Ultimate Health

Ultimate Health

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In a new and unique way, Ultimate Health represents a synergistic blend of both natural medicine and spiritual wisdom, and provides a complete guide to achieving abundant health and happiness. By recognising both the physiological and emotional elements in well-being, Dr John Briffa gives us practical strategies for health transformation using a truly holistic mix of lifestyle and dietary change, natural supplements and spiritual progression.Give Your Body OxygenWhile the human body can survive a few weeks without food, and perhaps a few days without water, it can't do without oxygen for more than a few minutes. Oxygen is an essential ingredient in the reactions which burn food to make energy, and any shortfall in the supply of this gas can therefore impair our sense of vitality and well-being. Not only that, but all the body's cells require oxygen to function normally. From the cells in the liver which neutralize toxins from the gut, to the cells in the glands which secrete essential hormones into the bloodstream, one thing they all have in common is their need for oxygen.Oxygen is supplied to the body through the act of breathing. Breathing is something we generally don't have to think about, so there's a tendency for us to feel it's something we do perfectly well. However, experience shows that many of us don't breathe nearly as well as we might, and this can have a significant impact on both our physical and emotional health. Learning and practising proper breathing is, quite simply, fundamental to abundant health and vitality.The essential role that oxygen plays in the function of the body's organs is most evident in conditions such as heart attack and stroke. Here, parts of the body become starved of oxygen due to an interruption in blood supply, leading to death in the body's tissues. Also, in conditions where the lungs fail to absorb adequate amounts of oxygen from the atmosphere, such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema, breathlessness, fatigue and a reduced capacity for exercise and activity are the result. Let's make no mistake about it, oxygen is of prime importance to life and health.Breathing fulfils two main functions in the body. As we know, all the cells in the body require oxygen to function, and the act of breathing allows this gas to be absorbed from the air into the bloodstream. While the cells use oxygen, they also generate a waste product - carbon dioxide. The other main function of breathing is to allow the body to rid itself of this unwanted gas. The process of oxygen absorption and carbon dioxide elimination by the body is sometimes referred to as 'gas exchange'.Beyond the physiological roles that breathing appears to fulfil, lie other benefits. In Eastern medicine, breathing exercises are often used as an integral part of many different therapies which link mind and body. In many traditional forms of therapy, including yoga, t'ai chi and ki gong, proper breathing is believed to help harmonize the whole self and is thought to offer diverse healing effects. Breathing exercises are often used in treating conditions and symptoms as diverse as high blood pressure, menopausal hot flushes, migraine, panic attacks and depression. Many individuals find that practising efficient breathing has a calming, balancing effect on their mood and sense of well-being, but also leaves them feeling energized and focused.Are you breathing right?While many of us assume breathing is something we do well enough, this may not be the case. We know that the efficiency of basic systems in the body can vary enormously between individuals. For instance, while some people have cast-iron digestions, and are able to break down and absorb any food without ill-effect, others may not be so lucky and therefore run into problems with nutrient deficiency and food sensitivity as a result. While certain people may have strong immune systems and get through the year without so much as a sniffle, others may be susceptible to just about any bug that happens to be lurking in their immediate environment. The same is true of breathing. Some people get all the oxygen they need for optimum health through their complete and efficient breathing habits, though many others don't. To understand what efficient breathing is all about, and what can go wrong, it helps to know a little about the structure and function of the lungs.The structure and function of the lungsOxygen is taken into the body from the air via the lungs. Air which is inhaled through the nose and/or mouth first travels down the windpipe (trachea) to enter two tubes called the 'bronchi', each of which takes the air into the lung itself. The bronchi divide again and again, forming a branching network of tubes which get ever smaller in size as they approach the outer reaches of the lung tissue. Finally, these tubes end in the form of tiny sacs called 'alveoli'. It is in the alveoli that gas exchange takes place. Surrounding the alveoli is an intimate network of tiny blood vessels known as capillaries. Oxygen and carbon dioxide can pass back and forth between the alveoli and the blood in the capillaries, and this allows the lungs to perform their function of gas exchange.When oxygen is taken into the lungs, some of it will transfer across the wall of the alveoli into the blood contained in the capillaries. This blood (known as 'oxygenated blood') eventually travels to the heart in a vessel called the pulmonary vein. The heart then pumps this blood to the body's tissues, where the oxygen is used, and swapped for carbon dioxide. This blood (known as 'deoxygenated blood') travels back to the heart, so that it can pump it once again to the lungs. In the lungs, the carbon dioxide leaves the bloodstream and enters the alveoli, after which it can be removed from the body as the lungs breathe out. On the in-breath, more oxygen is absorbed into the bloodstream from the air, and this then travels to the heart to be pumped to the rest of the body. And so this cycle repeats.The act of breathing and the process of gas exchange depend on the mechanics which get air in and out of the lungs. Inspiration (breathing in) and expiration (breathing out) is controlled by muscular contractions in and around the chest.The chest cavity is essentially made up of the spine at the back, the sternum or breastbone at the front, and ribs on either side which connect the two. After breathing out, the curved ribs hang down somewhat, rather like bucket handles. Between the ribs there are muscles (called the 'intercostal muscles') which contract during inspiration. The effect of the intercostal muscle contraction is to draw the ribs up, increasing the size of the chest which in turn causes air to be drawn into the lungs (inspiration).Apart from the intercostal muscles, there are other muscles involved in the act of breathing, the most important of which is the 'diaphragm'. The diaphragm is a dome-shaped thin muscular, sheet which lines the base of the chest and separates it from the abdomen. During inspiration, the diaphragm contracts and flattens, and this causes air to be drawn into the lungs.Broadly speaking, individuals can be classified as chest breathers or diaphragmatic (belly) breathers. Chest breathers tend to breathe in and out using mainly their intercostal muscles. The breaths tend to be shallow and often relatively short. In chest breathing, air is drawn into the smaller upper parts of the lungs, but may never make it into the lower reaches of the lung where much of gas exchange takes place. In Eastern medicine, this type of breathing is viewed as inefficient and incomplete.Belly breathing on the other hand is viewed as both healthy and important to well-being. Here, instead of the intercostal muscles doing the bulk of the work, it is the diaphragm which contracts to draw air into the lungs. In diaphragmatic breathing, inspired air can make its way into the expansive lung tissue at the base of the chest. Belly breathing goes a long way to optimizing the process of oxygen absorption and carbon dioxide removal.Assessing your breathingThis simple exercise will enable you to get a good idea about whether you are predominantly a chest breather or belly breather:Put your left hand in the middle of your chest with your right hand over your navel. Breathe normally. Look at your hands and take a note of which hand moves more when you breathe. If your left hand is moving more than your right, it is a sign that you are a chest breather. If your right is moving more than your left, however, it is likely that your breathing is essentially diaphragmatic in nature. In a new and unique way, Ultimate Health represents a synergistic blend of both natural medicine and spiritual wisdom, and provides a complete guide to achieving abundant health and happiness. By recognising both the physiological and emotional elements in well-being, Dr John Briffa gives us practical strategies for health transformation using a truly holistic mix of lifestyle and dietary change, natural supplements and spiritual progression.In a new and unique way, Ultimate Health represents a synergistic blend of both natural medicine and spiritual wisdom, and provides a complete guide to achieving abundant health and happiness. By recognising both the physiological and emotional elements in well-being, Dr John Briffa gives us practical strategies for health transformation using a truly holistic mix of lifestyle and dietary change, natural supplements and spiritual progression.

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