ARS VIVENDI (ART OF LIVING)
CHAPTER 3: BREATHING
THE adage "Familiarity breeds contempt" is very strikingly illustrated in the way in which "the man in the street" treats the function of breathing. To look at nine out of every ten persons to be met with during the course of the day, one would think that their greatest solicitude is to take every possible precaution against giving the lungs free play. They seem to take positive pride in literally sitting on their chest and bottling up the avenues of respiration, and then consider it the right thing to complain of indigestion, liver, rheumatism, gout, neurasthenia, or anything else that a pompous nomenclature can invent in the way of fashionable ailments. In face of the simple principles of health, nothing appears to me so utterly contemptible as the multiplication of names of diseases.
Without exaggeration, it is safe to assert that fully three-fourths of the various forms of ill-health can be directly and indirectly traced to deficient breathing. This leaves a sufficient allowance for accidents, poisons, and causes over which the individual may have no control.
Breathing is the immediate motive power of the whole animal machine. When breathing begins, the machine starts. When breathing stops, the machine stops. It is the most mighty factor in life -- nay more, it is Life Itself. To breathe is to live, and to live is to breathe, from the highest organism to the lowest. The more one breathes -- not only physically, but mentally and spiritually as well (when the nature of Breathing is comprehended, Mental and Spiritual Breathing is understood) -- the more rich, abundant, and splendid the life; the less one breathes, the less becomes the life, till it reaches the stagnation of death.
The following definition is applicable to all the planes of being: "Breathing is the act of interchange between the Universal and the Particular, whereby Individual Life is generated."
THE PHYSIOLOGY OF RESPIRATION
In the lowest organisms the exchange of gases necessary for every living cell is carried on by direct diffusion, without the intermediation of respiratory organs. In the vertebrata, the act of respiration becomes twofold -- internal, or the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the organism, and external, or the preliminary process, by which a supply of oxygen is obtained.
The external and internal again can be considered under two aspects; so that breathing, viewed as a whole, can be divided into four parts.
1. The actual respiratory movements, (a) Inspiration, (b) Retention, (c) Expiration.
2. The exchange of gases taking place in the lungs between the air and the pulmonary blood.
3. Internal respiration, or the exchange of gases between the arterial blood (purified in the lungs) and tissue and lymph.
4. The actual chemical changes which subsequently take place in the living tissues, and which constitute the life of the organism as a whole, and of each cell in particular.
"The breath of life" is thus not a poetic phrase, but the expression of an actual fact, for life is the result of breathing. Before birth, the lungs have no elasticity, and contain no air; after birth, the alveoli or air-cells, of which the lungs are composed, open out to receive the air, and the fire of life is kindled. The brightness or dullness of this fire depends upon the presence of oxygen, and Nature has elaborated the most wonderfully ingenious mechanism in order to ensure an abundant supply. The lung is made up of air-cells, the walls of which are covered with a close network of capillaries, containing the blood to be purified. Physiologists have computed that the total capillary surface exposed to the action of the air is about 150 square meters, while the surface of the alveoli amounts to about 200 square meters. It will thus be seen what immense importance Nature attaches to perfect and complete oxygenation of the blood.
THE OPEN-AIR TREATMENT OF CONSUMPTION
Ill-health or bodily weakness: what is it but the cry of the millions of millions of cells in a particular organ, and in the whole system, for oxygen? What wonder is it that the cells give up the struggle of life in despair, when you, the father and king they look to for protection and support, refuse to listen to their cries and starve them to death, by refusing to breathe enough of the fresh air around you! Consumption, cancer, and hosts of other names so dear to the heart of the patient and the doctor, are but weeds that grow in a soil impoverished by a deficient supply of oxygen. The Open-Air Treatment of Consumption had been advocated by hydropathists and hygienists all through the nineteenth century. The medical profession would have none of it, but went in for booming every quack-remedy it could lay hands on, till the climax was reached in the Koch fiasco. Who can forget the tremendous booming of Dr. Koch and his cure of consumption that was carried on by the bacteriologists in every part of the civilised world? Was there ever a more pronounced and utter failure? After all the labour of the mountains, not even the ridiculous mouse came forth. The curative value of his "lymph" is absolutely nil.
So far as the Open-Air Treatment of Consumption is concerned, it is certainly a beginning in the right direction, and a reform of the old, stupid, and idiotic ideas of treatment. But it is only a beginning. The "Open-air Treatment" sounds very well, but if the patient is not taught the importance of breathing deeply and fully, and, in fact, put through a systematic course of instruction in the science and art of acquiring mental and bodily vigour, the "Open-Air" system will not be enough. A little while ago, I went over a hospital for consumption, and could not help being astonished at seeing how much the medical profession is behind the times so far as the question of health and the cure of disease are concerned. This sanatorium is considered to be one of the most up-to-date in the United Kingdom, and so far as scrupulous cleanliness is concerned, the arrangements are excellent; but in almost every aspect touching the cure of disease it has much to learn, as will be seen from the following considerations.
1. The air of the place is far too relaxing. The treatment of Consumption is best carried on in a bracing and exhilarating air, not in mild, enervating atmosphere.
2. Every invalid should be practically taught the rudiments of Health, the influence of mental emotion upon the organism, the practice of Concentration, the right use of Imagination, and Cultivation of Will-Power. There should be systematic Breathing and other exercises, graduated according to the strength of each individual patient.
3. Transference of Nerve-Energy from a healthy operator should be daily carried out in every case that was far gone.
4. The whole establishment should vibrate with the life-giving force of a Dominant mind, whose Healing Suggestions would overpower the fear and the despair so natural in the man or woman upon whom consumption has fastened its icy grip.
A sanatorium run on those lines is the ideal establishment. Contemplating that ideal, and comparing it with this hospital, I could not help being struck with the total absence of Active Treatment, and of the Science and Art of Curing disease. When, however, I thought of the barbarous "treatment" in vogue a few years ago -- the drugging, the bleeding, the shutting out the blessed fresh air from the room of the consumptive -- I felt thankful that the medical fraternity had taken this small step -- and Heaven knows it is small enough -- in the right direction. But my feeling is akin to Hamlet's advice to the first Player, who says with the pride of his art: "I hope we have reformed that indifferently with us," "O reform it altogether." Let the physician cease to be the apothecary as he has ceased to be the leech, and let him take his stand as the master and teacher, who instructs his generation in the laws of Physiology and Psychology, and the Supreme Science of the Development of Man. Thus only shall we free humanity from the grip of disease.
RULES FOR BREATHING
1. The first requisite is to have a due sense of the importance of full breathing. The mind must grasp the principle in order to work intelligently and steadfastly. Therefore, enter, as it were, into the spirit of this chapter before attempting to reform your ordinary breathing.
2. Then begin by simply taking longer breaths than you have been accustomed to take. This can be done sitting, lying down, standing, or walking.
3. This advice would be quite enough, were it not for the inherent conservatism of the system itself, which resists any change in its habits as obstinately as the orthodox theologian or doctor any innovation on his own pet notions; and also for the marvellous ingenuity displayed by the average person in hitting upon the wrong way of doing anything.
4. There is no necessity whatever to sniff, or snort, or suck the air in. Correct these habits sternly, and practise breathing quietly.
5. You should exercise the whole of the lungs equally. Women, owing to tight lacing, as a rule breathe only with the upper part of the lung. Men prefer the abdominal breathing, but the developed breathing should exercise the whole of the lung.
6. After the lungs are full, retain the air for a few seconds, then breathe out slowly and evenly, not in sudden gasps.
7. This practice at first should be carried out, say, three times daily, for five or ten minutes, according to individual strength and capacity. Care must be taken not to strain or over-tire. The development should be slow, gradual, and methodical. A good plan would be to put a watch on the table and breathe in and out three times in the minute, and by degrees accustom the organism to slow and regular full breathing.