A Breath of Fresh Air, Literally : Breathe Deeply, It's Good For You!

Click for Full Image Size

Breathing is life! That life is fueled by the oxygenation (breathing) process which cleanses the cells with every inhalation and filters out toxic carbon dioxide from the body with every exhalation. Breathing is so critical to our existence that we took our first breath in our mother's womb. The better we breathe, the more efficiently our bodies will function. Elementary education schooled us that breathing was an involuntary action, implying everyone was born breathing the right way.


Like most things in life, the truth is not as obvious as it first appears. Studies show as people age the reality of life causes them to breathe shallowly when they should breathe deeply. This stress-induced shallow breathing habit exacerbates existing harmful stress in people's bodies and could prematurely take their breath away (no joke intended) for good, unless proactive steps are taken. It is high time people re-learned to breathe with their bellies, not just their chests, like newborns. Deep and conscious oxygenation is the right way to wellness, per experts.

Thank goodness, achieving deep breathing proficiency is easy, it takes awareness and practice. "The simplest and most powerful technique for protecting your health is absolutely free - and literally right under your nose," according to Harvard trained Dr. Andrew Weil and author of the Bestseller 'Spontaneous Healing'. This is part of the Healthy Body Healthy Mind movement gaining traction in the medical field.

Studies show proper breathing techniques contribute to successful treatment and management of various diseases such as asthma, depression, high blood pressure, high (bad) cholesterol, headache, anxiety, phobia, chronic fatigue, etc. However, the same studies cautioned these benefits shouldn't be substituted for your doctor's treatment and prescription.

Experts vouch better oxygenation skills are also effective in helping people naturally fall asleep, enhancing good mood and sexual pleasures. Granted I've not read it, on a lighter note I say this: Oh Yeah, there's a book out there subtitled: “Breathing Exercises for Heightened Pleasure and Deep Intimacy” in bed. There you go, my friend! Eat your heart out on that one; don't be shy. And don't ever say I never did anything for you . Do I still have your undivided attention? Let's get back on track. Ha..ha..ha!

But seriously, what is stress, any way?

"Stress is your body's way of responding to any kind of demand. It can be caused by both good and bad experiences. When people feel stressed by something going on around them, their bodies react by releasing chemicals into the blood. These chemicals give people more energy and strength, which can be a good thing if their stress is caused by physical danger. But this can also be a bad thing, if their stress is in response to something emotional and there is no outlet for this extra energy and strength", per the Mountain State Center for Independent Living.

The main types of stress are:
1. Survival Stress uses "fight or flight" reflexes to respond to danger in people and animals.

2. Internal Stress is when you're confronted by things you have no control over or worrying for no apparent reasons. Some people take this to dizzying heights. They are worrying addicts who worry themselves to sickness.

3. Environmental Stress is when your surroundings breed the stress. This is global but is virtually inescapable in African cities where poor sanitation, ubiquitous noise and air pollution from vehicles and their non-stop loud horns, exhaust fumes, generators, overcrowding, work and family pressure, fear of armed robbers, kidnappers, assassins, bombers, sectarian violence, vehicular crashes caused by bad roads and drivers, abject poverty, etc.

4. Fatigue and Overwork stress takes time to accumulate before it starts to emit deadly toxins straight into one's blood stream and ravages one's body from inside out. Working in an air-conditioned environment or living in relative luxury won't preclude one from being a victim. Google and read my well-received article: Working Until You Drop In America, Is It The Best Way To Live? This is a difficult stress to avoid because people feel it's beyond their control. Many of us abroad are afflicted because we choose to be all things to all people both here and in Africa,forgetting that “weta suya, weta suya, o bu n'ahu nama” or we're only humans.

Breathing exercises are highly recommended stress relievers because:

• They can be practiced any where.
• They work rather quickly.
• They are Free.
• They take very little practice to learn.
• They enrich your blood with oxygen as you inhale and remove harmful carbon dioxide as you exhale.

• They can be used before, during, and after any stressful situation.

• They can effectively reverse accumulated stress to mitigate the harmful effects of chronic stress.

Renowned Western medical doctors Andrew Weil and Deepak Chopra continue to perform extraordinary work in teaching these holistic approaches to better health. Monumental benefits stem from the positive methods of our ancestors. We're so eager to discard our good traditional ways (in favor of modern medicine)that we forget to explore their merits. Keep the good ones! Both the Chinese and the Indian preserve theirs, why not Africans?

Please note, I'm neither a medical doctor nor do I play one on the Internet. When it comes to the numerous things I don't know, I listen to and learn from the experts, and do my own research prior to adopting any recommendations. Even for things I know something about, I still keep an open mind to learn more to add to my repertoire; I suggest you do the same to maximize what you get out of this article.

When, not if, you find these deep breathing exercises helpful as I did, pass it forward to others now; don't hoard it or take it to your grave! You don't have to be MD or RN to spread the word, especially to those with limited access to good medical care in Africa. After all, it was an Indian engineer (not MD)who enlightened me a few years about the benefits of proper breathing exercises. Everyone should dare to make a positive impact, albeit small. Yes you can! It was one lunatic from Aba, Nigeria, who ingenuously uttered in a mixture of Igbo and English languages that, "ama m ihe n'abia na hour na hour". English for: anyone can be a purveyor of wisdom.

Conduct your own experiment by checking your blood pressure (BP) before and then after engaging in some deep breathing exercises. Try it, you will be amazed.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), one out of every three American adults (the number could be higher for Africans) have high blood pressure and many of them don't even know it because HBP is a silent killer. Lives would be saved via education and proper diagnoses in Africa where some deaths and mysterious sickness are falsely attributed to voodoo, juju, poison, or witchcraft.

To improve diagnosis starting from your home, every family should own and regularly use a good (not the cheapest) blood pressure monitor (BP) to ascertain each member's complete BP story. Take the reading while laying down and several times a day and chart the reading either manually or use the computer ware that come with the better BP monitors. Play active role in your wellness in partnership with your physician. Though useful, the snippet BP reading taken at your doctor's office may not be frequent enough to provide complete picture of your BP. Moreover, the 'White Coat syndrome' could skew BP reading the Doctor's Office.

Importantly, consider donating a few battery-operated blood pressure monitors to people in your own village or town in Africa, if you can afford to do so. They are relatively inexpensive and are easy to operate. If everyone one of us abroad donates just two BP monitors, precious lives will be saved. None of the governments that we often complain about, or any individual (but yourself) can stop you from doing this good deed. The countless African associations in Diaspora can play a positive role in this area. Such meaningful projects are easier and more transparent to administer thereby fostering verifiable deeds. Let us all take this simple proactive measure to help our people while they and we are alive. Wake-keeping is wasteful "medicine after death."

Uncontrolled HBP claims its victims in rather miserable ways. Children and adults alike are afflicted. "High blood pressure and cholesterol are two major risk factors for heart attacks, strokes, and related vascular diseases, which kill more than 800,000 Americans each year – more than any other condition", per CDC. Who knows what the numbers are in African countries.

Wellness coach Elizabeth Scott stated "breathing exercises bring wonderful benefits because they can reverse your stress response, which, if chronically triggered and not reversed in a timely manner, can lead to chronic stress. This can really wreak havoc on your body. [Breathing Exercises are] 'golden' stress relief strategies that work simply, easily, and are effective for virtually everyone.

Start your day with 15 minutes of belly breathing. This will help relax your mind and muscles and help you power through stress that crops up during the rest of your day, says Woodson Merrell, MD, of the department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center. The morning is actually when our bodies feel the most stressed, because it's when we're transitioning from inactivity to activity and producing the highest levels of cortisol”. This may explain why strokes and heart attacks often occur in the early morning hours.

A Breathing Exercise: While maintaining positive mental attitude by replaying a peaceful events in your life, sit tall at the edge of a bed or in a chair. Breathe in for a count of four, pause a moment, then breathe out partly via your mouth for a count of six. Repeat a few times. How do you feel? It becomes easier with practice.

As your deep breathing skills improve, up the ante by breathing in deeply but slowly through your nose and counting to six. Hold your breath and count to four. Then exhale slowly through your mouth while you count to eight. The rational is by exhaling more breathes (8 of count) than you inhale (6 of count), you fully cleanse all the toxic carbon dioxide (stale air) in your lungs. It takes time and practice; remember Rome was not built in a day!

A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. After reading this article, watch this 4-minute YouYube video of the bellows breathing by clicking on: breathing Youtube video or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fe2pgNp3jBQ

If you google "breathing exercises" and read some of the findings on the Internet, you might think learning to breathe properly is the panacea for all that ails humankind. I don't know about such claims, but there's no denying the benefits of better breathing techniques.

In closing, recent studies show the first four months of each year are when most stress-related illnesses are diagnosed. Also, they are the deadliest for strokes and heart attacks and depression, after the chickens have come home to roost. The reason could be, many of us tend to become extra stressed even as we over-eat, over-drink, and over-spend during the preceding ('Ber) months with the holidays. The health benefits of socializing during the holidays ameliorate the terrible statistics some.

I intentionally timed the publication of this article to provide some relief to the reader, ahead of the holidays. Send a copy to your friends and contacts for their perusal. Take a deep slow breath and fully exhale before, during or after each stressful situation. Use it to help you fall asleep nightly. Use it to reduce your blood pressure and energize you as you awake to a prosperous new day. One more time: While you think positive, take a slow deep breath as you count to four. Pause for a moment. And exhale while you count to six. Repeat it a few times. You feel better already? It's that simple and free and yet so beneficial. Life's good; so let us maximize it! Email me a sentence if you agree or disagree.

Chuks U.C. Ukaoma and his family reside in Austin, Texas, U.S.A. Email: [email protected] Read his other articles on this and Yahoo website

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Chuks uc Ukaoma