The Breath That Is Life

By Sharon Truelove

Breathing is life itself. It is one of our most easily observable vital signs. We take in air, extract the oxygen and expel carbon dioxide and other waste gases back into the atmosphere. Every cell of the body must have oxygen. Delivery of oxygen to the cells is accomplished via the bloodstream. This involves both the respiratory & circulatory systems. Failure of either system will result in rapid cell death.

There are many self-help techniques that can be easily learned and that can help us through a variety of situations ranging from stress reduction to pain control. Following are brief descriptions of some disciplines and directions for commonly used breathing exercises.


The first step in meditation is to stop distractions, clear our mind and make it more lucid. Choose a quiet place to meditate and sit in a comfortable position (cross legged on the floor or sit in a chair). The most important thing is to keep your back straight.

Breathe naturally, through the nostrils, without attempting to control the breath. Try to become aware of the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. It is the object of the meditation. Concentrate on it to the exclusion of everything else. Our mind will naturally wonder, and that’s ok. When the mind does wander, focus and bring your thoughts back to awareness of the feeling of the breath entering and leaving the nostrils. Repeat this as many times as necessary until the mind settles.


One of the principles of yoga is to promote proper breathing. This brings more oxygen to the blood and the brain. Yoga uses this principle with the Yoga postures

High Breathing involves raising the ribs, clavicle and shoulders. It is naturally shallow and much of the air does not reach the alveoli for gas exchange. It is the least desirable form of breathing.

Middle Breathing involves both high and low breathing. It tends to remain shallow and the ribs expand sideways.

Low Breathing is more effective than High or Mid Breathing, and is also known as abdominal breathing. To do low breathing, when you inhale push the stomach gently forward without strain. When you exhale, allow the stomach to return to its normal position.  Make sure to breath through your nose and not your mouth.

Pain Control

Below is a good deep breathing exercise from the National Cancer Institute:
You can do this while watching TV, at your desk, at a stop light, any time you’re in pain.
1.  Breathe in slowly and deeply. 
As you breathe out slowly, feel yourself beginning to relax; feel the tension leaving your body. 
2.  Now breathe in and out slowly and regularly (at whatever rate is comfortable for you).
3.  To help you focus on your breathing slowly and rhythmically: (a) breathe in as you say silently to yourself, “in, two, three”; (b) breathe out as you say silently to yourself, “out, two, three.” or Each time you breathe out, say silently to yourself a word such as “peace” or “relax.” 

4.  End with a slow deep breath. As you breathe out say to yourself “I feel alert and relaxed.” This may be done for up to 20 minutes.

Comments are closed.