Chapter 9. The Mechanics of Breathing

We all breathe. But for the majority of human beings, it’s just another of those biological processes that is just happening on its own inside the body and therefore is being taken for granted. Most of us, therefore, do not ever stop to think whether or not we are doing it right. The fact is that most adults do not breathe the way that nature intended. Incorrect breathing is the root cause for all our physical ailments.

I too used to breathe the way the vast majority of humans are doing, till I learnt otherwise. I happened to read somewhere a few years ago that the Diaphragm is also known as the Spiritual Muscle. I was aware about its existence but the fact that it was also called a Spiritual Muscle was brand new information for me too. Must be pretty important, so I thought and this set me doing a bit of research regarding this little fella. I have now realised after reading what I could and also after observing my body as it goes through its changes that this is THE MOST IMPORTANT EQUIPMENT in the WHOLE HUMAN BODY. Fix this one muscle in the body and get it working better and as close to the way as nature intended it to and presto; the whole body fixes itself, so to say. Almost effortlessly, you can say.

I share here the very basic information regarding breathing and how this one muscle controls the well being of a human being. This basic knowledge available in a standard VII text book actually did help me in a big, big way. Wonder why I did not realise this earlier in life!

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Everyone knows that we breathe through our lungs. Lungs are important, alright, but work rather inefficiently without the proper help of some other significant parts of the body. These are the Skeletal elements, the muscles of the ribcage and Diaphragm. It should actually be THE Diaphragm. Of course, the human mind and the brain are important too, considering the fact that it is the brain that ultimately controls the movement of this rather important Spiritual Muscle.

Human Lungs are two sponge like sacs that fill up most of the space of the chest cavity. They are contained in a pleural sac which is attached at the bottom to the dome shaped Diaphragm, which separates the pleural cavity from the abdominal cavity.


Breathing in (inhalation) takes place because of the working of two sets of muscles: A) the intercostal muscles between the ribs and B) the diaphragm. Upon receiving the appropriate signals from the brain, the intercostal muscles contract and push the (upper) ribs outwards and upwards. Simultaneously, the diaphragm also gets its signal and should ideally become flat and push the stomach out. The combined action of these two different sets of muscles creates a vacuum in the pleural cavity because of which the atmospheric pressure becomes lesser inside the lungs as compared to that outside the body. Air from the surroundings then rushes in through the nostrils (or mouth) down the trachea and into the lungs. The reverse activity takes place during Exhalation.

Please notice the use of the word "should" above while referring to the movement of the diaphragm. It should become flat but does not do so in the majority of adults. They 'suck' the stomach in and push the chest out while inhaling. The stomach should get pushed out gently along with the upper chest when the diaphragm is contracting downwards thus creating the vacuum inside the chest. The fact that the stomach should be pushed out while inhaling can be easily observed in infants, especially when they are lying down.  That is the way nature intended it to be.

Please also notice that because of the conical shape of the lungs, there is lesser volume at the top and more at the bottom. Because the stomach gets pulled (or sucked) in while inhaling means that majority of humans are not using the larger volume available at the bottom of the lungs during respiration. They therefore are not breathing in as much of energy (pranas) and oxygen as is potentially possible. They end up spending maximum amount of energy (required for the movement of the muscles) for minimum gain. The logic behind this behaviour is indeed strange considering the fact that humans are said to be the most intelligent creatures walking on earth! But then majority of humans are just plain ignorant about this most important aspect about their health.

Role of the Mind:

The movement of the diaphragm is controlled by the small portion of the brain known as Medulla Oblongata.


I have been observing my state of mind and the corresponding breathing activity for a bit of time now. I have noticed that I happen to take shallow breaths when my mind is tense. Breathing becomes deeper when the mind is relaxed and comfortable. The movement of the Diaphragm is therefore controlled by the Mind through the Medulla Oblongata. I do not enjoy Life when there is tension in my mind is something that goes without saying. I also happen to have more energy for all the important activities in life when I am relaxed and comfortable in Life. Obviously, Deep Breathing is THE activity that has numero uno priority in my Life.

The ultrasound test that I got done on June 11, 2005 revealed the following:


This validated the journey for me from where it had started in 1993. All the efforts that have been put in seemed worth it. This also was a turning point of sorts for me in my life, as far as the journey towards achieving a state of Better Health... naturally is concerned.

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Lastly, some fodder for the mind:


And so it is.

5 comments:

  1. Wow! Sir.. I remember this lesson so well..have started practicing Pranayam too..its actually so essential..Thank you..

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  2. interesting indeed....what i am curious about is how this is different from yoga/pranayam? can you help me understand this? the article is written well sir and i like the effort you make in relating it to science and common man's understanding of body mechanisms....very engaging....

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  3. Breathing during Pranayama is forced and requires efforts and energy. It is better than the normal restricted breathing as we 'feed' our bodies more oxygen albeit for a small period of time. The same breathing can become effortless and involuntary when the mind is at peace. Yoga, Pranayama, Reiki etc. are 'natural' paths to wellness but still need to be learnt. Effortless, involuntary deep breathing is THE NATURAL way as it does not require any learning - only thing that is required is a mind TOTALLY at PEACE and in TOTAL ACCEPTANCE of ALL THINGS AS THEY ARE IN LIFE. Reaching that state of existence is difficult but not impossible. Hope it makes sense..

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  4. Hi there,

    In light of all the misinformation on the web about breathing, I felt like making you aware that your description of breathing is not anatomically correct. You say that inhalation is due to A) the external intercostals and B) the diaphragm. The most important muscle used in breathing (inhalation only) is actually A) the diaphragm. The the second most important muscles in breathing are B) the Scalenes which are found in the neck. The scalenes lift the ribcage from above, the diaphragm pushes from below. The external intercostals only contract during forced inspiration. They play no role in relaxed, coastal, normal breathing. In addition, the diaphragm does flatten during inhalation but its job is not to push the stomache out. There needs to be a tonus of the muscles in the abdomen because the diaphram does 2 steps during inhalation. The first is to compress the visceral organs (below it) and the second job is to rotate the ribcage upwards. If the belly protrudes the second step (rib cage upward rotation) is hindered. Ask any doctor, physiotherapist or osteopath; this is all clearly explained in medical text books and they will confirm that what I say here is true.

    Sorry to be a pain. Just thought you might like to know.

    All the best,
    Lesley

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  5. Hi Lesley,

    Banish the thought about your being a pain. You are not.

    Thank you for taking the time to teach me a couple of things which have filled gaps in my knowledge. I am just a layman on the path of learning something new everyday.

    I had observed that the muscles that I mentioned were playing some kind of role during the breathing process. Of late, I have observed that the muscles of my neck are becoming taut and there is also a slight push at the back whenever I am in the relaxed breathing mode. The back being pushed away from the chair is something I could relate as the ribs at the back coming into play for fuller breathing. But the movement of the neck muscles was something new for me. What you have written makes a lot of sense and is great news for me as I know that my breathing is becoming even better than before.

    I have always known that the Diaphragm IS the most important muscle in the body and that better natural movement of this muscle can help anyone become healthier…naturally. Unfortunately there is scarcely any movement in most adults. Deep breathing for most is a matter of pushing the chest out while pulling the stomach in. Incorrect breathing is the biggest contributor to the state of (ill) health today.

    I used to breathe like most ago and was obviously thrilled when my body started breathing correctly about 6-7 years. This switch was not deliberate but happened on its own. I noticed that my stomach was now getting pushed out during inhalation. I did not mean it the way it has come out in my post that the diaphragm pushes the stomach out. The diaphragm does not do that. It just happens whenever anyone is breathing correctly. That again is linked to the mind. A naturally breathing human has a stress free mind. The reverse is also true.

    Your comments are therefore most welcome. I am hoping that you will keep on pointing out bloopers in my other articles too.

    Thanks a zillion and all the best to you too.
    Life is Good.
    Surinder

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