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Respiratory Wellness: the Basics

BY: Camila Loew

The breath is our life force; the importance of breathing well is of course not new, there are even stone inscriptions on the subject from the Zhou dynasty, hundreds of years before our era. No less than seven books of the Chinese Tao, from 400 BCE, focus entirely on breathing and its uses. In ancient wisdom in China and elsewhere, how we breathe affects all things.

We are currently starting to hear the term "respiratory wellness" as a buzzword, no doubt due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which attacks the respiratory system first and foremost. Up until very recently, pulmonologists didn't generally believe there was any important technique to breathing.  In fact, the most recent studies on the importance of breathing technique haven't even been taking place among pulmonologists, who focus exclusively on maladies of the lungs. What these scientists are finding is that ever since the dawn of the Industrial age, the way we breathe as a culture has gotten worse and worse.

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Nevertheless, we don't need to succumb to a deadly virus to need help breathing. Sometimes our breath becomes affected by everyday stress, and becoming aware and mindful of our breathing patterns for even a few minutes a day can make a huge difference along the path to better health and general wellbeing.

You may be wondering why you need to reflect on anything called respiratory wellness; after all, you've been breathing your entire life, thank you very much. That's not what current science if finding; how we breathe -and not just the fact that we breathe- matters. Though you may imagine scenes of deep breathing as belonging exclusively to spiritual practices such as yoga and meditation, heeding the pure mechanics of breath can make for a truly healing experience.

Restorative breathing is a technique that is open to everyone, and has been practiced in ancient cultures for thousands of years. Though they were certainly on to a good thing, they didn't know with scientific hard evidence back then, however, that this technique can improve athletic performance, calm the nervous system, and reduce blood pressure. Conditions such as asthma, anxiety, ADHD, psoriasis and more can be reduced simply by improving the way we breathe.

Although we speak of respiratory health, in fact when we breathe, it's the respiratory and circulatory systems that work in conjunction: the respiratory system brings in the air, and the circulatory system spreads the life-sustaining oxygen from the air throughout our body.

In order for things to work together, here are a few simple suggestions that can improve your respiratory health with sustained practice:

  1. Deep breathing: by practicing deep breathing, consciously taking the air to reach throughout our body, from the lower abdomen up through the diaphragm and lower ribcage, all the way to our upper ribcage and shoulders, we train our lungs to contain more air, and maximize the healing potential of the breath. We oxygenize not only our lungs, but also the entire body.
  2. Exercise: we need the lung capacity to hold in all the air we breathe throughout our 24-hour days. Stretching and exercise increase the amount of oxygen available in our system by working the muscles and toning our body, and requiring a larger oxygen supply to help fulfill the demands of our cells.
  3. Herbs: herbs are a natural, powerful way to stimulate the respiratory system, and heal from the inside out. In traditional Chinese medicine, herbs are best used in combinations; the blends of specific herbs act differently when used in conjunction with each other. Cokare's Respiratory Wellness patch is a great example of the power of blending herbs: eucalyptus is the main or chief herb in the formulation, but deputies that support and enhance its well-known respiratory benefits are lavender, which is great for relieving stress and headaches, and peppermint, as a tonic and freshener.
 

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