By Crisostomo Gervasi, Tui Na instructor and master of oriental disciplines
From the very first moment, when we come to life we start breathing; and when our life ends the final action is also a breath. It seems obvious, but no living being on earth can survive without breathing. Developing awareness on breathing brings great benefits to our health in general, but can also be incredibly beneficial for deepening self-consciousness. It helps opening up and calming down the body and allows the flow of oxygen towards the brain, which results to a much clearer thinking process and a lighter feeling in the heart. I wish to bring your attention on this precious aspect of our life.
To help our exploration I wanted to develop a short theme for each letter that composes the Italian word for breathing: R.E.S.P.I.R.A.Z.I.O.N.E.
R – Rhythm (Ritmo)
An uneven breathing rhythm can cause anxiety, fear, the sense of feeling unreal or outside of oneself and can even provoke hallucinations. Breathing can be consciously or unconsciously controlled. The first step towards healthy breathing habits is to deepen our awareness on how we actually are and breathe correspondingly. An unhealthy person usually breathes with a certain speed; a healthy person breathes slowly and in a relaxed way. If you are affected by any disease, look into deep breathing for help.
E – Energy (Energia)
The energy produced by our body through breathing. The flow of Qi in our meridians is influenced by breathing. Our breath releases energy that goes directly to all our organs and helps them function properly. All the divine energy coming from above has to first go through our respiratory system, then to the head and finally it reaches the heart. Each human being breathes in a different way. Breathing has an ultimate goal: its process aims to purify thoughts.
S – Spirit (Spirito)
Pneuma is a Greek word which means breathing, air, vital blow. Pre-Socratic philosophers associated it with the soul. Seen from a spiritual standpoint it becomes Spirit. Pneuma, as spirit, belongs to the god which gives life to all things and guides them through his will. (Wikipedia)
P – Lungs (Polmoni)
The two main organs of our respiration. They are located in the thoracic cage, next to the heart, and they expand and contract following the movement of the diaphragm and of the thoracic cage.
I – Individual (Individuale)
A perfected respiration leads to the ability of mental control over the organs through concentration. This is a conscious ability, yet it needs an attentive breathing practice to give some results. Concentration means that our organs of sense like seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching are able to stay in balance on a set place. Any individual can be freed from his thoughts only when his respiration is under the control of his conscious mind.
R – Relaxation (Rilassamento)
How many of you actually know the meaning of the word "Relaxation"? For many to relax means to go home from work, get into a soft pair of slippers, sit on the couch and watch TV, drink a beer or – even better – take a nap during the day. Actually physical and mental relaxation is quite a different issue. Some people can even be afraid of the word relaxation because they associate it with negative factors, like being lazy and unproductive. Plus, we are not always able to recognize that we are tense when we are! Tension and stress have become a natural state for us. Relaxation techniques can help us sleep better and feel better without using drugs. How? Through the regular practice of breathing exercises that help relaxing both mind and body. Educating our respiration is effective, convenient and free.
A – Air (Aria)
From the book Breathing by Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov, "The air we breathe is like a 'mouthful' of unimaginable strengths. If we get rid of it too quickly our lungs cannot 'cook it', 'digest it' absorb it enough for the organism to take advantage of the qualities it contains. This is why many people feel tired, nervous, irritable: they do not know how to consume air correctly, they do not chew it, and they immediately discard it. They breathe only through the upper part of their lungs, which causes a stagnation of impure air that cannot be expelled and substituted by clean and pure one. Deep breathing is a magnificent exercise to be practiced because it renovates energies."
Z – Zen (Zhen)
What is Zen? It is essentially the art of looking into the true nature of every being. It is a Buddhist Philosophy that cannot be activated by thought alone: through its practice one can explore its powerful moving force. It is an art of living, a way of being which can be achieved through the practice of living in a simple way and act in accordance with our true nature. Zen breathing cannot be compared to any other kind of breathing technique. It consists of a slow, powerful and natural rhythm. If we are able to focus onto a soft, long and deep exhalation, the inhalation will come by itself. Air gets cleared away in silence, while the exhalation pushes it deeply from within the belly. The intestines get 'compressed', generating a healthy massage to the organs. Masters compare Zen breathing to the mooing of a cow or to the crying of a newborn child. This breathing is 'Om", the seed, the pneuma, the spring of life. If your posture, your breathing and the attitude of your mind are in harmony you will understand true Zen.
I – Infusion (Infuso)
Phytotherapy offers a lot of benefits. Steam has a decongestant effect and improves the quality of breathing. One of the plants recommended in this respect is Sage: it contains an essential oil whose virtues are truly helpful. Sage has antispasmodic and stimulating effects: it is a precious ally against depression. It can be very effective in reducing the mucosa inflammations in the mouth, in the nose and in the throat and all infections of the respiratory tract. If used for inhalations and gargles it is antiseptic. Sage can give, nevertheless, the following side effects: hot flushes, convulsions, hypertension (when taken in heavy doses).
O – Observation (Osservazione)
Lungs know they have to breathe and they obey. They feel poor and they inhale. They love purity and they exhale. The breathing process itself teaches obedience laws. It is vital to observe and take care of all that we breathe in for the organism to function at its maximum degree of efficiency. Breathing in unhealthy and polluted environments without proper precautions can jeopardize our breathing process and cause, as a result, terrible consequences for our organs.
N – Nature (Natura)
Nature gives us wonderful places where we can deeply breathe fresh air for our lungs. Mediterranean pine forests and beautiful seaside places offer us the possibility to heal our organism. Since ancient times it is always a very good habit to spend a day or two at the beach or in the mountains to breathe clean air and purify our body from the time spent in unhealthy environments.
E – Exercise (Esercizio)
One of the key points for a correct breathing habit is to breathe deeply with the belly. Breathing from the abdomen allows one to inhale a bigger quantity of oxygen. Try placing one hand on the chest and the other on the stomach and inhale through the nose. The hand on the chest should not be moving. Exhale through the mouth, pushing out the air by contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on the stomach should move while you exhale. Keep breathing, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Try inhaling enough oxygen so that your lower abdomen goes up and down. Count slowly while you are exhaling. If you are having troubles breathing with your abdomen while sitting, try laying down on the floor. Place a small book on your belly and try to breathe so that the book goes up during the inhalation and down during the exhalation.