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How many times a day do you think about breathing? For most people the answer is never (or at most, almost never). Breathing is something our bodies do automatically as a function of the autonomic nervous system. This is the same system which also keeps blood pumping through our veins, food moving through our digestive tracts, and water and electrolytes saturating our cells – all without us having to consciously think about any of it.
Simply put, the respiratory process (breathing) is one of those critical bodily functions that was designed to run on auto-pilot, and for good reason: we would die otherwise. Not having to think about breathing also allows us to focus our energies on more important tasks in life that require active cognition. This includes activities such as working, learning, and loving – none of which require consciously remembering to take a rhythmic breath several times per minute.
At the same time, humans do have the ability to control their breathing if they so choose. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “take a deep breath,” which is usually an attempt to help someone else remain calm in a difficult or stressful situation. The idea behind this colloquial expression is that breathing more fully and less rapidly will help to defuse that physiological “fight or flight” response that kicks in at stressful times.
While common jargon, this relatively simple concept is so amazingly profound in terms of its healing potential that modern medicine has given it an official clinical designation: conscious breathing. Also known as therapeutic breathwork, this natural healing technique involves exactly what its name implies: the act of consciously breathing in such a way as to achieve an improved state of wellbeing.
When it comes to anxiety and stress, conscious breathing can help to reign in all that unbridled adrenaline. This in turn helps to re-balance the mind and normalize the senses. But there are also benefits to be gained from conscious breathing at the cellular level. Breathing more deeply and fully, and in a controlled manner, can positively impact an array of physical abnormalities.
Conscious Breathing Helps to More Fully Oxygenate the Body
If you’ve been following The Truth About Cancer for any sustained period of time, then you’re probably already aware of the importance of oxygen in keeping the body healthy. Oxygen is critical to the survival of every single cell inside the body. Each cell relies on this elemental gas as a source of much-needed energy – the end product of a fundamental bodily process known as cellular metabolism.
Oxygen is also a vital component of tissue healing. The body is programmed to automatically convert oxygen molecules into what are known as reactive oxygen species, or prooxidants, that actively encourage the healing process. Prooxidants are basically oxygen molecules with missing electrons that the body uses on a continuous basis for maintenance tasks and routine healing.1
The reason why I’m talking so much about oxygen is that it’s the primary element drawn into our bodies every time we take a breath. Breathing, in other words, is the medium through which the human body receives the “fuel” it needs to engage in pretty much every necessary life process. Without breathing, the body would get no oxygen; and without oxygen, the body would get no life.
Understanding this concept at a fundamental level will lay the groundwork for better understanding the role and power of conscious breathing. That’s because conscious breathing engages a dynamic known as full oxygen exchange inside the body. This is really just a fancy way of saying that it facilitates more oxygen entering the body – and thus more carbon dioxide exiting the body. Put more simply, conscious breathing helps to more fully oxygenate the body, which paves the way for improved health.
The Basics Behind Therapeutic Breathwork
So, how does conscious breathing work exactly? There are about as many variations of therapeutic breathwork as there are names for this ancient Eastern practice. The most common names include paced respiration, diaphragmatic breathing, and deep breathing. However the underlying theme behind all these practices is universal. It’s really all about focusing on taking long, deep breaths while “connecting” with the experience of breathing in such a way as to maintain a state of calm and focus.
Generally speaking, almost every expression of conscious breathing will also involve connecting the inhale to the exhale while remembering to always use the diaphragm muscle when taking each breath. If you’re not familiar with the diaphragm, it’s basically the muscle “sheet” located just below your rib cage, and just above your lower abdomen or stomach.
The way you know you’re properly using your diaphragm while breathing is that your belly and pelvic zone remain in a completely relaxed state as you draw a breath. Even during your exhales, there should be no clenching or tightness in your stomach or anywhere below it, which when done properly allows your diaphragm to take complete control of the respiratory process.
Your stomach and abdomen should gently expand as you breathe in, and your lower chest should tighten and flex at the same time. This serves as an indicator that your diaphragm is fully engaging in the breathing process. You can think of it kind of like working out your upper core every time you take a breath, since this is where your diaphragm is located, except without engaging your lower core, abdomen, or really any other part of your body.
Using gravity as a metric, you can think about conscious breathing as a method of inhaling and exhaling using nothing but your lungs. Every other part of your body, including your arms, shoulders, stomach, and pelvic floor, should “sink” and relax while your diaphragm alone does all the heavy lifting. When your diaphragm is engaged, it will contract and move slightly downward, allowing the intercostal muscles surrounding the rib cage to pull the ribs upward and outward. This, in turn, allows the lungs to both fill and release in a rhythmic manner.
When performed correctly, conscious breathing will basically help to create a favorable equilibrium between the air pressure levels both inside and outside the lungs. When this equilibrium is thrown out of whack by things like lack of rest, chronic stress, and other forms of prolonged arousal to the sympathetic, or excitatory, nervous system, that’s when problems start to arise.
In essence, conscious breathing has the power to completely reorient your body’s homeostasis, helping to correct any lingering imbalances of the mind, spirit, or physical state that are inhibiting optimal health. This is why it’s often made available as part of holistic therapies that recognize all aspects of human existence, including the mind, body, and soul.
Therapeutic Breathwork Is Science-Based Medicine
What does science have to say about the power of controlled, conscious breathing? A whole lot, actually. While this “alternative” and almost mystical approach to healing might sound a little too good to be true, consider the fact that numerous peer-reviewed studies confirm the benefits of conscious breathing as a way of addressing a diversity of psychological and physical ailments.
The stress-relieving properties alone make conscious breathing a highly valuable tool in the natural healing arsenal. It’s important to note that chronic stress is scientifically linked to causing immune system damage.2 We also now know that chronic stress damages the body’s ability to regulate its natural inflammatory response. This, in turn, significantly increases the odds of developing everything from depression and infectious disease to heart disease. Chronic stress is even linked to an increased risk of early death.3
Controlled, conscious breathing has further been shown to help shift the autonomic nervous system away from its state of sympathetic dominance when doing so is necessary to correct an underlying imbalance. Studies have shown that the long-term benefits of this mechanistic change include improved immune function, lowered blood pressure, alleviation of asthma symptoms, corrected autonomic nervous system imbalances, and healing of other psychological and stress-related health conditions.
One study in particular describes the systemic benefits of this correction in a very unique way, stating that voluntary, slow, deep breathing “functionally resets” the autonomic nervous system, which in turn “synchronizes neural elements in the heart, lungs, limbic system and cortex.”4
Conscious breathing can also help the brain to better process information, this same study reveals. By minimizing stress levels and re-tuning the autonomic nervous system, therapeutic breathwork can help to improve a person’s overall psychological profile. This contributes to sustained improvements in cognition, which includes one’s ability to think, process, and understand information, and remain emotionally stable in the process.
While there are a variety of conscious breathing protocols that can be employed to reach a particular goal, relaxation and the alleviation of stress is a common theme among all of them. In some cases, slower breathing patterns work best, while in others, faster breathing patterns are preferable – particularly when the goal involves achieving a major psychological breakthrough or release from a particular emotional holding pattern.
There are also variations that involve changing up breathing intervals (i.e. how long to hold an inhale before exhaling), nose versus mouth breathing, and a focused breathing emphasis on other parts of the body besides just the diaphragm. But again, it all depends on your current physical and emotional state, as well as your desired outcome. This is why working with a skilled therapeutic breathwork “coach” is advised, especially if you have a pre-existing health condition.
Even if you aren’t “sick,” per se, you can still benefit from breathing consciously. One study found that improved oxygenation status resulting from conscious breathing helps to improve the healing of damaged cell tissue, including everyday wounds that it found can heal more quickly when they’re better oxygenated.5
Is There a Biblical Precedent for Conscious Breathing?
Learning how to breathe in accordance with the body’s designed rhythmic patterns aids in overcoming a state of imbalance and attaining holistic restoration. The power of conscious breathing to improve both the mind and body, in other words, would naturally spill over into spiritual improvement, leading to improved clarity, unity, fellowship, and intimacy with the Creator and other people.
Research published in the African Journal for Physical Health Education, Recreation and Dance seems to support this concept, having found that breath consciousness workshops aimed at improving perceptions of spirituality and health qualitatively led to “significant changes” in the form of participants feeling as though they were able to better connect to their spiritual states of being after the therapy.6
From a specifically Christian perspective, this concept also seems to align with the biblical command to “Be still, and know that I am God,” taken from Psalm 46:10.7 I would argue that stillness can’t be achieved if one is stressed out, overwhelmed, and in a state of mind-body imbalance. If conscious breathing can help to clear one’s mind of all distractions, bringing improved focus to the task at hand, whether it be reading scripture, praying, or meditating as the Bible instructs, wouldn’t this be beneficial to one’s spiritual health?
The subject of breath is replete throughout the Holy Scriptures, it turns out, including multiple references to the breath of God being the source of all life and truth. Genesis 2:7, for instance, speaks of the “breath of life” being “breathed into his nostrils,” referring to God giving life to the first man, Adam. In the New Testament, God’s breath is described as the catalyst for delivering scripture into the world, as well as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit into human souls.8
Conscious Breathing and Cancer: Is There a Connection?
While we’ve already established so many ways in which conscious breathing holds powerful significance in human life, it brings me even greater joy to tell you that it can also play a major role in treating cancer. Recognizing its ability to improve cellular oxygenation and metabolism, it only makes sense that controlled breathing also has the potential to dramatically alter the internal environment of the body in such a way as to make it unfavorable to the growth and survival of cancer cells.
Simply put, cancer cells hate oxygen because they metabolize anaerobically through an unnaturally, and highly inefficient, fermentation process. This stands in contrast to healthy human cells that thrive on oxygen, as we previously discussed. (Sugar, by the way, is a “perfect” fuel for cancer cells because it easily ferments and provides energy for their growth and proliferation).
By saturating the body with oxygen through deep breathing and other oxygenation techniques, physicians have helped many cancer patients achieve major healing breakthroughs. When cancer cells are deprived of their oxygen-less lifeblood, healthy cells are conversely strengthened by this oxygen infusion, which allows them to out-compete their malignant counterparts for dominant status in the body.
Oxygen is like kryptonite to cancer cells, in other words, as well as to harmful bacteria and viruses that would otherwise thrive in an oxygen-deficient environment. This fundamental truth is actually what earned Dr. Warburg his Nobel Prize, and it’s a powerful concept to keep in mind when considering the nature of how chronic diseases like cancer develop in the first place.
In a famous speech that he gave back in 1966, Dr. Warburg explained in-depth how the formation of cancer is always associated with oxygen respiration failure, meaning the body isn’t getting enough oxygen. This is when fermentation appears, he explained, resulting in the transformation of healthy differentiated cells into fermenting anaerobes. Warburg stated bluntly that these anaerobes “have lost all their body functions and retain only the now useless property of growth and replication.”9
Dr. Wendell Hendricks, renowned molecular biologist, two-time Nobel Laureate, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Cancer Research, agrees. He once stated: “Cancer is a condition within the body where the oxidation has become so depleted that the body cells have degenerated beyond physiological control.”10
Forward-thinking cancer treatment centers will often utilize a variety of oxygenation techniques, including ozone therapy and other technologies. Their goal is always the same: to infuse high levels of oxygen into the body in order to inactivate viruses, stimulate the immune system, cleanse the blood and lymphatic systems, neutralize toxins, balance inflammation levels, and normalize the production of hormones and enzymes. Conscious breathing is included in this oxygenation arsenal.
If you seek out conscious breathing protocols for cancer, you might come across a specific practice known as the Buteyko Breathing Method, named after Ukrainian Dr. Konsantin Buteyko. It represents just one type of specific breathing protocols among many that aim to maximize bodily oxygenation. While this particular breathing approach has traditionally been used to treat conditions such as heart disease, asthma, bronchitis, epilepsy, sinusitis, and insomnia, it has more recently gained popularity as a first-line cancer treatment approach.
In slightly more technical terms, the Buteyko Breathing Method involves trying to normalize one’s breathing volume through repetitive conscious breathing exercises that are designed to reprogram the body into an improved oxygenated, and thus anti-cancer, state. It appears to have worked for many, as evidenced by a 2001 clinical trial out of Kiev that found the method to be highly effective, having helped breast cancer patients survive longer and experience an improved quality of life.11
The Buteyko Breathing Method can be even more effective when combined with tools like the Frolov Respiration Training Device.12 Developed by Russian inventor Vladimir Federovich Frolov, the Frolov Device basically alters the ratio of oxygen and carbon dioxide that a person inhales and exhales during conscious breathing so as to enhance its effectiveness.13
All of this would seem to validate yet another famous quote by Dr. Arthur C. Guyton, MD, published in The Standard Textbook on Medical Physiology, that states: “All chronic pain, suffering, and diseases are caused by a lack of oxygen at the cell level.”
I tend to agree with this powerful sentiment, based on what I know of the subject, and believe that conscious breathing can help to keep everyone – healthy or sick – optimally oxygenated. This advice sure does give a whole new meaning to the phrase, “take a deep breath,” doesn’t it?
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