It has been said that the best things in life are free and when it comes to your health that is undoubtedly true.

It has been said that the best things in life are free and when it comes to your health that is undoubtedly true.  We are often looking for health in all the wrong places and your greatest asset may have been right under your nose all along. 

            What is the most valuable substance you can take into your body that is needed by every cell?  You cannot live without some of it and you can greatly improve your health by learning to get more of it into you.  Cancer can’t live in its presence.  Even though it is a miraculous product, you are not likely to hear it advertised.  It can be bought, but this fantastic substance is free if used fully before an illness strikes.

It can help prevent colds and flu, corrects nasal congestion, can act as a tranquilizer, aids digestion, and increases alertness.  This natural ingredient can improve your complexion (decreasing the need for cosmetics) and it can even decrease pain and alleviate nausea.  It is everywhere, and it is free for the taking but we rarely get enough of it.  This miraculous and life-giving substance is oxygen!

Because of sedentary indoor lifestyles, most of us have become shallow breathers.  Only the upper portion of the lungs is brought into play and the entire body suffers from a lack of oxygen.  This shallow and superficial pattern of breathing is occasionally interrupted by a deeper breath, such as a yawn-the desperate reflex of air-thirsty lungs.

            The first thing to remember in learning to breathe properly is that the mouth was not designed to be a part of the breathing mechanism.  As they say in yoga, the nose was made for breathing and the mouth was made for eating (and talking, etc.).  You need to breathe through the nostrils, which contain hundreds of tiny hairs to filter dust particles and germs from the air and because the two air passages of the nose lead to the back of the mouth where the adenoids are located.  The adenoids are soft and filled with lymph nodes to trap any poisons entering with the air.  The tonsils perform a similar duty.  When these lymphatic glands are healthy, they help prevent harmful bacteria from entering the body through the respiratory system.

            A better way to breathe is costal breathing, involving action from the ribs, which rise when you inhale.  Practiced slowly and rhythmically,  this type of breathing can keep the chest muscles elastic and helps prevent rigidity in the entire chest area as one grows older.

            The best type of all is abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing, which fills both the lower and middle lungs with air.  Such action takes a conscious effort and practice.  Begin by relaxing and closing the eyes.  Breathing in through the nose, breathe as if you are filling a jar from the bottom and slowly fill the lungs all the way to the neck.  The abdomen rises first and then on up through the chest.

            Take in as much air as you can into your fully expanded lungs.  Exhale slowly drawing in the abdomen, while contracting the ribs and relaxing your collarbone and shoulders.  It may help to count as you begin this kind of therapeutic breathing.  Breathe in to the count of four, hold to the count of four, and breathe out to the count of eight.  After practicing this type of breathing several times per day for a while, you may find that you can count to higher numbers.  Listen to your own body and enjoy this life enhancing exercise.

            Correct breathing should never be tiring.  On the contrary, it is a refresher and should energize the entire body.  When strengthened, the diaphragm assumes its proper function and plays an important role in breathing.  Correct breathing exerts slight pressure on the liver, stomach, and digestive tracts and acts a a mild massage.

              Even those people who are unable to do any kind of physical exertion can benefit tremendously from practicing deep abdominal breathing several times per day. 

            What do you have to lose?  I have never heard of a detrimental side effect and it may be the best medicine you could find.  Try it and surprise yourself!

            If you are willing to concentrate on correcting your breathing, even for a few days, you will find correct breathing can become a part of your daily life.

(Janice Norris lives in Heber Springs, has a B.S. in home economics from Murray State University, owned and operated health food stores in Illinois and Heber Springs, and wrote a weekly column in Illinois for 15 years. She can be reached at