As we know from last week's blog, qi (or energy) is produced by our cells. It is the energy produced by the smallest atoms and molecules of the universe. Qi is our life force and that which connects us to everything around us.
The two most important components to forming healthy qi are the quality of food we eat and the quality of air we breathe. Common sense really, when we think how terrible we can feel after a few days of heavy/greasy food or even the weakness from not being able to have much food at all. Also, perhaps you have adventured to the top of a high mountain and felt the body start to give way due to lack of oxygen. The qi we gain through food and air can be replenished on a second-by-second basis and is added to our unchanging pre-birth qi. Pre-birth qi is like our inherited constitution which also forms a part of us.
Breathing is not something we really think about and if we did have to think about the process of breathing we really wouldn't have much time to do much else with our day! It is easy to forget how much capacity the lungs have and I remember being told on my yoga teaching training that 60% of our lungs are in the back of the body - and hardly get used... Emotional issues and stress can cause us to breathe just in our chests and not take air down into the lower lungs. This weakens the diaphragm, the most important muscle in breathing. The diaphragm muscle contracts to allow the lungs to expand and draw air in, it then relaxes so we can exhale fully. Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, is done in alot of yoga classes to help increase lung capacity, efficiency and also relax the body. Diaphragmatic breathing slows your breath, relaxes your nervous system, detoxifies your organs, aids circulation and digestion, improves your immune system, reduces high blood pressure, builds stamina and heightens your sense of well-being.
Swimming is also particularly good for increasing lung capacity due to the pressure of the water on the chest and also the need to be very efficient with your air as you only have certain opportunities to breathe when your head is in the water.
If you are interested in going deeper into the benefits of conscious breathing there is a movement called Transformational Breathing (http://breathguru.com/) I went on their half day course and find the techniques very beneficial. During the course the body starts to tingle with the increased oxygen intake and you can also enter a trance like state due to the rhythmic breathing technique which is taught.
Breathing is our connection to life and when we aren't breathing properly we can lack mental alertness and energy for difficult tasks. Lack of oxygen will impact all functions in the body as oxygen needs to be diffused out to our organs, tissues and muscles and carbon dioxide needs to be dispelled. I know how difficult it is to try and breathe properly when we are at a desk most of the day but if you can just take a moment to bring awareness to your breath, this in itself will deepen it, focussing on breathing into your belly and seeing it softly expand. Sometimes just putting your hand on the abdomen can help your breath direct itself there. Be gentle, don't constrict the stomach muscles or tighten the shoulders.
There have been many books written about breathing and one of them is by a Buddhist monk called Thich Nhat Hanh - he says, "Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor."