Breathing Exercises as Medicine
Lately I’ve been dealing with low back pain due to a chronic sacro-iliac pathology and my yoga teacher has been teaching me how to breathe. Acupuncture treatments have helped, but by learning how to breathe into my lower back, into my kidneys believe it or not, I’m better able to activate my transverse abdominis muscles. I’m able to strengthen my antagonist core muscles, which take pressure off of my spine and release the excess nitric oxide that perpetuates my local inflammation.
For the past month my yoga has looked geriatric. I do less than everyone in the class and I move slower, but I think for the first time in my life I’m moving properly. I’m breathing mindfully, maintaining a focus at my core, which was actually the intention of yoga at its inception in India, before America got our hands on it and turned it into fitness class.
What better time to finally learn how to breathe than in the midst of an upper respiratory pandemic, in the fall? In Chinese Medicine the autumn season corresponds with the metal element, which corresponds with the emotion of grief and the lung channel. To balance this there is no commodity more valuable than the breath… and yet it is free.
We are deeply conditioned, first to believe that we need someone outside of ourselves to heal us, second that it has to cost money, if not a whole lot of money for all kinds of pills, procedures, fancy technology and follow-up visits. Finally we’re conditioned to believe it has to be difficult. We experience discomfort and a montage of hell instantly flashes through our minds: Doctors’ offices, specialists that are booked out months in advance, post-it notes of referrals, physical therapy, medical bills, annoying teleprompts on hold with our insurance company, western pharmaceuticals, eastern herbs, alternative medical clinics with soothing music that doesn’t soothe us at all, as our sympathetic nervous systems lock into the organic fight-or-flight response to chronic pain. It doesn’t have to be like this.
Okay, sometimes it does and for those cases I am sorry. Many conditions require great patience, trial, and error. In these cases we should not be shy of asking for help, nor frugal about cost. However, the dichotomy of this is that the best things in life are often free, and nothing is more free (and under-utilized) than our breath.
When we breathe into our abdomens (or low back) our diaphragm drops down and allows the lungs to expand, which improves our exchange of carbon dioxide for oxygen. When we have more oxygen in the body it results in healthier blood flow, healthier blood, and lower blood pressure. With lower blood pressure our cardiovascular health improves, which improves immune function and allows more (healthy) blood to reach the brain.
Per my teachers at Botanical Biohacking: Proper breathing can increase the body’s healthy nitric oxide (or “qi”) as well as expel pathological, excess nitric oxide. The latter helps to increase lymphatic drainage and eliminate lipopolysaccharides (fat), and assists in the thyroid’s conversion of T4 TO T3 by removing pathogenic bacteria from the gut. This is why we breathe.
Here are a few exercises I’d like to share, from which you can choose one or a few that resonate with you and do it/them daily for one month. Observe if any of your symptoms or just overall state of being improves. If not it didn’t cost you a penny!
To Regulate Immune Function
· “Third Eye Humming” courtesy of Botanical Biohacking:
Inhale deeply (through the nose) into your chest, hold it there for anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes (taking care to not over-extend past the point of comfort), and exhale by humming with a focus on sending the vibration to your pineal gland at the third eye point. This is best done twice a day, lying on your chest with a heating pad on your neck or upper back. Mild sweating is an excellent sign, as sweat releases anti-microbial peptides!
For Stress and Anxiety
· “4-7-8 Breath,” courtesy of Andrew Weill, and via my wife:
Inhale gently (through the nose) for a count of 4, hold it for a count of 7, then exhale for a count of 8. Repeat at least five times.
· “Huff and Puff,” courtesy of Botanical Biohacking:
This exercise is intense and can potentially induce an emotional release, which is perfectly healthy if/when it needs to come out. Lie down comfortably on your back and take a deep breath (through the mouth and/or nose) in two parts, first into the chest then fill the belly so that it expands. The breath should sound almost like a sudden gasp for air. Hold it just for a moment, then fully release it all in an audible sigh. This can be repeated for 15-45 minutes, but is supposedly complete once you start yawning, indicating the clearing of excess nitric oxide and/or neurological regulation.
Obviously take care to not do any of these exercises while driving or anywhere you do not feel physically safe and comfortable. Take it easy in the initial moments after any long set of breathing exercises and stay hydrated. You may also wish to invest as I have in a HEPA air filter for your home, especially if you live in any urban environment and/or have children.
Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns, and happy fall everyone! May your mercury retrograde be tolerable. May you have the courage to face and metabolize your grief with the sharpened insight of a shiny cut of metal. May you breathe deeply and grow stronger, thereby making the rest of us stronger in the process. Namaste!
PS. Please consult a health care provider before starting any supplement claiming to improve immune function. With the exception of zinc or vitamin D, most of these are made by quacks and hacks practicing a dangerous perversion of “holistic medicine.” What may boost one person’s immune system can have the opposite effect on another, depending on their body type. But breathing is indicated for us all!