Deep Breathing

Nothing could be more natural than breathing, right? You might be amazed to learn that breathing - an act that we perform some 30,000 times every day - can very much influence our health and happiness on a number of levels.

For long, proper, deep breathing has been considered essential for maintaining prana, the life-force energy. More recently even Americans have begun to embrace the wisdom of taking a deep breath.

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Breathing incorrectly produces tension, exhaustion and vocal strain. It interferes with athletic activity and encourages aches and illnesses. Breathing properly, however, can 'melt away tension and stress, improve energy or simply help you relax and unwind.'

Most of us tend to take our breathing for granted: Breathing, however, oxygenates every cell of our bodies, from our brains to our vital organs. Without sufficient oxygen, our bodies become more susceptible to health problems.

Deep breathing, on the other hand, raises our levels of blood oxygen, promoting health in many ways - from stimulating our digestive processes to improving our fitness and mental performance.

If you are a shallow breather:

Don't worry, most people are 'shallow breathers.' They merely use the narrow top portion of their lung surfaces for oxygen exchange. Their breath literally stops at the diaphragm - a band of tissue called our 'spiritual muscle.'

To find out if you are a shallow breather, try this simple test: Place the palms of your hand against your lower abdomen and exhale all the air.

Then, take a big, deep breath. If your abdomen expands when you inhale and air appears to be flowing in deeply to the pit of your belly, then you are on the right track.

More typically, though, shallow breathers are more likely to take a breath and suck in their stomachs. This pushes their diaphragm up so the air has nowhere else to go. What happens next is that the shoulders rise up to make room. All this effort for what should be a natural gift.

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