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Stop Erasing: A Lesson In Conscious Living

May 19, 2014

I was in an art class with Mrs Nyland, Willem Nyland’s wife, at the San Francisco Gurdjieff Foundation many years ago. As I was drawing, not very well in my estimation, she came over to me and strongly suggested that I stop erasing everything I had done and just move on, accepting how I manifested. A painful but great lesson in conscious living!

My wife and I were talking recently about the fact that many people say that if only they could live their lives over again, they would change this and that and so on and so forth. What an illusion! The fact is, though I might be tempted, there’s nothing that I would change (even if I could), for everything has brought me to exactly this moment with riches I never imagined! And I do indeed accept my life–all of it, including not just the great beauty and love, but also the confusion, pain, and suffering.

Copyright 2014, Dennis Lewis

A Simple Practice to Relax Your Eyes and Nervous System

March 20, 2014

Tense eyes are often a sign of the over-arousal of your sympathetic nervous system, which readies you for the ‘fight or flight or freeze’ syndrome and results in, among other things, both breath holding and excessively fast breathing.

To help keep your eyes relaxed and your nervous system calm, sense your eyes intermittently throughout the day. If they’re tense, close them, rub your palms together until they’re warm, and cup them gently over your eyes. Sense the warmth from your palms entering your eyes and let them relax back into their sockets for a minute or two as you breathe slowly and evenly through your nose. Try it right now!

You can find more deep relaxation practices in my book Breathe Into Being.

Insulin Levels and Breathing

March 18, 2014

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What and how much we eat can have a powerful influence on our aerobic capacity, which depends in large part on the diameter of the capillaries around our lung tissue. The larger the diameter of the capillaries, the more oxygen will be transferred to the red blood cells.

According to Barry Sears in The Age Free Zone (New York: Regan Books/Harper Collins: 1999, p. 21), elevated insulin produces excessive amounts of hormones called vasoconstrictors that decrease the diameter of the capillaries and thus impede oxygen flow to the cells. When our insulin is in the normal range, we produce more vasodilators, which actually increase the diameter of the capillaries, thus facilitating oxygen transfer.

What’s more, says Sears, oxygen transfer depends on ‘the flexibility of your red blood cells.’ Certain hormones in the body either make it easier or harder for the red blood cells ‘to contort or deform themselves as they squeeze through the capillaries. . . .’ Elevated insulin produces hormones that make our red blood cells less flexible and thus less able to bring oxygen to the cells.”

Copyright by Dennis Lewis, text extracted from my book Free Your Breath, Free Your Life

Laughter Can Reduce Stress and Help Us Heal

March 12, 2014

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We have known for a long time that laughter can help us heal. Norman Cousins wrote extensively on this subject, and recent research has shown that laughter reduces at least four hormones associated with stress. In fact, laughter is one of the most powerful stress-reducing tools we have at our disposal. Laughter also helps increase the level of immunoglobulin A, which helps protect us from flu and cold viruses, as well as from upper respiratory problems. Laughter, especially a good belly laugh, is also a good source of cardiac exercise and promotes better breathing. It strengthens the breathing muscles in a natural way, and makes them more supple. It also helps clear the lungs of toxins.

I have written and spoken often of some of the workshops I attended with Taoist master Mantak Chia, who, as an exercise, frequently got the whole class (often more than 100 people) laughing for 10-15 minutes at a time. After such experiences many of us felt not only invigorated, but also relaxed, our breathing slower and fuller.

Try it sometimes with your friends. Sit together in a room and start making funny faces at one another. It won’t take long before you all find yourselves immersed in deep belly laughter. A few minutes of such laughter every day may well help your breathing, support your health and well-being, and lengthen your life.

Incense and Candles in Churches Can Cause Respiratory Problems

March 11, 2014

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Research shows that air inside churches, filled with pollutants from burning candles and incense, may be a bigger health risk than the air we breathe on major roads. Air in churches was found to be considerably higher in carcinogenic polycyclic hydrocarbons than air on roads traveled by 45,000 vehicles a day. The air inside churches also had levels of tiny solid pollutants (PM10s) up to 20 times as high as the European limits. The study, by Maastricht University, The Netherlands, was published in the European Respiratory Journal.

According to Dr Richard Russell of the British Thoracic Society, “Particle pollution, whether it be in an outdoor or indoor environment, can be a danger to lung health and cause respiratory diseases such as emphysema and bronchitis.

“More research needs to be done in this area but we would also recommend that churches look at ways to reduce indoor air pollution such as improving ventilation.”

Read the entire BBC News story

Commentary by Dennis Lewis

In my book Free Your Breath, Free Your Life, I wrote about the respiratory dangers of candles, incense, and chemical fragrances. Now comes this news story that shows how candles and incense in churches can cause major respiratory problems. I believe that this is a serious matter not just for church goers, but for anyone who is frequently exposed to smoke from candles and incense during meditation, workshops, or any other events where indoor ventilation is poor. Add this “indoor pollution” to the growing pollution we face on city streets and elsewhere, and I think it is easy to see why respiratory illnesses are on the rise.

Some Potential Dangers for Westerners of Advanced Pranayama Exercises

March 9, 2014

People who don’t breathe naturally, who, for example, carry unnecessary tension in their chests, backs, and bellies, face potential dangers when doing advanced pranayama exercises. People who practice advanced yoga breathing exercises without good teachers or much experience can easily hurt their diaphragms and other breathing muscles. They can also cause imbalances in their internal chemistry.

For most people, one of the main keys to transforming one’s breathing in a safe and effective way has to do with gradually relaxing and opening up all the breathing structures of the body, with releasing unnecessary tension, so that the body is free to breathe in the way it was designed to breathe, with harmonious coordination of the various breathing muscles and tissues. In general, this process requires deep, dynamic relaxation, not willful effort. It also requires inner sensitivity and awareness, a more intimate contact with our sensations. Here is a quote about this issue from the introduction to my book The Tao of Natural Breathing.

“The great spiritual pathfinder G. I. Gurdjieff … warned that without complete knowledge of our organism, especially of the interrelationships of the rhythms of our various organs, efforts to change our breathing can bring great harm. It is clear that work with breathing, especially some of the advanced yogic breathing techniques (pranayama) taught in the West through both classes and books, is fraught with many dangers. In his book Hara: The Vital Center of Man, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim–a pioneer in the integration of body, mind, and spirit–discusses some of the dangers of teaching yogic breathing techniques to Westerners. He points out that most of these exercises, which ‘imply tension,’ were designed for Indians, who suffer from ‘an inert letting-go.’ Westerners, on the other hand, suffer from ‘too much upward pull … too much will.’ Dürckheim states that even though many yoga teachers try to help their students relax before giving them breathing exercises, they do not realize that the ‘letting-go’ required for deep relaxation can be achieved ‘only after long practice.’ At best, says Dürckheim, giving breathing exercises prematurely grafts new tensions onto the already established ones, and brings about ‘an artificially induced vitality … followed by a condition of exhaustion and the aspirant discontinues his efforts, his practice.'”

Copyright 1997 – 2014 by Dennis Lewis

Humming for Health

March 6, 2014

In a study that was reported in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine (2002; 166: 144-145), researchers at the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden found that nitric oxide levels in the sinuses were 15 times higher during humming than during normal, quiet exhalations. Nitric oxide (NO) helps to dilate the capillary beds and increase blood flow. Humming had the effect of dramatically increasing the gas exchange in the nasal sinuses. If fact, during normal exhalation the gas exchange between the nasal passages and the sinuses was about 4 percent. When the volunteers (all “healthy”) hummed, the gas increased to about 98 percent.

A poor exchange of gas, as well as poor circulation, in the sinus cavities, creates an ideal environment for the growth of bacteria and viruses. And this can quickly lead to infection. Based on the results of their study, the researchers believe that regular breathing exercises that involve humming may be able to help reduce the incidence of sinusitis and infections in the upper respiratory tract.

Over the past years, I have been including sound-oriented breathing practices, including humming, in the work with breathing that I teach. Done on a daily basis, humming can help relax us and increase our mental and emotional clarity. I am sure that researchers will soon find, if they haven’t already, that humming can greatly increase oxygenation and blood flow not just in the sinus cavities but also in the brain and elsewhere in the body. In fact, I have included in my book Free Your Breath, Free Your Life an entire section about how humming and other sounds during exhalation can beneficially influence our overall health and well-being.

Copyright 2014 by Dennis Lewis

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