The function of breathing is a vital one, and it immediately concerns the continuance of life. We can live many hours without sleeping, and many days without eating or drinking, but only a few minutes without breathing. The act of breathing is involuntary, but the manner of it, and the provision of the proper conditions for its healthy performance, falls within the scope of volition. Man will continue to breathe involuntarily, but he can voluntarily determine what he shall breathe, and how deeply and thoroughly he shall breathe; and he can, of his own volition, keep the physical mechanism in condition for the perfect performance of the function.
It is essential, if you wish to breathe in a perfectly healthy way, that the physical machinery used in the act should be kept in good condition. You must keep your spine moderately straight, and the muscles of your chest must be flexible and free in action. You cannot breathe in the right way if your shoulders are greatly stooped forward and your chest hollow and rigid. Sitting or standing at work in a slightly stooping position tends to produce hollow chest; so does lifting heavy weights—or light weights.
The tendency of work, of almost all kinds, is to pull the shoulders forward, curve the spine, and flatten the chest; and if the chest is greatly flattened, full and deep breathing becomes impossible, and perfect health is out of the question.
Various gymnastic exercises have been devised to counteract the effect of stooping while at work; such as hanging by the hands from a swing or trapeze bar, or sitting on a chair with thefeet under some heavy article of furniture and bending backward until the head touches the floor, and so on. All these are good enough in their way, but very few people will follow them long enough and regularly enough to accomplish any real gain in physique. The taking of “health exercises” of any kind is burdensome and unnecessary; there is a more natural, simpler, and much better way.
This better way is to keep yourself straight, and to breathe deeply. Let your mental conception of yourself be that you are a perfectly straight person, and whenever the matter comes to your mind, be sure that you instantly expand your chest, throw back your shoulders, and “straighten up.” Whenever you do this, slowly draw in your breath until you fill your lungs to their utmost capacity; “crowd in” all the air you possibly can; and while holding it for an instant in the lungs, throw your shoulders still further back, and stretch your chest; at the same time try to pull your spine forward between the shoulders. Then let the air go easily.
This is the one great exercise for keeping the chest full, flexible, and in good condition. Straighten up; fill your lungs FULL; stretch your chest and straighten your spine, and exhale easily. And this exercise you must repeat, in season and out of season, at all times and in all places, until you form a habit of doing it; you can easily do so. Whenever you step out of doors into the fresh, pure air, BREATHE. When you are at work, and think of yourself and your position, BREATHE. When you are in company, and are reminded of the matter, BREATHE. When you are awake in the night, BREATHE. No matter where you are or what you are doing, whenever the idea comes to your mind, straighten up and BREATHE. If you walk to and from your work, take the exercise all the way; it will soon become a delight to you; you will keep it up, not for the sake of health, but as a matter of pleasure.
Do not consider this a “health exercise”; never take health exercises, or do gymnastics to make you well. To do so is to recognize sickness as a present fact or as a possibility, which is precisely what you must not do. The people who are always taking exercises for their health are always thinking about being sick. It ought to be a matter of pride with you to keep your spine straight and strong; as much so as it is to keep your face clean. Keep your spine straight, and your chest full and flexible for the same reason that you keep your hands clean and your nails manicured; because it is slovenly to do otherwise. Do it without a thought of sickness, present or possible. You must either be crooked and unsightly, or you must be straight; and if you are straight your breathing will take care of itself. You will find the matter of health exercises referred to again in a future chapter.
It is essential, however, that you should breathe AIR. It appears to be the intention of nature that the lungs should receive air containing its regular percentage of oxygen, and not greatly contaminated by other gases, or by filth of any kind. Do not allow yourself to think that you are compelled to live or work where the air is not fit to breathe. If your house cannot be properly ventilated, move; and if you are employed where the air is bad, get another job; you can, by practicing the methods given in the preceding volume of this series—”THE SCIENCE OF GETTING RICH.” If no one would consent to work in bad air, employers would speedily see to it that all work rooms were properly ventilated. The worst air is that from which the oxygen has been exhausted by breathing; as that of churches and theaters where crowds of people congregate, and the outlet andsupply of air are poor. Next to this is air containing other gases than oxygen and hydrogen—sewer gas, and the effluvium from decaying things. Air that is heavily charged with dust or particles of organic matter may be endured better than any of these. Small particles of organic matter other than food are generally thrown off from the lungs; but gases go into the blood.
I speak advisedly when I say “other than food.” Air is largely a food. It is the most thoroughly alive thing we take into the body. Every breath carries in millions of microbes, many of which are assimilated. The odors from earth, grass, tree, flower, plant, and from cooking foods are foods in themselves; they are minute particles of the substances from which they come, and are often so attenuated that they pass directly from the lungs into the blood, and are assimilated without digestion. And the atmosphere is permeated with the One Original Substance, which is life itself. Consciously recognize this whenever you think of your breathing, and think that you are breathing in life; you really are, and conscious recognition helps the process. See to it that you do not breathe air containing poisonous gases, and that you do not rebreathe the air which has been used by yourself or others.
That is all there is to the matter of breathing correctly. Keep your spine straight and your chest flexible, and breathe pure air, recognizing with thankfulness the fact that you breathe in the Eternal Life. That is not difficult; and beyond these things give little thought to your breathing except to thank God that you have learned how to do it perfectly.