Richard G. Petty, MD


“Without mastering breathing, nothing can be mastered.”
–George Gurdjieff (Armenian-born Adept, Teacher and Writer, c.1873-1949)

I strongly recommend breathing. It’s actually one of my favorite pastimes….

Of course breathing is all-important, but it is just as important to ensure that you are breathing in good quality air. Scattered throughout the world are weather fronts accompanied by hot dry winds of ill repute:

These are just some of these winds, that have been known for centuries to precipitate a variety of symptoms in the exposed population, including depression, irritability, insomnia and headaches. The explanation of these effects is an increase in the number of positive ions in the atmosphere, which alter the amount of serotonin in some parts of the brain. I was consulted about an epidemic of headaches amongst people working in an electrically insulated room. It soon became clear that the setup had allowed an enormous concentration of positive ions, and once they installed a negative ionizer virtually all the headaches stopped. We believe that many of the beneficial effects of high altitudes or of being near waterfalls of fountains spring from the way in which they generate large numbers of negative ions.

Poor oxygenation of the lungs has been known for many years to be associated with disease. Pulmonary tuberculosis classically affects the upper lobes of the lung, where there is the poorest oxygenation, and it has been known for a century that people suffering from a blockage of the mitral valve of the heart, which leads to high blood pressure in the lungs, do not get tuberculosis in that part of the lungs.

Conscious control of the breath enables us to modulate the activity of the autonomic nervous system. Specific types of breathing can induce specific psychological and physical effects.

We usually breathe through one nostril at a time. Either the right or left nostril is dominant for anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours. You then switch sides. This is known as the nasal cycle, and is one of the faster circadian rhythms. The popular yogic practice of single nostril breathing is thought to feedback directly into the hypothalamus of the brain. You can learn to use this to your advantage. If you are right handed, if you direct your focus onto opening the right nostril, you may well find an increase in salivation, which is an aid to good digestion. A useful trick that we have used for many years is at bedtime to start by lying on your left side, which has the effect of opening the right nostril, and after ten minutes roll onto your right side for sleep. Again you reverse this if you are left hand dominant. It seems that this simple trick lowers your core temperature, which is one of the main determinants of sleep. There is some research that opening the right nostril increases body temperature, while opening the left has a calming effect. These techniques are often very helpful. Apart from these physical effects, using the breath is one of the quickest ways to learn to sense the subtle forces of the body.

You may already have some breathing practice that you like, and by all means continue using it. If you need a new one, the simplest that I have ever been taught, and that I have used with countless students and patients is this:
Count your breaths. Breathe deeply using your abdominal muscles, so that you are drawing more air into your lungs. Stop immediately if you feel faint or dizzy. As thoughts come up, keep concentrating on the incoming and outgoing breath. Gradually slow the breath, by extending the pause between the inhalation and exhalation.

I always make myself unpopular when I insist that people check with a healthcare provider before stating any exercise plan, including breathing. But I’m going to say it anyway. It just makes good sense!

“Controlled deep breathing helps the body to transform the air we breathe into energy. The stream of energized air produced by properly executed and controlled deep breathing produces a current of inner energy which radiates throughout the entire body and can be channeled to the body areas that need it the most, on demand. It can be used to fuel a specific physical effort, such as tennis or jogging. Or you can use this current of inner energy to relieve muscular tension throughout the body, revitalize a tired mind, or soothe localized aches and pains.”
–Nancy Zi (American-born Chinese Opera Singer, Voice Teacher and Qigong Expert)

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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