upper, middle and the lower zones of the chest.

As the air is slowly released, relax your chest and rib cage. Tighten your belly to force out the remaining breath.

Closing your eyes allows greater concentration on your breathing.

Relax all your muscles and let everything go. Practise for five minutes.


Humming breathing exercise


Follow the instructions for breathing in as described above.

Now, as you begin to slowly exhale, focus on the sound of your breath and make an audible hum sound. Continue making that humming sound as long as possible while your stomach muscles tighten, to exhale completely and then relax. Practise for a few minutes each day.

So breathe with more awareness and enjoy greater health.

- You may email Dr Vendryes at or listen to 'An Ounce of Prevention' on POWER 106 FM on Fridays at 8:15 p.m. Visit for details on his books and articles.