Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Take a deep breath!

Sound is a manifestation of breath, and breath is the most fundamental aspect of life. Breathing is much more than a mechanical reflex for oxygen intake; it is the basis for all our cellular functions, our energetic well-being, even our emotional health.  I have come to realize that sound is both a manifestation of breath and a means to revitalize it, with far reaching positive consequences for people’s well-being and recovery.

Breathing holds a prime importance in yoga. Yoga is a 3000 years old discipline whose goal is to create a sense of harmony with the universe by integrating the mind, body and spirit.  The word yoga means ‘union’ and its three part practise of posture, breath work and meditation is designed to take us beyond transitory concerns and pleasures ego to discovery and awareness of oneself. Pranayama is the Vedic science of controlling the breath in order to direct Prana (Life force) and thereby balance both body and mind. There is a huge difference in between shallow chest breathing- the result of years of conditioning, stress, trauma, and poor habits, and deep abdominal breathing, the kind taught and practised in yogic traditions.

In shallow breathing, the diaphragm does not move downward sufficiently, so that the lungs never fully expand into the abdomen.  As a result, the lower portion of the lungs, which are filled with small blood vessels that carry oxygen to our cells, hardly receive oxygen. In an effort to compensate for this inadequate oxygen intake, our heart rate and blood pressure increases, as our cardiovascular system works overtime. By contrast, in deep abdominal breathing allows ample room for the bottom portion the lungs fill up with oxygen. The result is more than adequate oxygen exchange.

Shallow breathing is also evidence that the body is a permanent state of ‘fight or flight’- the stress response to external danger or anxiety provoking events. During fight or flight, which is a natural mind-body reaction to stress, the sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive; our adrenal gland pump out stress hormones such as adrenaline; the musculoskeletal system goes out into a stiff state of preparedness; heart rate and blood pressure becomes elevated.

When we are continually stressed out, our mind and body become frozen in  a chronic state of fight or flight; we consistently react as if we are surrounded by a pack of wild animals, an evolutionary legacy of our prehistoric ancestors. The shallow breathing that results causes a particular vicious cycle because the body reacts as if it is oxygen starved, which to a certain extent is the case. The body’s response to oxygen deprivation which is to pump even more stress hormones, only adds to our anxiety, and the cycle is continued. This catapults the rest of our physiological systems out of balance, including other hormones, neurotransmitters, neuropeptides and the immune cells and substances they help to regulate.

The link between breathing and good health is more than just theoretical: studies have directly associated respiratory capacity with longevity. On the negative side, the famous Framingham health study found that lower respiratory capacity is directly associated with higher death rates from heart diseases. Moreover, a 13 years long study conducted in Australia demonstrated the respiratory capacity was a more significant factor than tobacco use, cholesterol level, and insulin metabolism in determining people’s longevity. The oxygen link extends to cancer as well; Nobel prize winner Otto Warburg published landmark studies in the 1960s showing that cancer cells thrive in an environment starved of oxygen.

Singing bowls prove to be an excellent tool which sends a person into a meditative state and proving the body to breathe in deeply to the full capacity of the lungs. Through the mechanism of entertainment of brain and cells with the use of singing bowls, to open and deepen the breath and restore our body to a state of harmony, reunite our spirit with our essence.

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Deep Breathing