Category: Body

The Art of Breathing

The Art of Breathing

Breathing is life. All beings breathe. If breathing stops, physical life ends.  

Breathing is therefore an essential aspect of life. All beings breathe naturally, in the proper way, except, perhaps, human beings. Human beings breathe normally when they are newborns, and when they are still young, until about the age of five.  

Then, as they grow up, they start to learn the wrong way of breathing. 

Breathing Correctly

The normal and healthy way of breathing is abdominal breathing, or also called diaphragmatic breathing or horizontal breathing. It is the method of breathing used in meditation and yoga. It uses the diaphragm as the main muscle for breathing in and out.  

In abdominal breathing, the diaphragm flattens when we breathe in, thus expanding the space in the chest wall. Outwardly, we see the expansion of the chest wall. The abdomen moves out as well. When we exhale, the diaphragm curves upward, reducing the space in the chest wall. Thus, we see the chest wall shrinks and the abdomen sucks in.    

This way of breathing gives the maximum uptake of oxygen on inhalation, and the maximum expulsion of carbon dioxide in exhalation. Thus, the body gets enough oxygen for the entire system, improving oxygenation to the circulatory system, the brain, the organs and enhancing the immune system.  

In addition, the expulsion of carbon dioxide reduces the acidic environment. Acidic environment is more harmful to the immune system as well as to the cells, thereby increasing the risks of inflammation, infections and mutations.  

Breathing Wrongly

On the other hand, the wrong way of breathing is called vertical breathing or chest breathing. It works by using the shoulder and chest muscles to pull up the chest wall, providing only small expansion of the lungs. The breaths are shallower, resulting in poor intake of oxygen as well as poor expulsion of carbon dioxide. Thus, we need to take more breath, making the body work more, and putting the body in a permanent fight or flight mode. 

This wrong way of breathing can lead to body ache, back ache, digestive problems, sleep problem, and tension in the body, reducing our immunity.  

How can we un-learn the wrong way of breathing? We do that by consciously reminding ourselves to breathe correctly, using our diaphragm, as often as possible.  

Breathing in Meditation 

In meditation, breathing serves another function. It is used as an object of meditation.  

We do that by placing our attention on the process of breathing. We keep our attention on the breathing process continuously, for as long as possible. If we get distracted, we simply bring our attention back to the breathing process each time our attention strays.  

There is nothing else we need to do except keep our attention and awareness on the breath. There is no need to control the breathing process. Just watch it.  

In the beginning, we will notice that the breathing is coarse and the body is tensed. As we continue to watch it, over time, the breathing will settle down on its own. It becomes more subtle, more relaxed. And it will continue to become more and more subtle as time passes.  

At first, it is as if we need to put in the effort to breathe to live. In the end, as the breathing becomes more and more subtle, it is as if life is breathing through us, effortlessly. It may even reach a state where the breath is almost undiscernible. 

As the breathing settles down, the mind also settles down on its own accord. Thinking becomes slower. Thoughts become fewer. Mind becomes calmer, and clearer.  

This is how we use breathing in meditation to bring us to a state of calm and tranquility.   

Overcoming the fear of aging

Overcoming the fear of aging

Aging, like sickness and death, is part and parcel of life. Everyone who is born must eventually age and die. This is the natural cycle of life. However, not everyone ages in the same way. Some age gracefully. Others age with fear.

Fear is Optional

If you are fearful of aging, you should know that this fear is not inevitable. It is there only because of your own past experiences, your own beliefs and your own attitude towards it. In the end, it is a matter of choice. Aging is inevitable but fear of aging is not. Aging of this body is a physical phenomenon. That is why it is inevitable. Fear, on the other hand, is a mental phenomenon. It is optional.

Identify Your Fears

If you are fearful of aging, you should try to be more specific and identify what it is that you are really fearful of. Generally, those who fear aging are actually fearful of sickness and death. Those who believe that they can age with a healthy and functioning body have little fear of aging. Those who think of the possibility of sickness and death as they age become fearful.

Having identify our specific fears, it then becomes possible to do something about it.

Fear of Sickness

If it is sickness, then we can start to live a healthy lifestyle. It is never too late to start a habit of living healthily. If you smoke, stop smoking. If you drink alcohol, and especially if you drink heavily, then tone it down. Drink less. Scientific studies have actually shown that a small amount of alcohol is good for your physical health but too much is harmful. Sleep early and wake up early. Sleep well. Exercise regularly. Eat healthily. Drink lots of water. Practice yoga or tai chi. Learn to meditate. All these improve the quality of your life, making you healthier mentally, emotionally and physically.

Fear of Death

If your fear is death, then once again you have to be specific. Is it the process of dying that you are afraid of, or is it death itself? If it is the process of dying, then the real fear for most people is actually the fear of a painful dying process. If that is the case, we have good news for you. Science and medicine today have reached a point where we can almost always minimise pain in the dying process. In most cases, we can even totally eradicate pain. However, even without medicine, pain can still be managed well. Physical pain may be inevitable but mental suffering is optional.

The question then is how do we free ourselves from mental suffering in the presence of physical pain? The answer to that is a strong mind. We can train our mind to be strong and resilient. It is a skill, and like all skills, it takes practice. The most common and popular mind training is meditation. So, learn to meditate, and learn it well. Gain mastery over your own mind. Then you will have little to be fearful of.

Fear of the Unknown

Lastly, if it is death itself that you are afraid of, then it is most likely because death is a big unknown. What happens to us after death? This is a spiritual question, and you will need a spiritual answer. It all comes down to your belief system. So, when you talk about death, and especially when you want a solution to this type of fear about death, then you must re-visit your spirituality, and the very nature of who you are.

Are you simply this body or are you more than just this physical body? When you die, is there a part of you that continues on? This is your quest. It is a journey that none can take for you. Only you can do this for yourself.

Achieving Optimum Health

Achieving Optimum Health

“Optimum health is not just the absence of disease but the presence of wellness in mental, emotional, physical, spiritual and social areas. Some would also include financial health.”

Introduction

Optimum health is essential at all levels, from the individual to the society we live in to the environment around us. We have to start thinking of wealth not just in terms of possession of money and properties but also the possession of mental, emotional, physical, social and spiritual well-being.

Mental Health

The truth is mind is the forerunner of all states.

With a proper mindset, a poor man can still be happy. Conversely, if the mindset is not right, no matter how much material possessions you may have, you may still be a very unhappy person. Thus, Gandhi said, “The world has enough for everyone’s needs, but not enough for even a single person’s greed.”

So a healthy mind is one that possesses a mindset that can lead to happiness and contentment with self and the world around us. It provides clarity of thoughts, good insight and the ability to see things through an unbiased mind.

To be able to see things through an unbiased mind is no small feat. It is extremely difficult to note or observe the unfolding of events and phenomena without judging. We habitually associate emotions or feelings to events, and allow such emotions to direct our actions. Our likes for certain things and dislikes for others are closely associated with our emotions.

Emotional Health

It is our emotions that lead us to act impulsively at times. Thus a high level of self-awareness in this area is extremely useful. In fact, it is essential to our well-being. After all, things and relationships that may take us years to build can be destroyed in a moment of anger.

There are positive and negative emotions. Positive emotions such as love, compassion and joy should be cultivated, while negative emotions such as fear, anger and hate need to be eradicated.

When asked about this, a wise sage of India once illustrated with a story:

An old man said to his grandson, “Boy, I have two tigers caged within me. One is love and compassion. The other is fear and anger.”

The young boy asked, “Which one will win, grandfather?”

The old man replied, “The one I feed.”

At times, it may seem that we have no control over our emotions. This is not true. The truth is how well we manage our emotions depends on how aware we are of our emotions, particularly on the arising of our emotions. The earlier we are able to note the arising of our emotions, we better we can manage them.

More and more researches are showing that our well-being is closely linked to our emotional and mental health. Our body’s immune system is generally enhanced by positive mental outlook and emotion. Conversely, it is depressed by negative mental and emotional states. Thus, stress, worry, anger and fear are some states that may lead to physical illnesses such as hypertension, cardiac diseases, peptic ulcers, depression and a host of other ailments.

Physical Health

To maintain an optimum physical well-being, therefore, requires us to focus not only on our body but also our mind and emotions.

On a physical level, our body can be kept healthy through adequate sleep and rest, proper nutrition, regular exercises and a healthy environment that is free from pollution.

Spiritual Health

Throughout the ages, wise men have consistently informed and taught us that we are essentially spiritual beings.

Although medical science has not been able to reveal to us our spiritual nature, there are many indirect evidence that we would be foolish to ignore. Stories from people who had gone through a near death experience (NDE), or dying people with heightened nearing death awareness, or simply a cure from an ‘incurable’ disease all suggest that there is more to life than just the physical state.

Major religions of the world all based their teachings on the belief that we are essentially spiritual beings. According to these teachings, our physical existence is secondary.

While it may be true that we should focus our life more on our spiritual nature than our physical nature, it would be difficult for the majority of people to do so, at least not immediately. Things cannot change overnight. Mindset, however, can, and that is perhaps the best place to start.

Financial Health

However, on a more mundane level, most people are still stuck on how to survive from day to day, where to get the next cheque to pay for the house installment, so on and so forth.

Practically, therefore, we need to look into ways to achieve a financial state that would theoretically free us from the constrain of ‘forced’ work. This is where the concept of financial freedom is so attractive. According to this concept, one should strive for a state where we have one or more than one source of income that can be generated passively, that is, even when we don’t work.

This is what Robert Kiyosaki termed as ‘passive income’.

According to him, passive income can only be achieved by becoming an investor or a business owner, not a sole proprietor or an employee. To become an investor or a business owner, you must spend the time and money to acquire financial intelligence. Unlike IQ or EQ, you can acquire financial intelligence through self education.

To get a financial health check-up, consult an accountant, a banker or a financial planner you can trust.

Healthy Relationship

“No man is an island, entire by itself.”

As a medical doctor, I am in a unique position to confront and comfort dying patients. One of the most important thing that I have observed is that dying people do not ask about their money or possessions. Instead, they focus their remaining energy and strength on trying to heal wounded relationships. It is as though there is an inherent need to get a proper closure to a relationship.

Thus, forming and cultivating a healthy relationship is important for our well-being. Unfortunately, this is something we often ignored until it is too late. If there is any forgiving to be done, or the need to be forgiven, leaving things to the last minutes may end up with an unfulfilled desire for a closure.

Knowing this now, shouldn’t we spend more time and effort in improving our relationship with our loved ones, especially with our parents, spouse, children and siblings?

Author:

Dr. Tim Ong is a medical doctor with keen interest in self improvement, mind science and spirituality. He is the author of several personal transformation books. He also contributed an article in David Riklan’s “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life – Volume 3” with other authors like Mark Victor Hansen, Ken Blanchard, Byron Katie and Les Brown. You can get more inspiring and mind transforming articles at his website at TransformationWork.com.