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Breath of Life

As a Fitness Professional, I have to renew my CPR or Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation certification every year.

During the Red Cross seminars taught by the knowledgeable and experienced Raul Panis, I am always reminded of how much our lives depend on our ability to breathe.

You can live for days without water and weeks without food, but you cannot survive more than four to six minutes without air.

The air you breathe contains about 20 percent oxygen, 79 percent nitrogen, and traces of other gases. Your body only uses five percent of this oxygen every time you take a breath. Your exhaled breath contains 15 percent oxygen, which is why you have enough oxygen to supply this vital gas to another person through mouth-to-mouth respiration.

You take your first breath when you are born and your last when you die. In between, you will breathe about 25,000 times a day.

Breathing is such an essential part of life that we take it for granted. It happens spontaneously and naturally and yet many people do not breathe properly.

Experts say this may be due to a sedentary lifestyle, poor posture, stress and pollution. Bad habits like shallow breathing high up in the chest can become so ingrained people are not even aware they are not using their lungs the way they should.

Luckily, breathing is a body function that is both unconscious and conscious. When you put your mind to it, you can control the way you breathe and learn how to breathe right. You can also use your breath to control your emotions and relieve stress.

When you are feeling stressed or angry, your breathing tends to become rapid and shallow. This is part of the flight-or-fight response to stress. This is useful if you are truly going to fight or flee for your life.

But if your stress is chronic, this type of breathing is no longer beneficial. It can cause fatigue, headaches, listlessness and mental sluggishness.

By consciously slowing down your breath whenever you feel anxious, you can calm down your mind and your emotions. Slow, deep breathing is the direct opposite of your body’s breathing response to stress. That’s the rationale behind that old piece of advice, “Take a deep breath.”

Mind-body disciplines like yoga, Tai Chi, Chi Kung, Pilates, and the martial arts use the breath as a “bridge” to connect the mind and the body. When breathing is relaxed, the mind and the body are also relaxed.

Your breath and your emotions are so intertwined that you can purposely make yourself feel agitated by consciously taking rapid and shallow breaths.

The next time you feel stressed out, take a few minutes to calm down by doing a simple breathing exercise. It’s free, it’s convenient, and it works.

Healthy lungs

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