When it comes to the fundamentals of nutrition and health, it doesn’t get any more fundamental than oxygen. Oxygen is a vital nutrient, perhaps the most vital of all. We can go without food and water for days at a time. We can go without oxygen, in the form of normal breathing, for only a few minutes. The air we breathe is a most precious and vital nutrient. Most people do not breathe correctly and therefore are unintentionally insulting the normal oxygenation of blood, lymph, organs and cells on a continual basis.

The foundation of every traditional medical and meditation tradition is proper breathing. Proper breathing is one of the first complementary habits I learned in the earliest days of my healing journey. Proper breathing is one of the most important habits we can teach ourselves and share with the people we care about the most. Here is the basic explanation I give to my clients.

Tension anywhere in the body will reduce circulation and make it difficult for normal functioning to take place. Tension in the abdomen can be partly or entirely responsible for many uncomfortable digestive system problems. We must all learn to relax. The key to relaxation is proper breathing.

This is a simple explanation of yogic breathing or abdominal breathing. Practicing this breathing exercise for only ten full breaths, two or three times a day, can be very effective in alleviating many symptoms of imbalance and disharmony. Some of these symptoms include: anger, depression, anxiety, worry, fatigue and indigestion.

There are many others. Proper breathing will increase oxygen flow throughout the body, help you relax and help you manage your negative stress more effectively.

Sit in a comfortable chair or lie on the floor on your back. If you lie on the floor, make sure you have a pad or blanket to lie on. You need to be comfortable for this to work. Close your eyes or keep them open slightly and gently focused on a point on the floor or ceiling. Focus on a point on the floor if you are sitting in a chair. Focus on a point on the ceiling if you are lying down on the floor. Notice how you are breathing normally. Notice how much time it takes for a normal breath to come in and go out. Are you breathing through your nose or through your mouth? How deep does the breath get into your body? Can you feel the breath down to the bottom of each lung? Or does it feel like your breath gets stuck somewhere half-way down your throat? Most of us, without conscious effort and attention to the contrary, are shallow breathers. Shallow breathing on a regular and continual basis can lead to tension, nervousness, anxiety and deprive our cells of the complete oxygen supply they need to function normally.

Let’s begin the conscious breathing exercise right now. Go slowly. Take your time. Relax.

Let all the air out of your lungs through your mouth and when it is all out, exaggerate your out-breath by blowing outwards a few more seconds. When you do this, you should notice a slight contraction in your upper abdomen, just below your rib cage. If you have never tried this before, you have just succeeded in your first conscious abdominal breath! The muscle just below your rib cage that acts like a bellows when we exercise it properly is called the diaphragm. Diaphragmatic or abdominal (or yogic) breathing is the most effective way to oxygenate our blood without more elaborate exercise programs. It can be done almost anywhere (as long as you don’t mind other people staring at you).

Try breathing in through both nostrils this time and as you draw in this new breath, do it as slowly and methodically as possible. Exaggerate the slowness and luxuriate in the simple act of taking in a larger than normal volume of air into your lungs. Remember to go slowly. No rush, no hurry. It will take a while to get the hang of this. Imagine the air descending to the bottom of each lung and diffusing out of the lungs and into the rest of your body. Visualize the oxygen diffusing into your blood and from there outwards into every cell in your entire body.

Imagine the oxygen attracting and gathering a variety of gaseous toxins into itself and then, at the point when you can no longer comfortably keep breathing in…pause for a few seconds…then simply become aware that you have completely filled every square inch of space inside your lungs. At the point of your fullest lung capacity, yet still remaining completely relaxed and comfortable and no tension anywhere, begin to very slowly exhale through your mouth, as if you were letting the air out of a very large balloon a little bit at a time. Visualize the release of all that carbon dioxide and all those other toxins attached to it. Visualize the millions of little air sacs (alveoli), cleansed of all their impurities. Visualize that every cell in your entire body just received a better supply of oxygen and got rid of many unwanted and dangerous toxins. When your exhalation is complete, force out just a little more air, but stay comfortable.

Pause a quiet second or two before you begin a new inhalation. With the new inhalation, see if you can taste and feel the quality of the air you are breathing in as it streams in through your nostrils, some into your mouth and around your tongue, down your throat and into your lungs. Exaggerate the inhalation and consciously pull the air into the center of your belly and fill up your entire abdomen as if it were a giant bellows or hot air balloon. Once filled, repeat the exercise as described above. Repeat this exercise a minimum of ten times and with each inhalation and exhalation, see if you notice any changes in how your body-mind responds. Do this slowly in a gentle series of ten complete breaths. Do it three times a day for a week and see if you notice any changes in your overall energy, vitality, sense of alertness and sense of calmness.

Of course, if you would like to do this longer than ten breaths, feel free. Most people who use this exercise or some variant as part of their regular habit of meditation usually suggest a time frame between twenty and forty minutes, twice daily for optimum results.


Russell is a Health Educator, Digestive Wellness expert and has been in private practice since 1980.  He is the author of 2 books: Principle Eating: The No Diet Way to Complete Health and Healing Digestive Illness: Root Causes and Solutions.

Please click on the above book titles to learn more. You can contact Russell directly by calling The Center for Functional Nutrition @413-536-3322 and a Team Member will assist you with any needs and questions. You can also book a free 30-minute First Step Conversation directly with Russell by clicking this link.