The inspiration of respiration

( — It’s the most basic human function, yet we hardly ever think about it.

“We take for granted that we are going to breathe in and then out, and if we don’t breathe in we die,” said Dana Layon, a Vancouver yoga instructor and author.

Conscious breathing, which Eastern religions have emphasized for millennia, now is gaining recognition in the West as a way to relieve stress, lower blood pressure, and give practitioners a sense of inner peace.

“Eastern traditions have known about this for thousands of years,” said Claudia Finkelstein, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle. “Through Western science’s ability to measure the effects, it has been legitimized.”

Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for the body’s function at rest, and deactivates the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response.

The fight-or-flight response made great sense in the days when humans were confronted by predators, but now it kicks in round-the-clock for less deadly threats.

“Our current stresses aren’t often bears in the woods. It’s more like your boss,” Finkelstein said. “Our same sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive, and it results in adverse health effects.”

Dr. Mike Lin of the Kaiser Permanente-Salmon Creek clinic north of Vancouver sees patients with these stress-related problems frequently. Patients complain of fatigue, difficulty sleeping, anxiety or that they just don’t feel well. Instead of writing a prescription for a pill, Lin often offers a handout on abdominal breathing along with a quick lesson.


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