BREATHING, in some from or other, is essential to all forms of life; yet how many people ever take any thought as to how they should breathe ? What constitutes correct breathing ? Obviously, making full use of the breathing apparatus with Nature has endowed the individual.
The lungs receive the inhaled air, which, after a most exciting and romantic career, in which it conveys some of the essential life element to every cell of the body, return, worn out and weary, laden with impurities, to be expelled from the body by the same organs–the lungs.
The thorax is greatly occupied by the lungs, which with the heart, other important organs, and connective tissue which acts as packing material, completely fill it. There are no loose fittings in a perfect body. Therefore it follows, that as the lungs expand, to accommodate the indrawn air and contact in the act of expelling it, the thorax must flexible too. This flexibility is produced by the joints of the bony structure, cartilaginous material and a large number of muscles, including that massive organs known as the diaphragm which from the floor of the chest and the roof of the abdomen.
The lungs, then, constitute the receiving and distributing organs of fresh, vital air; and the receiving and expiratory organs of stale devitalized sir, for the whole body.
Our business lies in (1) making full use of our breathing organs in a natural way, and (2) providing them with properly conditioned air in sufficient quantities; if we attend to the “breathing in” part of the function, I think the healthy body will itself look after the other part, “breathing out”, without our conscious effort.
In passing, let me warn you against the danger of attempting to hold the breath, this is a very different matter to controlling it which means letting it out slowly and evenly, i.e. in a controlled manner. Holding the breath may lead to a very distressing condition know as Emphysema, i.e. a chronic distension of the tiny air tubs of the lungs, in which it is impossible to empty them of air and therefore impossible to aerate them thoroughly.
Now as to the conscious muscle work of breathing; ordinary breathing should be so easy and natural that we are not conscious of any effort at al, but for the more determined endeavour, should the abdominal muscles be brought into action ? I think not. Certainly not when dealing with a healthy chest. For the moment we will leave the discussion of the methods of dealing with the lungs which, through pathological changes, and probably through mismanagement, have become sub-normal.
My work has given me the opportunity of testing the breathing capacity of a good many people, adults, and lots of children. This I do very simply; I just get them to lie,or stand, in an easy but position, place my hands on their lower ribs at either side, and ask them to take a deep breath, at the same time trying to push my hands away with their ribs.
I frequently find that the extension of the l;lower part of the chest is very slight until the patient has been taught how to breathe, and practised deep breathing. Some people seem to find it difficult even after months of effort on my part to make them accomplish it.
It is a matter of determination and mental concentration on the part of the patient. Sometimes it seems necessary to disabuse the patients mind; to assure him that the exercise is not too heavy for him, and to point out the great disadvantages he will be up against should he develop any serious chest disorder if he has not fully developed his breathing powers.
This is practically all I do in the way of breathing exercises, i.e. breath in through the nose, expanding the lower ribs, breathe out through the mouth–contacting the lower ribs as far as possible.
Of course we ring the changes; the exercise is done standing, lying down , sitting in various postures and it is preceded by some other exercise which is calculated to make the patient a bit breathless, wood chopping, whip jumping, etc.
By this method he seems to accomplish all that the healthy chest requires in the way of developing the breathing capacity without differentiating between “Shoulder breathing,” “Costal breathing,” and “Abdominal breathing” which I regard as straying from the natural way, complicated and not to be tolerated.
We have been considering a chest which has not fully developed its power of breathing, but which, otherwise, is healthy and normal. Some modifications may arise when we have to deal with the breathing apparatus of sick folk. In the case of a patient suffering from Chronic Asthma, for instance, the conditions of the chest are considerably altered.
There is a diminution of the diameter of the little air tubes of the lungs, due to several causes. For one thing there is spasm of the little muscles in the walls of the tubes, inflammatory thickening of their lining, and they are partially filled with morbid excretion, so that while the patient can inhale, it is exceedingly difficult for him to exhale. For these patients a special system of exercise has been brought out by one of the medical bodies. In some of these exercises the abdominal muscles are consciously brought into play.
It is claimed that these exercises are very helpful to the asthma patients, and if carried out properly will even ward off a threatened attack. Personally, I believe that mental concentration on the working of the lower ribs will accomplish the same end in a simpler and easier way for the patient, and the help of the abdominal muscles, if needed, will be automatically introduced.
If I require a confirmation of my views with regard to abdominal breathing I have a very strong one–not from the Medical profession but from a Musician. I remember reading, some years ago, an article on the subject of breathing written by a very famous contralto of Edwardian days. She argued that abdominal muscles should not be brought into use and got her point home by relating a personal experience which was that while under an anaesthetic and actually being operated upon for the removal of the appendix she had amazed every one in the theatre by starting to sing in a strong clear voice.
Now if the co-operation of the abdominal muscles were needed for voice production–one of the most severe tests of breath control, they would surely have refused to function under such trying condition. We instinctively try to avoid using a damaged muscle, and no surgeon can remove an appendix without damaging the abdominal wall. To argue that the lady was unconscious, and thus sang without feeling the distress caused by using the stricken muscles gets us nowhere, because the nerves of the sympathetic system would be quite alert and would prevent the performance of such an action.
Now a word about the quality of the air we breathe. We can filter and warm it by breathing in thought the nose. In passing, it is very important to precede all breathing exercises by carefully blowing the nose; one nostril at a time, closing the other one by pressure of the finger.
Any other method may lead to damage of the eustachian tube and what has been termed “handkerchief deafness”. By breathing in through the nose, which is a natural filter, the indrawn air becomes cleaned, it also has time to get warmed and moistened in its passage over the mucus membranes, before it reaches the lungs.
The importance of nose breathing was firmly impressed up on me in my student days. At one of our dissection demonstrations we saw what appeared to be a small piece of coke removed from one of the lungs of the subject. Very probably the poor man, whose body was furnishing us with such valuable information, had been a miner during his life time, and had inhaled a quantity of coal dust in the course of his daily work, which had accumulated till a solid mass had been formed in the lung.
Anyhow, this was a very definite proof of one of the dangers of mouth breathing. Had the air been filtered by passing through the nose, the accumulation need not have occurred. But not must the air be clean, warm and moist, it should be circulating.
Some years ago a very interesting experiment was carried out one of the large hospitals. Several investigators entered a small compartment which was then hermetically sealed. They were carefully watched and one by one they were observed to show signs of distress. When these condition had gone on to the safety limit, an electric fan, operated from outside, was set in motion, whereupon the victims began to revive, and before long all were lively again–the point to be noted is the no fresh air was allowed to enter little room, the reviving happened when the exhausted air was put into motion.
People who have to live in close rooms, or works in stuffy offices would probably get on much better if the limited amount of air they have to make do with cold be kept moving. The quality of the air would appear to have a vital influence on the structure of the breathing apparatus. Recently experiments have been made in testing the effect of air of very high altitudes on people suffering with whooping cough.