Famous health advisor Dr. Weil has often remarked that if he “could teach only one thing to improve health, it would be to breathe correctly.” ** Dr. Weil and others are passionate advocates of breath because how well you breathe affects your blood pressure, heart rate, circulation, and digestion, your experience of stress and the effects of stressful situations on your health.
Last spring University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine released a new study on the use of ventilators, medical devices that “breathe for” trauma patients or those with acute breathing difficulties. The research showed that “diaphragm disuse contributes to muscle atrophy in the diaphragm in as little as eighteen hours.”
Bodies are remarkably dynamic. While aspects of the way we engage life create preferred pathways in our nervous systems, new pathways are always being built. Our neurological structure and our blood chemistry are always changing in ways that we can address directly and purposefully. In this month’s blog entry Yoga: Just Do It, physicians point out how even a single round of exercise perks up health.
UPenn’s study dramatically demonstrates the opposite: how little time it takes for disuse to negatively affect health. In less than one day of supported breathing, the primary muscle of breath, the diaphragm, begins to atrophy – to weaken and deteriorate. If you pause to think of the hours spent “holding” your breath, or breathing in a shallow way, it’s no surprise that learning to breath fully takes some effort and attention. It turns out that getting strong enough to do it is half the battle.
In this month’s practice section there are several de-stressing warm ups you can do each day to relieve back pain and muscular tension. Each of them features simple movement combined with attention to the breath. Just learning to notice your breath is the first step to improved energy and health. Then use the three opening breaths to learn to fully exhale and fully inhale as a way of strengthening your diaphragm, replenishing the oxygen content of your blood, and rejuvenating your body tissue with prana, or life force.
**An Interview with Susan Piver on the web at www.drweil.com
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (2008, March 28)
Long-term use of mechanical ventilation contributes to the deterioration of human diaphragm muscle
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