Preksha Dhyana: Human Body Part II (Health Care) ► [1] Scientific Complete Breathing

Posted: 14.04.2010

To Breathe is to Live

It is possible to live without food for many days, without water for several days but without air, normally, not more than a few minutes. Thus breathing is the great vital source of energy. It is life. Each and every activity of life is intimately connected with the process of breathing.

One aspect of the function of breathing is to supply the cells[1] of our body with oxygen and the other one is to eject carbon dioxide from them. Energy-production in the cells needs oxygen. Carbon dioxide is a by-product of energy-releases and if allowed to accumulate, it will poison the cells.

Supreme importance of proper breathing cannot be overstressed. Unfortunately, only a few really breathe properly and completely. Rest of us breathe more or less badly. In fact, an average person today is not breathing, but is merely avoiding suffocation. Many of the symptoms of poor health are caused by insufficient oxygenation of blood, and slow circulation. Not only are the nerves, glands and vital organs inadequately nourished, but the excretory systems cannot function properly and the bodily waste-products are not removed efficiently. Those who breathe badly have to struggle with problems in all directions: health, profession, emotional life. Not only do we breathe badly, but often the purity of the air leaves much to be desired. Consequently our nervousness and irritability increases and even the slightest physical effort may leave us exhausted. Worst of all, our resistance to disease is reduced drastically and we develop greater susceptibility to germs and infections. Correct breathing, by ensuring complete ventilation of the lungs, immunizes us against diseases like T.B. In the following paragraphs we shall see how this can be done.

The Process of Breathing

The lungs themselves have no muscles and hence play only a passive role in breathing. The mechanical power required for the process of breathing is supplied by (a) the raising and lowering of the diaphragm, (b) the contraction and expansion of intercostal muscles and (c) raising and lowering of the upper part of the thorax called clavicle or collar bone. A slight vacuum in the lung compartment enables the lung to expand and collapse with each inhalation and exhalation respectively.

At the start of a breath, the pressure inside the lungs is the same as the outside air-pressure (760 mm. of mercury). Then the intercostal muscles contract, moving the rib-cage upwards and outwards and at the same time the diaphragm contracts and moves downwards. The size of the chest cavity is thus increased and the inside pressure falls by 2 or 3 mm. of mercury. To equalise the pressure-difference, the air rushes into the lungs. Inhalation ends with the relaxing of the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles, reducing the chest volume. Inside pressure rises by about 3 mm. and forces used air back into the atmosphere.

The fresh air inhaled in the alveoli [2] has an oxygen tension of 100 mm. and very little carbon dioxide, while the blood in the capillaries arrive with an oxygen tension of 40 mm. and carbon dioxide tension of 46 mm. To establish equilibrium, carbon dioxide enters the alveoli and oxygen goes into the capillary blood. Fully oxygenated blood with 100 mm. tension and 100% saturation leaves the lungs for the left side of the heart and aorta. Haemoglobin, which fills the red blood cells (and colours the blood) is a chemical compound which combines with oxygen and readily releases it to the cells when reqiured. The process of combination which takes place in the lungs turns the purplish reduced haemoglobin into bright-red oxy-haemoglobin. The delivery of oxygen to the cells is the function of another organ—the heart—pumping oxygen-bearing haemoglobins in the blood to all parts of the body. Thus, the process of internal breathing which occurs in the active tissues of the body, consists of the release of oxygen and carrying away carbon dioxide for delivery to the lungs. If the oxygen-tension falls below 40 mm. of mercury, the oxygen saturation of the blood falls precipitously; oxygen-supply to the tissues reduces to zero and they may die.

While the regulation of most of the important systems of the body, notably the heart rate, is under automatic control, that of breathing is both autonomous as well as voluntary. The normal rhythmic pattern of respiration is main­tained by nerve-information fed back to the respiratory centre (which is located in the medalla oblongata) by the respiratory muscles and lungs. The centre is under many other influences and can also be affected by voluntary activity, e.g. one can hold the breath for short intervals. The respiratory centre is sensitive to changes in the carbon-dioxide content, oxygenation and acidity of the blood that passes through the centre as well as that in the carotid arteries. Rhythmic impulses from the centre pass down through the spinal cord to the intercostal muscles and the diaphragm. Rise in the level of blood-carbon-dioxide or acidity stimulates the centre. Consequently it alters the impulses to the muscles of breathing in order to co-ordinate rhythm, rate and depth of breathing with other activities of the body.

Art of Breathing: Importance of Proper Breathing

In proper breathing, firstly air is inhaled through the nose, with mouth closed. In this way most of the bacteria, dust and other impurities are filtered out by the moist lining of the nose and the mucous membranes. Mucus, in addition to acting as a filter, also has germicidal properties. While travelling this somewhat longer road, the air is also humidified and warmed to proper body-temperature. That is why it is so important to cultivate the habit of breathing through the nose, and never through the mouth.

Secondly, in proper breathing, we have to reverse the familiar procedure of pulling in our abdomen while inhaling. A pulled-in stomach may give us a smart appearance (as in a parade) but it effectively compresses the diaphragm and prevents air reaching the base of the lungs. We must learn to allow the abdomen to expand on inhaling and to pull it in while exhaling. It is easier to practise this lying down, until the new habit is firmly established.

In a single day we breathe about 23000 times. Depending upon one's posture as well as physical and emotional state, the average volume of air taken in a single breath is 1/2 to 1 litre. With proper attention, this volume may be increased upto 4 to 5 litres. In other words careful re-orientation of our breathing system can increase at least five-fold our ability to use oxygen and eliminate carbon dioxide. Most of us breathe shallowly in short staccato jerks, at the rate of 15 to 18 breaths a minute. Because we feel no breathless discomfort form our shallow breathing, we are not even aware of its shallowness. 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 percent. Slower rate results in reduction of wear and tear in the entire body, less work for the heart, lower blood pressure and quieter nerves.

Complete Breathing

The difference between bad breathing and scientifically complete breathing lies mostly in the method and its practice.

First thing is to breathe properly. In fact, however, it is to re-learn because everyone did know it in one's infancy. 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. If the inspiratory muscles are relaxed, air begins to be expelled from the chest by its own weight. Contraction of the abdominal muscles then helps to evacuate the lungs further by raising the diaphragm. Because of the spongy nature of the lung-tissues, there is always a residue of used air in the lungs. This residual air, together with the fresh air taken in by inhalation, makes up the actual air available for further processing. 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 them 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.

Mention has already been made of 3 sets of muscles, surrounding the lungs, which take part in the breathing process. They are:

  1. Intercostal muscles which are attached to the upper and lower margins of the ribs and which move the rib-cage upwards and outwards on contraction and in the opposite direction on relaxation.
  2. Diaphragm, the most important muscle in breathing, a strong dome-shaped sheet of muscle that lies at the bottom of the chest and roofs the abdominal cavity. When contracted, it descends pressing down the abdominal organs and lengthening the chest cavity.
  3. Clavicle muscles which are operated by raising the collar bone. In this way the upper part of the lungs receives fresh air.

Complete inspiration incorporates the use of all the three sets of muscles in one single, full and rhythmic action. The air should enter in a continuous flow without gasping.

Complete Breathing Technique

An excellent way to learn the technique is lying down flat on a hard surface—preferably on the floor using a mat or a rug. Keep your arms parallel to the body and the legs straight but not stiff. To concentrate the mind entirely upon the action of breathing is of the utmost importance. It is a good idea to close the eyes to help increase concentration.

Phases of Action

  1. Evacuate the lungs with a slow and silent exhalation. Pull in the stomach to contract the abdominal muscles. This action will raise the diaphragm high up in the chest cavity like a piston in a cylinder, reducing chest volume and thereby getting rid of the greatest possible amount of used air. With the lungs empty, hold the breath just for a second or so before the inhalation commences.
  2. Slowly lower the diaphragm allowing fresh air to enter the lungs. Relax the stomach and allow it to expand and rise. This action flattens the diaphragm and the lungs gradually fill with air from the bottom. The abdominal muscles should remain relaxed throughout the inhalation which should be slow, easy and silent. [3]
  3. Expand the ribs without straining by contracting the intercostal muscles. This action leads to the inflation of the central portion of lungs, by the entry of a fairly large volume of air though not as large as in the previous phase.
  4. While air is being inhaled, complete the filling of lungs by raising the collar-bone towards the chin, without, however, raising the shoulders. The action permits the entry of the air in the uppermost portion of the lungs. This phase is useful only when it is preceded by the other two phases of inhalation given above, since only a small quantity of air enters the lungs.

With the last phase of operation the lungs are completely filled with air. The total action should not produce any discomfort or fatigue. Practise complete breathing as consciously as possible. Gradually, habit of complete respiration can be acquired and the quality of breathing will constantly improve. Remember that both inhalation and exhalation must be silent, slow, continuous and easy.

Once this technique of complete breathing is established, further benefits may be gained by learning time-control. Firstly, there can be a pause between inhalation and exhalation and the length of the pause will be dictated by the amount of practice. Secondly, the exhalations can last twice as long as the inhalations. To start with a ratio of 1:1:2 between inhalations, retention and exhalation is practical and can be slowly increased to 1:2:2. There is no benefit whatsoever in holding the breath with bursting lungs and swimming head, which merely causes discomfort and quick exhalation.

Benefits of Complete Breathing

Already it has been state that without oxygen there can be no life. 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 are ideal breeding ground for minute but dangerous germs.

Another important correlation between correct breathing and circulation is the so-called suction effect. The heart is capable of acting only as a forcing pump driving the blood into the arterial network. It has no suction action on the venous blood which travels against gravity towards the heart. Powerful suction action can be developed by the lungs as a result of complete scientific breathing. Deep, slow breathing enables the lungs to literally suck up the excess blood accumulated in organs like liver. 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. Complete way of breathing should become the normal way.

Additional Breathing Exercises

1. Alternate Breathing

Practise scientific complete breathing first through one nostril and then through the other. You can practise sitting cross-legged on the floor or on a chair but you must hold your spine straight, head immobile and body relaxed.

Place your right thumb on your right nostril, and the ring finger on the left; keep the index and middle fingers lightly touching the forehead. First close the right nostril with your thumb pressed and breathe slowly and deeply through the left one. After completing the inhalation, close the left nostril and open the right one and exhale slowly. Now inhale through the right and exhale through the left. Repeat the process several times keeping up the rhythm.

2. Bellows Breath (bhastrikã)

It consists of a series of very quick inhalations and exhalations—one inhalation and one exhalation in one second. Aid exhalations with quick inward contractions of the abdominal muscles. The pause comes after the inhaling and exhaling and not in between them. It may take quite some time to work down to the time of one second and at the start it is better to concentrate on the performance of the exercise rather than on timing.

3. Cleansing Breath (kapãlabhãti)

Take a deep breath and exhale in short sharp puffs aided by quick inward jerks of the abdominal muscles and the diaphragm. Continue the sharp exhalations until the lungs are empty and then inhale again. The breath is not held between inhalation and exhalation. A round of ten inhalations/exhalations should be enough. Further rounds can follow, if necessary.

It is probably the most efficient way of clearing the sinuses and nasal passages. (It is, therefore, advisable to keep handkerchief in hand).

The efficiency of the exercise lies in (i) the strength of the inward abdominal stroke which gives the required force to the exhalations and (ii) the speed of the exhalation, i.e. the number that can be crammed in before the air is exhausted. Former is more important than the latter.

Breathing Exercises for Asthma and Bronchitis Patients [4]

Regular breathing exercises can provide a valuable safeguard against the frequency and severity of acute attacks. Together with routine prophylactic treatment to relieve congestion and reduce bronchosplasm exercises can contribute to you comfort and sense of well-being. They help you to improve posture, encourage relaxation and boost confidence.

Appropriate breathing exercises can help you and others with asthma or bronchitis to use your lungs correctly, especially to breathe out completely. They teach you to relax, to concentrate on expiration, and to use the lower part of the chest and abdomen. They can be combined with mobilizing movements of the shoulders, girdle and spine.

Exercises should be performed regularly for 10 minute morning and evening and during the day if possible. For maximum relief, please follow instructions carefully.


  1. Blow your nose before starting the exercises; loosen all clothing.
  2. These exercises may cause wheezing when carried out successfully; cough up any loosened mucus.
  3. You will find a mirror useful since it enables you to watch your chest movements.

Forward Bending Exercises

  1. Sit with feet apart, arms relaxed at sides. Take in a small breath. Breathe out slowly, while dropping head and bending forward until head is between knees and back is bowed.
  2. Straighten back, starting at lowest part by pulling in abdominal muscles. Breathe in while gently expanding lower ribs, unbend rest of back; lastly the shoulders and head.
  3. Breathe out, keeping head up and shoulders relaxed. Repeat four times, rest, repeat.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Relax and lie down with knees bent, the right hand on the upper abdomen, so that its movement towards the spine is felt on full expiration. (The aim is gradually to increase the length of expiration—to about 15 seconds - without causing any sudden gasping intake of breath).

  1. Take in a gentle breath through the nose. Breathe out, hissing through the mouth, sinking the upper abdomen and lower chest as much as possible.
  2. Relax the upper abdomen and lower chest while air is gently and silently taken in. Your hand will rise with the abdomen. Exhale. Repeat eight times. Rest. Repeat 12 times. Rest.

Side Expansion Exercise

Sit with back against a chair, shoulders down, with hands on either side of the chest to feel the sideways movement. (To relax the shoulders, you may find this exercise easier to learn when lying down) as in the exercise for diaphragmatic breathing).

  1. Inhale gently through the nose.
  2. Breathe out, hissing through the mouth, bringing the hands as closely together as possible. Press lightly with the palms at the end.
  3. Breathe in gently, expanding the lower ribs outwards against the hands. Exhale.

Repeat series eight times. Relax with arms at sides for one minute. Repeat.

Preventing an Attack

An attack often can be prevented if you start controlled breathing, when you feel one coming on; this helps morale. If an attack starts while at work or elsewhere away from home, these positions are useful in gaining control.

  1. Sitting down with elbows on knees and shoulders relaxed.
  2. Leaning back in chair against a wall with feet apart or standing or sitting with elbows resting on low wall or desk.

Repeated Recitation of the Vowels

Many a good and beneficial practice has no definite attraction, simply because they have not been examined properly. Some may discard them as superstitions and turn away. And yet, they deserve at least an objective examination through unprejudiced experience and sometimes even scientific study, before being rejected as a practice. Vocal repetition of om and arham is such a practice. It is a unique sound and its repetition has many beneficial effects not only on the physical level but also upon mental and emotional levels.

The technique: Take a deep breath and exhale slowly, the slow passage of the expelled air causing the vocal cords to vibrate in an evenly continuous sound. At the end of the exhalation, close the mouth and by drawing in the stomach, expel the remaining air, making a deep humming sound which produces vibrations in the cranium. Repeat seven or nine times. Observe that: By making the uniform sound, rate of exhalation is not only slow but regular and smooth. Total exhalation ensures that the inhalation will also be full, deep and easy.

Physiological Effects of Vibrations

The sound of the vowel reverberates in the entire chest-cavity including the rib-cage. Vibrations reach the air in alveoli, stimulating and revitalising the pulmonary cells resulting in a more efficient exchange of gases. The final humming reverberates in the brain causing cranial nerves to vibrate and get rejuvenated.

It has been scientifically established [5] that;

  1. Vibrations produced by the sounding of vowels during exhalation massage the internal organs.
  2. Vibrations reach the deep-lying tissues and nerve cells.
  3. Increase in the circulation of blood in the tissues and organs involved revitalises them.

Mental Effects of Vibration

The effects on the mind are even more significant than on the body. It is well known that the most complex emotions can be produced by music through vibrations. Experiments have proved that under the influence of the internal vibro-massage, muscles and nerves relax, reducing depressions and inferiority complex.

We talk to ourselves even when we are not speaking aloud and we form sentences in the mind. There is a close connection between the mechanism of thinking (i.e. forming connection between the mechanism of thinking (i.e. forming sentences in brain)) and mechanism of speech which involves an enormous expenditure of nervous energy. During the repetition of om or arham the mental processes engaged in forming sentences are inhibited, thus conserving the nervous energy.

Vibrations also produce soothing electro-magnetic waves which resonate through the body. Recent study of physiologists shows that these vibrations produce significant effects on the endocrine system which has profound influence on the mental states, emotions and behavioural patterns of an individual. The vibrations help to establish a more balanced equilibrium between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic components of the autonomic nervous system.

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Published by:
Jain Vishva Bharati
Ladnun-3 41 306 (Rajasthan)

Editor: Muni Mahendra Kumar

© Jain Vishva Bharati

Edition: May, 1993

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