Breathing Exercises and Self Healing

A powerful and much needed revolution is taking place in many areas of our lives. The human race is facing the difficult consequences of neglecting the laws of nature. There is no more timely gesture that any person can make than to immediately and vigilantly take responsibility for the part of the world that lies within their own command.

Being mindful of balance in our home environments regarding water, pollution, recycling, fuel resources is necessary and of great value. At least as important is minding the balance within ourselves.

Taking responsibility for generating and maintaining peak health is a key element in our necessary quest to achieve sustainable life on earth.

There is a self-healing impulse which is part of every person's body, mind and spirit. In most cultures the traditional healing system is based on enhancing and supporting this inborn healing energy.

For some reason knowledge of how to enhance our automatic healing impulse has been lost in the United States and the Western world until very recently. For several hundred years we have believed that the disease comes from outside and attacks the individual who is a helpless victim.

Many disorders including heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer have been found to be largely preventable. We are now realizing that even though the disease may come from the outside, as in a virus, the internal healing mechanism of the immune system is the most important healer.

The best and most profound medicine is already in us. We must learn and then apply methods to turn the medicine on and activate its ability to heal us.

Self-health responsibility, more than any other possible option, is the solution to our healing. Evidence for the truth of this fact is coming at us from everywhere. Research has shown that diet, exercise and stress management are powerful tools for maintaining health.

However, in the Western world we have little tradition that is well tried in support of self-health actions. Diets change every day. Aerobics sold a great deal of equipment but was found to be detrimental to many people. Now low impact aerobics is the latest approach.

The Qigong of China and the Pranayama of India are systems of self-applied health enhancement which are easy to learn and simple to apply. Self-care is one of the most important features of the Asian traditional systems of medicine.

These ancient philosophical and medical theories encourage, and, in fact, demand action and responsibility on the part of the person who is seeking to maintain or enhance health.

The self-application of health enhancement methods is particularly remarkable because of the broad array of real health benefits that are triggered. These practices modify and accelerate the body's own self-regulating physiological and bioenergetic mechanisms.

They have a very practical application for healing diseases as well as supporting health maintenance, endurance and longevity. In addition, the very same practices, refined, deepened, and perfected, link to a whole realm of more metaphysical practices focused toward spiritual growth.

In the modern Western world, the prevailing medical system is tragically lacking in strategies that a person or patient can implement themselves to support their own healing process.

Aside from being patient and compliant to the physician's orders there has generally been little that the patient could do. The self-applied health enhancement methods (SAHEM), that spring from the Asian traditions, are tried and true techniques refined over thousands of years that are ready to be used now.

A rapidly expanding health care revolution in the areas of patient responsibility and patient action is necessary immediately to meet the urgent need for solutions to the crisis in medical costs and the crisis in quality of care.

These health enhancement practices lend themselves completely and readily to the critical need for patient applied self-care which complements any clinical strategy whether it be as conservative as acupuncture or as radical as surgery.

In their most complete and comprehensive form the ancient traditions of self-applied health enhancement and personal development include:

  • breath practice
  • relaxation
  • gentle movement
  • reflex stimulation
  • (self-applied massage, stroking, thumping, pressure) concentration
  • focus
  • intention
  • meditation
  • visualization
  • affirmation
  • emotional resolution
  • attitudinal harmony
  • toning
  • sounding or chanting

The preliminary level of self-applied health practice, however, requires only:

  • Breath Practice
  • Relaxation
  • Practice
  • Gentle Movement
  • Self-Applied Massage

These are easy to learn, easy to apply, require no special knowledge or training and can be practiced by all people (sick or well) daily with very little impact on time or energy.

In fact, they actually give the individual, both time and energy-time, because there is less fatigue and forgetfulness, and energy, because the function of the organs and glands is enhanced and regenerated.

Every minute spent applying these methods is returned to the practitioner in a need for less sleep. Every unit of energy spent brings forth an internal ability to generate an even greater amount of energy.

Concentration, focus, intention, meditation, visualization, affirmation, emotional resolution, attitudinal harmony and toning are more advanced aspects of the practice of self-applied health enhancement. These self-applied tools generally serve to support the practitioner in moving beyond the first layer of the quest for greater health and comfort.

Beyond the preliminary practices one might still be seeking improved health, but, in addition, areas such as self-esteem, personal empowerment and spiritual growth may also be enhanced. Such advanced methods are very common in the daily practice of the men and women in the monastic aspect of many spiritual traditions.

The preliminary methods of Qigong can be learned and practiced as individual techniques. However, integrated into a singular practice they become even more powerful.

This integration of breathing practice, relaxation techniques, gentle movement and self massage, saves on time which is so precious to most people in Western culture. Traditions of this type of practice from both China and India have integrated the four preliminary methods for thousands of years into systems that are highly refined.

The preliminary methods are profound in effect and yet extremely simple to learn and apply. Especially in the Chinese arts of Tai Chi and Qigong, the methods are merged into a singular practice which is sometimes called moving meditation or meditation in motion.

In China, literally millions of people practice these methods daily. Children in schools, industrial workers in factories, elders in the parks and patients in hospitals all apply the preliminary methods faithfully on a daily basis.

Each of the following "how to" sections are offered to give the reader the preliminary methods of self-care in the simplest of terms. Most reference to Asian traditions, while wonderful and fascinating, have been removed as these practices are completely universal in their application.

There are several guidelines which will help to make these new aspects of your life most effective while keeping your interest and not taking up too much of your time:

  • Do some of these practices every day. Put them at the core of your life. Consider them as central in your day as you do rest, bathing and tooth care.
  • Keep it simple and fun. Start with less and allow more to come as it is appropriate. If this practice becomes a stressful issue in your life, it is more of a problem than it is a solution.
  • Make up your own system. Change the order. Be the inventor of your practice. All of this was made up by someone and you are the best person to make it up for you.
  • Seek guidance and support but avoid highly regimented systems whose masters and teachers infer that their way is the "only" or "right" way.
  • Don't leave the comfort zone. Increase the intensity of your practice only when it feels easy to do so. Build and regenerate yourself slowly. Go too far and you will have created a reason for stopping the practice.

The magnitude of the crisis in modern medicine demands immediate and broadly pervasive consumer action to enhance health and curb medical spending. These simple methods practiced by us all, vigilantly and on a daily basis, can precipitate an absolutely remarkable revolution in the history of human health care and medical evolution

It is a bit unusual to us in the western world to consider the importance of breathing techniques. After all, we are always breathing, aren't we? It seems a little silly to put extra attention to something we do naturally. Notice your own breathing. Isn't each breath actually very shallow?

Does your posture or position encourage or restrict your ability to take full breaths? If you note carefully you will probably realize that you are utilizing one quarter or less, of your lung capacity.

The presence of special breathing practices in the ancient cultures has always been a mystery to people in the Western world. There are numerous beneficial physiological mechanisms that are triggered when we turn our attention to the breath and then increase it's volume.

When volume, rate and attention level are all altered, dramatic physiological, and even emotional, changes can occur. As it turns out, unknown to science until very recently, the action of the lungs, diaphragm and thorax are a primary pump for the lymph fluid, a lymph heart.

This mechanism may be more important to the lymph heart than body movements. In addition, the breath is the source for oxygen which is the key element in the body's ability to produce energy.

And the act of relaxed, full breathing moves the function of the autonomic nervous system towards balance or homeostasis. (Please see the section on physiology in "The Most Profound Medicine" for a complete revelation of the mechanisms initiated by Qigong).

From the traditions of the ancients we know that breathing practices are important. Why would they continue to employ techniques that were ineffective? Empirical science, the scientific method of all original cultures, is based on trial and error.

That which has value is kept and employed. That which is found to have little or no value is dropped. In the empirical approach, that which is kept, is "tried and true". Empirically breath practice is "tried and true".

We also know that these practices are important through clinical experience. Patients who have learned and used breath practice as a part of their daily personal system of self-applied health enhancement respond more quickly to treatment, no matter what type of physician they are seeing.

Individuals who are well are able to remain more well, adapt to greater stress and have greater endurance when they keep breath practice in their daily self-care ritual. Inspiration is the rush that one feels when over taken by spiritual energy, it is the force that impels one forward into life, and it is the divine influence that brings forth creativity and vitality.

Inspiration is, also, "to breath in ". The breath is a link to the most profound medicine that we carry within us. Within this nearly unconscious gesture, a breath, that we enact 1,261,440,000 (1 and 1/4 billion) times in our life span there is a simple yet profound healing capability.

Because we are generally addicted to complexity and busyness, reaching a state of authentic relaxation is a challenge. Many of us are locked into worry, hurry, overwork and compulsive behaviors and the mind is very difficult to quit.

The beauty of these progressive relaxation processes is their simplicity and their ability to allow the mind to have an easy focus. When the attention wanders off of the process one need only return to the breath and the sequence of awareness points.

In contrast to meditation which, in many traditions, attempts to empty the mind with accompanying images, any one, including young children, harried executives or older individuals whose habits are more deeply set.

There are a number of advanced relaxation and meditation methods which include concentration, focus, intention and visualization that are used to regulate the body function , move the Qi or energy to specific areas of the body and even project the energy outside the body.

These methods accelerate the individual's health and personal development practice to a greater level of power and refinement. Two such methods, "the circulation of the light in the microcosmic orbit to refine the energy body" and the "marrow washing practice" will be revealed in the advanced practice section .

Clearly, breath practice and relaxation practice enhance one another. You are in charge of how to bring these together. Remember to invent your own practice and have it be run, even inspiring.

In China, breath, relaxation and movement are merged together to create Qigong in its many different forms including Tai Chi. Commit yourself to mastering these practices.

They are, at their least, incredible healing tools that you can use right away for no cost to help you to rehabilitate your health and literally regenerate temporarily deficient and exhausted tissues, glands and organs. At their greatest, they are the seed skills for enhanced mental and physical capability and they are the foundation tools for spiritual growth.

Full Chest and Abdominal Breathing

This method is simply a deepening of the breath. Take slow, deep, rhythmic breaths through the nose. When the diaphragm drops down, the abdomen is expanded allowing the air to rush into the vacuum created in the lungs.

Then the chest cavity is expanded, allowing the lungs to fill completely. This is followed by a slow, even exhalation which empties the lungs completely.

This simple breath practice done slowly and fully, with intention, concentration and relaxation activates all of the primary benefits of therapeutic breath practice. In Qigong and Pranayama the breath is retained for additional benefit.

Application Suggestions:

Health maintenance: 6 to 10 repetitions, 2 to 3 sessions per day.
Health enhancement: 6 to 10 repetitions, 4 to 6 sessions per day.
Disease intervention: Start slowly and build up to 15 to 20 repetitions, in 10 to 15 sessions per day. Getting started: 2 to 3 repetitions, once or twice per day.
Remember to keep it easy and fun.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Using your thumb on your right nostril and your pinky and third finger (the finger right next to your pinky finger), hold your right nostril closed and inhale up your left nostril. Pause, and while your lungs are full of air, switch your fingers so that your left nostril is closed. Then exhale out your right nostril. Then inhale up your right nostril, pause, and again while your lungs are full of air, switch your fingers so that your right nostril is closed. Exhale. Repeat this process about 12 times. This breath is often done in preparation for deep relaxation or meditation.
You will notice that usually one or the other of the nostrils is more open. If you breath on a small hand mirror, the patch of mist from one nostril will be larger than from the other.
The ancient practitioners of Yoga in India were aware of the significance of this and employed this knowledge to enhance health and consciousness. Western science did not notice this phenomena until the 1800's.

It has been found recently, through the application of current neuroscience, that the practice of alternate nostril breathing helps to balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

Applications Suggestions:

Health maintenance: 10 to 12 repetitions, 2 to 3 sessions per day.
Health enhancement: 10 to 12 repetitions, 4 to 6 sessions per day.
Disease intervention: Start slowly and build up to 15 to 20 repetitions, 8 to 10 sessions per day or up to even 100 repetitions in a single session.
Getting started: 10 to 12 repetitions, once or twice per day. Notice that this method is very quieting.
Our first act when we emerge from the womb is to inspire. Our last act is to dis-inspire or expire. These breaths, first in and finally out, are like parentheses that encompass our corporal life. It is no surprise that the breath would be so remarkably linked to the power of healing.
This is another extremely simple method that initiates the relaxation response. Begin by taking slow deep breaths. Repeat these messages to yourself.
"My hands and arms are heavy and warm" (5 times).
"My feet and legs are heavy and warm" (5 times).
"My abdomen is warm and comfortable" (5 times).
"My breathing is deep and even" (10 times).
"My heartbeat is calm and regular" (10 times). "My forehead is cool" (5 times).
"When I open my eyes, I will remain relaxed and refreshed" (3 times).

Application Suggestions:

Health maintenance: 2 to 3 sessions per day.
Health enhancement: 6 to 10 sessions per day.
Disease intervention: Start slowly and build up to 10 to 15 sessions per day. Until you are well you have time to do this.
Getting started: 2 to 3 sessions per day.

by Roger Jahnke, O.M.D.

Author of The Healer Within: The Four Essential Self-Care Methods for Creating Optimal Health)