Preksha Dhyana: Perception Of Breathing ► [2] Breathing: Scientific Version

Posted: 16.02.2010

To appreciate significance of total breathing, it is essential to understand the special importance of breathing on the basis of scientifically established facts.


The body needs a continual supply of oxygen. One may survive for a long time without food, for less than a week without water but one would not last more than a few minutes without oxygen. In addition, for a continual supply of oxygen, the body also needs some means of disposing of the waste carbon dioxide produced by the function of the body cells. Breathing or respiration provides a continual replenishment of the oxygen in the lungs, drawing in fresh air and expelling waste gases.

Organs of the System

The respiratory system includes passageways and tubes through which the air passes: the nose, trachea, bronchi and bronchioles arranged in a sequence that branches and rebranches and looks like an inverted tree. The tubes and in tiny air sacs called alveoli in which the exchange of the gases takes place. The bronchioles and alveoli constitute the lungs. The system includes a bellow's arrangement—the rib cage operated by muscles and controlled by nerves.

The nose is the gateway to the respiratory tract. It filters, warms and moistens the incoming air. The interior of the nasal cavity is lined with mucous membranes. Dust and other fine particles and bacteria are caught in the sticky mucous.  The   mucous membranes also help to moisten the incoming air.

The trachea or wind-pipe lies in front of the aesophagus. It divides into two bronchi, one leading into each lung. The trachea with its two branches—the bronchi and their numerous branches the bronchial tubes and bronchioles, looks very much like an inverted tree. Each tiny bronchiole terminates in a cluster of minute air sacs, the alveoli which look like a miniature bunch of grapes.

Human lungs contain about three hundred million[1] alveoli covering a total surface area of more than 90 square metres, enough to carpet a tennis court. This enormous surface area provides for an efficient exchange of gases. The two lungs are cone-shaped with the base resting on the diaphragm and the apex into the root of the neck. They are freely movable except at the roots. Their internal structure is a mass of branching tubes and air sacs. The alveoli has an extremely thin wall and is surrounded by a network of equally thin-walled capillaries. Gases diffuse back and forth between the alveoli and capillaries network, and the actual exchange of oxygen and carbon-dioxide occurs here.


Respiration is the physical act of breathing in which air is alternately drawn into the lungs and expelled from them. Mostly this is an unconscious act that goes on throughout the day and even when one is asleep. Breathing includes two phases: inspiration or breathing in and expiration or breathing out.

When the pressure inside is greater than the pressure of the atmosphere, air is expelled from the lungs. When the outside pressure is greater than the inside, the air flows in. The mechanical power, required for the process of breathing is supplied by the action of three sets of muscles - (1) diaphragm, (2) intercostal muscles and (3) clavicular muscles.

The important mechanism for increasing the volume of the chest cavity is the contraction of the diaphragm. This sheet-like muscle seperates the chest from the abdomen. It forms the floor of the chest cavity. 11 has a dome shape when it is relaxed. When it contracts, it flattens out and descends expanding the chest. The circumference of the chest cavity is increased by another mechanism, the contraction of the intercostal muscles which makes the ribs swing upward and outward expanding the chest cavity. The expansion of the chest cavity automatically inflates the lungs. The third mechanism for breathing is operated by the collar bone. Diaphragmatic breathing is slow and deep; costal breathing is rapid and shallow. The maximum amount of air that the lungs can hold is about 6 litres. In a forceful expiration one can expel about 5 litres in one blow. In normal quiet breathing, the volume of air that flows into and out of the lungs with each breath is about 1/2 litre. The volumes and capacities can be modified by breathing exercises and by practising scientific total breathing[2].

Gas Exchange

The air we breathe into our lungs contains about 21% oxygen and about 79% Nitrogen. The air we breathe out contains 15% oxygen and 5% carbon-dioxide and 79% nitrogen. An exchange of the two gases occurs in the lungs. Oxygen passes out through the thin walls of the alveoli and in through those of the capillaries that surround them. At the same time there is a net movement of carbon-dioxide in the opposite direction. Transporting facility is provided by the haemoglobin in the red blood cells.

The gas exchange between the blood and tissues is very similar to that in the lungs except that the gases go in the opposite direction. Carbon-dioxide from the tissues go into the blood and oxygen from the blood into the tissue fluid and from there into the cells.

Control of Respiration

Normally breathing is an unconscious act. It can also be controlled  (consciously) voluntarily to some extent. One can breathe rapidly or slowly, deeply or shallowly at will. One can even stop breathing entirely for a time. But most of the time respiration is under automatic control by special centres in the central nervous system. The average adult at rest and not emotionally excited, breathes about 15 to 20 times a minute. Emotional stimulation, pain, temperature, carbon-dioxide level and age cause variations from this basic level. However, we can train ourselves to breathe more slowly and more deeply, though without pause between inspiration and expiration. The rate can be easily reduced by 4 to 5 breaths a minute, i.e. 25% to 33%. Slower rate results in reduction of wear and tear in the entire body, less work for the heart, lower blood pressure and quieter nerves.

Scientific Complete Breathing

The difference between bad breathing and scientifically complete breathing lies mostly in the method and its practice. Because one is perpetually under stress and tension, breathing is usually incomplete, hasty, superficial and sometimes even gasping. Logically, therefore, proper breathing depends firstly on removal of tension. Hard (tense) abdominal muscles encumber every breath. Immobilised diaphragm and inflexible rib-cage hinders the entry of air into the lungs more efficiently than a tight belt or a corset. First step, therefore, is to remove the internal girdle by relaxing these muscles.

Exhalation: Scientific breathing begins with a slow, calm and complete exhalation. Contraction of the abdominal muscles help to evacuate the lungs by raising the diaphragm. More complete the evacuation, greater the volume of fresh air to enter the lungs and purer the air in contact with alveolar surfaces. Unless we first breathe out fully, it is impossible to breathe in correctly.

Inhalation: Having emptied the lungs, the next step is to fill it up to the maximum extent, the total volume of air which the lungs are able to contain is known as the vital capacity, which is about 6 litres. Before one can contemplate to increase this capacity, full use must be made of what is already available.

Benefits of Complete breathing

Adequate supply of oxygen is essential for the proper functioning and vitality of the cells. It is therefore vitally important to breathe correctly so that every cell can receive oxygen. The optimum interchange of gases in the lungs occurs when the breathing is deep, complete and slow. According to physiologists, it is necessary for the breathed-in air to remain in the alveoli for 10 to 20 seconds in order to achieve maximum interchange of oxygen and carbon-dioxide.

Apart from this basic necessity, it is also essential that the lungs themselves are properly ventilated by proper breathing. The dark, warm, humid and badly ventilated lungs is an ideal breeding ground for minute but dangerous germs.

An important correlation between correct breathing and circulation is the so called suction effect. Deep, slow breathing enables the lungs to literally suck up the excess blood accumulated in organs like lever. Proper rhythmic motions of the diaphragm and rib-cage have the effect of improving the venous circulation throughout the organism. Thus the proper interaction of the two driving forces of heart and lungs can optimise circulation of blood.

Finally, every organic or functional disorder is amenable to the influence, if not always the cure, of controlled and conscious breathing. Even when it is not enough to cure infectious disease, it supports the struggle which rids us of them and provides the body with ways of avoiding them.

"To breathe is to live", is undoubtedly a good adage but to breathe correctly that is slowly, silently and deeply is to live long and keep healthy.

Once the technique of complete breathing is learnt, it can be practised anywhere and at any time. In fact it could and should become the habit rather than an exercise.

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Editor: Muni Mahendra Kumar

Copyright: Tulsi Adhyatma Nidam
Jain Vishva Bharati
Ladnun-341 306

Edition: 2004

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S.M. Printers
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