Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Breath of Life

It's amazing how easy it is to take for granted the most important thing in life - breath.
The moment you stop breathing, life is gone. Yet, most of us never even think about breathing, it's automatic.

I've been having trouble breathing again the last week and a half. It has reminded me yet again how important breath is.

It's incredible how many parts of the body all function together so that you can take a breath. For example - diaphragm, lungs, sinuses (if you breathe through your nose), abdominal and back muscles, ligaments attached to your lungs, etc.

At different times, my difficulty breathing is caused by one or more of these parts not working properly - diaphragm constricted, lungs inflamed, sinuses stuffed up, back muscles tight, etc.

Usually with trouble breathing, I have one of two reactions - I feel angry, or I panic. These are both completely natural and understandable responses. Unfortunately, both anger and fear only make the problem worse, because they cause the brain to release harmful chemicals. So it's vital to stay calm.

Over time, I've learned to differentiate between "trouble" breathing and serious, life-threatening inability to breathe. When it's just "trouble" breathing, I may feel angry, but I try to stay calm. If it's life-threatening, I almost always panic. (Which is why I keep benedryl on hand at all times.)
I'm not a doctor, so I can't advise anyone with serious inability to breathe (hopefully you already have emergency measures in place).

But for everyone like me who struggles with chronic breathing difficulty, I can say - Take heart! Every breath comes from God. As long as He wants you to stay on this planet, He will continue to give you enough breath to go on.

If you've never had trouble breathing, stand up and do a dance of joy! You have reason to give thanks every day for the breath that comes so easily to your body.

However, all of us can learn how to better develop and guard this precious gift of breath. Here are a few things I've learned:

- Do deep breathing at least twice a day.
I take a big breath in while raising my arms over my head (to help the lungs expand), hold for a moment, then slowly exhale as I lower my arms. I repeat this two or three times.
You can also rest your hand on your diaphragm and take quick "sniffy" breaths in and out through your nose, while feeling your diaphragm expand and release. You can do it for 2-3 minutes or until you start to feel lightheaded. (Definitely stop if you feel lightheaded or dizzy.) This is a good exercise to strengthen the diaphragm.

- Do stretches every day to help the muscles around the lungs stay limber.
One good stretch is to stand in a corner with one foot in front of the other and arms up on the wall in a "football goal" position. Then lean in gently and feel the stretch through the back and chest. Repeat with arms stretched straight up on the wall.
Another stretch is to put your arms behind your back with fingers laced together and raise as high as you can, gently of course. =)
When lying down, you can turn on your side, then raise your arm up and out, slowly letting it rotate around and back down.
There are other stretches you can do, these are just a few to get started.

- Try to consciously work at good posture.
Keeping your back straight and shoulders back really does help your lungs function more effectively. If this is hard for you, try doing a few ab crunches 2 or 3 times a week. Strengthening the abdominal muscles often helps improve posture.
Also, when brushing your teeth or doing other mindless tasks, practice exaggerated good posture for those few minutes.

- Try physical therapy for chronic problems.
My physical therapist has stretched, pushed and pulled my body in more ways than I thought possible. But it has made a tremendous difference in my ability to breathe better.

I hope some of these ideas are helpful. Remember, your breath is your life. Do what you can to improve your breathing function. And thank God every day for the breath He gives!

"Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD." -Psalm 150:6

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