The Lungs
Stoking the Inner Fires

As you read this article, you will probably breathe ten to fourteen times each minute. With each breath you will take in about a half-quart of air or five to seven quarts per minute, and if you needed to, you could take in much more. For instance, if a dinosaur suddenly broke into your room and chased you around, you might find yourself breathing 200 quarts of air per minute, which is more than 25 times what you are breathing now.

But with no beast in sight we can take a few minutes to learn about these lungs of ours which expand and contract 20,000 times a day, our personal bellows that keep our inner fire going. The lungs are the only organs that everyone is able to control consciously. They are also becoming the leading candidate to be named the ‘Organ of the Decade’ because they are on so many people’s minds. There are 30 million joggers who think about how well their lungs are working. There are thousands of meditators who consider their lungs to be instrumental in making their dreams come true. There are the doctors who know that respiratory problems are the fourth leading cause of death. There are also the middle-aged men who are aware that lung cancer is the number one male cancer. In addition, there are the women who have learned that the lung cancer rate among women has risen so fast during the last 20 years that by the mid ‘80s it will be the number one cancer with women, too. Then there are the tobacco company’s 60 million smoking clients who wonder whether they should quit before anything unpleasant happens. With a knowledge of our breathing and lungs we will be much better prepared to make the decisions that the coming years will call on us to make.

Here is a quick test of your lung condition. Simply breathe in as much air as you can in one breath, and then exhale. How did it feel? Did you cough or feel any pain or stiffness? If so, then things could be better, and you have the possibility of greater health and fitness in your future.

Everyone’s breathing abilities are different. For instance, men in general can breathe in about 25 percent more air than women. An average man at rest breathes about a half-quart of air with each breath, but could actually fit about three more quarts into his lungs. After a normal breath, there are still over two quarts of air left in the lungs, and even if we breathe out as much as we can there will still be over a quart left inside. This is as it should be because it keeps the lungs from collapsing and also keeps oxygen going into the blood at all times.

What is all this air doing to us? One thing breathing does is bring oxygen into our lungs. There our blood picks up the oxygen, turns bright red and goes back to our heart where it is pumped through our arteries to our body cells. The cells take in the oxygen, combine it with sugar or fat, and a low-level fire results. The burning is called oxidation, and it gives off the energy that our cells need while leaving behind carbon dioxide and water as by-products.

The carbon dioxide is picked up by the blood (which is now dark and slightly bluish) and carried back to the lungs where it passes into the air and is breathed out with a certain amount of water. The remaining excess water is picked up and taken out by the kidneys.

The path that air takes into our lungs begins at the nose, where the air approaches as a single stream and divides into two streams as it enters our nostrils. These two streams then merge into one at the back of our mouth and throat (an area called the pharynx). This single stream goes down past our larynx surrounded by bands of cartilage.

Four or five inches below our larynx the windpipe branches into two bronchi, one going to each lung. Once inside the lungs, the two bronchi begin to divide, always with one becoming two, and continue dividing until there are 20 to 22 bronchi in each lung. From here on they are called bronchioles and these continue dividing until they bring the air and blood together in 300 million separate round rooms called alveoli. These little spaces are where the blood and the air exchange their contents.

The lungs themselves weigh about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds each, are about eight or nine inches long, and are very dense. The right lung is about 10 percent bigger than the left and is divided into three sections or lobes, while the left one is smaller in order to make room for the heart (which is on the left side), and has two lobes. Along with the heart, the lungs are snugly fit into the upper ribcage and surrounded by a thin layer of water that makes them stick to the ribs and expand when the ribcage expands.

Between the ribs are muscles which can expand or contract the ribcage, but the main work of breathing is done by a large sheet of muscle called the diaphragm. This divides the ribcage horizontally at the level of the bottom of the breastbone and is both the floor on which the lungs and heart sit as well as the arched dome over the liver and stomach. Because of its bell-shape, when the diaphragm contract ‘s it flattens out in a downward direction, expanding the lungs and at the same time pressing down on the liver, stomach, and intestines. This is why the belly swells whenever we breathe in a relaxed way, giving all the organs a stimulating massage. When we rest or sleep we use the diaphragm exclusively, but if we are tense or exercising then the rib muscles (intercostals) are used to expand the ribcage.

The blood capillaries that circle the walls of each alveoli are very small and thin and cover the walls of these little round rooms like a fine net. The capillaries are so narrow that the red blood cells actually carry the oxygen, while the carbon dioxide has to squeeze through. When we are at rest the red blood cells have about three-quarters of a second in which to zip through and trade their carbon dioxide for oxygen, but during hard exercise this time is cut to one-third of a second.

Our blood takes about one minute to circulated through the body and come back to the heart. This means that every minute the lungs have to do business with about 35 trillion red blood cells, all of which have to be allowed to glide around an alveoli and get some air. The lungs are well-designed to handle this because the surface area available for the blood cells and air to meet is about the size of a tennis court. The largest amount of blood contained in both lungs at any one time is a cup, and if we imagine this spread out over a tennis court we can get an image of how effective this arrangement is.

Within the red blood cells are molecules of hemoglobin, a special iron-containing protein that is able to pick up oxygen, carry it to the cells, and then release it. The carbon dioxide is carried back to the lungs by the rest of the red blood cells.

One problem that can hamper our oxygen supply is exposure to carbon monoxide, which is made of only one carbon and one oxygen atom. It is a major ingredient in both car exhaust and cigarette smoke and can cause big problems. Carbon monoxide is much more attracted to hemoglobin than oxygen. When it attaches to hemoglobin it wonÕt let go and keeps the hemoglobin from carrying any oxygen to the hungry cells. If enough hemoglobin is taken out of action, the result is death.

In less than fatal doses carbon monoxide can also have a strong effect. Cigarette smoke contains about 4 percent carbon monoxide. 2 percent of the hemoglobin in the average nonsmoker is bound to carbon monoxide while a pack-a-day smoker may lose from 5 to 15 percent of his or her hemoglobin. Since carbon monoxide takes at least three to four hours to be eliminated from the blood, a person who smokes 20 cigarettes a day can have his or her oxygen system completely disabled.

To compensate for a lack of oxygen, the body will shift into a higher gear and make the heart beat faster and harder. The nerves get excited, the number of red blood cells increase, and the breathing rate gets faster. This results in a tense or excited condition. Another result is a lessened ability to supply oxygen during exercise. A smoker, for instance, would have to work harder than a nonsmoker to get the same amount of oxygen to the muscles, providing all, other things are equal.

This increased tension and nervous excitement caused by the carbon monoxide in cigarettes may also cause trouble for meditators and others who are trying to reach higher levels of consciousness. In some cases a high degree of nervous control and relaxation are needed, and the nervous and bodily excitement that accompany smoking may not help. In general, every type of food and every substance that we take in will exert some control over our physical and mental condition. This makes it very important that 1) we have a clear idea of what kind of physical and mental condition we want to have, and 2) that we carefully choose foods, activities, and ways of thinking that will help us achieve our goals.

Besides burning food, there is another source of energy that we can tap when we use our lungs. This is the ocean of vibrations that fills our surroundings. These vibrations or energies have many names, including spirit, electromagnetic energy, ki, prana, and others. These vibrations cannot be detected by our regular senses, but require a more refined sensitivity. Unfortunately, most people have lost this ability because of the modern diet and lifestyle, although i still exists and exerts a great power.

The vibrations at the earth’s surface take the form of two energy flows, one going down and one going up. These are both always flowing and are energizing and charging our bodies. Whenever we breathe in we become more energized by upward flow and can actually feel ourselves rising, feeling more ‘up’ and ‘inspired.’ On the other hand, when we breathe out, we feel heavier and more ‘down.’ The activity of the lungs influences not only the energy released from our food, but the amounts and quality of the energy flowing through our brains and bodies.

For instance, when we are angry, we tend to breathe out in strong bursts. When we laugh, we breathe out in longer, broken streams of air. When we are depressed we tend to breathe out in long sighs. When we emphasize breathing out we become warmer and to cool off we breathe in more. When we are tense, we intuitively breathe a long, sustained number one male cancer. In addition, there are the women who have learned that the lung cancer rate among women has risen so fast during the last 20 years that by the mid ‘80s it will be the number one cancer with women, too. Then there are the tobacco company’s 60 million smoking clients who wonder whether they should quit before anything unpleasant happens. With a knowledge of our breathing and lungs we will be much better prepared to make the decisions that the coming years will call on us to make.

Here is a quick test of your lung condition. Simply breathe in as much air as you can in one breath, and then exhale. How did it feel? Did you cough or feel any pain or stiffness? If so, then things could be better, and you have the possibility of greater health and fitness in your future.

Everyone’s breathing abilities are different. For instance, men in general can breathe in about 25 percent more air than women. An average man at rest breathes about a half-quart of air with each breath, but could actually fit about three more quarts into his lungs. After a normal breath, there are still over two quarts of air left in the lungs, and even if we breathe out as much as we can there will still be over a quart left inside. This is as it should be because it keeps the lungs from collapsing and also keeps oxygen going into the blood at all times.

What is all this air doing to us? One thing breathing does is bring oxygen into our lungs. There our blood picks up the oxygen, turns bright red and goes back to our heart where it is pumped through our arteries to our body cells. The cells take in the oxygen, combine it with sugar or fat, and a low-level fire results. The burning is called oxidation, and it gives off the energy that our cells need while leaving behind carbon dioxide and water as by-products.

The carbon dioxide is picked up by the blood (which is now dark and slightly bluish) and carried back to the lungs where it passes into the air and is breathed out with a certain amount of water. The remaining excess water is picked up and taken out by the kidneys.

The path that air takes into our lungs begins at the nose, where the air approaches as a single stream and divides into two streams as it enters our nostrils. These two streams then merge into one at the back of our mouth and throat (an area called the pharynx). This single stream goes down past our larynx surrounded by bands of cartilage.

Four or five inches below our larynx the windpipe branches into two bronchi, one going to each lung. Once inside the lungs, the two bronchi begin to divide, always with one becoming two, and continue dividing until there are 20 to 22 bronchi in each lung. From here on they are called bronchioles and these continue dividing until they bring the air and blood together in 300 million separate round rooms called alveoli. These little spaces are where the blood and the air exchange their contents.

The lungs themselves weigh about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds each, are about eight or nine inches long, and are very dense. The right lung is about 10 percent bigger than the left and is divided into three sections or lobes, while the left one is smaller in order to make room for the heart (which is on the left side), and has two lobes. Along with the heart, the lungs are snugly fit into the upper ribcage and surrounded by a thin layer of water that makes them stick to the ribs and expand when the ribcage expands.

Between the ribs are muscles which can expand or contract the ribcage, but the main work of breathing is done by a large sheet of muscle called the diaphragm. This divides the ribcage horizontally at the level of the bottom of the breastbone and is both the floor on which the lungs and heart sit as well as the arched dome over the liver and stomach. Because of its bell-shape, when the diaphragm contract ‘s it flattens out in a downward direction, expanding the lungs and at the same time pressing down on the liver, stomach, and intestines. This is why the belly swells whenever we breathe in a relaxed way, giving all the organs a stimulating massage. When we rest or sleep we use the diaphragm exclusively, but if we are tense or exercising then the rib muscles (intercostals) are used to expand the ribcage.

The blood capillaries that circle the walls of each alveoli are very small and thin and cover the walls of these little round rooms like a fine net. The capillaries are so narrow that the red blood cells actually carry the oxygen, while the carbon dioxide has to squeeze through. When we are at rest the red blood cells have about three-quarters of a second in which to zip through and trade their carbon dioxide for oxygen, but during hard exercise this time is cut to one-third of a second.

Our blood takes about one minute to circulated through the body and come back to the heart. This means that every minute the lungs have to do business with about 35 trillion red blood cells, all of which have to be allowed to glide around an alveoli and get some air. The lungs are well-designed to handle this because the surface area available for the blood cells and air to meet is about the size of a tennis court. The largest amount of blood contained in both lungs at any one time is a cup, and if we imagine this spread out over a tennis court we can get an image of how effective this arrangement is.

Within the red blood cells are molecules of hemoglobin, a special iron-containing protein that is able to pick up oxygen, carry it to the cells, and then release it. The carbon dioxide is carried back to the lungs by the rest of the red blood cells.

One problem that can hamper our oxygen supply is exposure to carbon monoxide, which is made of only one carbon and one oxygen atom. It is a major ingredient in both car exhaust and cigarette smoke and can cause big problems. Carbon monoxide is much more attracted to hemoglobin than oxygen. When it attaches to hemoglobin it wonÕt let go and keeps the hemoglobin from carrying any oxygen to the hungry cells. If enough hemoglobin is taken out of action, the result is death.

In less than fatal doses carbon monoxide can also have a strong effect. Cigarette smoke contains about 4 percent carbon monoxide. 2 percent of the hemoglobin in the average nonsmoker is bound to carbon monoxide while a pack-a-day smoker may lose from 5 to 15 percent of his or her hemoglobin. Since carbon monoxide takes at least three to four hours to be eliminated from the blood, a person who smokes 20 cigarettes a day can have his or her oxygen system completely disabled.

To compensate for a lack of oxygen, the body will shift into a higher gear and make the heart beat faster and harder. The nerves get excited, the number of red blood cells increase, and the breathing rate gets faster. This results in a tense or excited condition. Another result is a lessened ability to supply oxygen during exercise. A smoker, for instance, would have to work harder than a nonsmoker to get the same amount of oxygen to the muscles, providing all, other things are equal.

This increased tension and nervous excitement caused by the carbon monoxide in cigarettes may also cause trouble for meditators and others who are trying to reach higher levels of consciousness. In some cases a high degree of nervous control and relaxation are needed, and the nervous and bodily excitement that accompany smoking may not help. In general, every type of food and every substance that we take in will exert some control over our physical and mental condition. This makes it very important that 1) we have a clear idea of what kind of physical and mental condition we want to have, and 2) that we carefully choose foods, activities, and ways of thinking that will help us achieve our goals.

Besides burning food, there is another source of energy that we can tap when we use our lungs. This is the ocean of vibrations that fills our surroundings. These vibrations or energies have many names, including spirit, electromagnetic energy, ki, prana, and others. These vibrations cannot be detected by our regular senses, but require a more refined sensitivity. Unfortunately, most people have lost this ability because of the modern diet and lifestyle, although i still exists and exerts a great power.

The vibrations at the earth’s surface take the form of two energy flows, one going down and one going up. These are both always flowing and are energizing and charging our bodies. Whenever we breathe in we become more energized by upward flow and can actually feel ourselves rising, feeling more ‘up’ and ‘inspired.’ On the other hand, when we breathe out, we feel heavier and more ‘down.’ The activity of the lungs influences not only the energy released from our food, but the amounts and quality of the energy flowing through our brains and bodies.

For instance, when we are angry, we tend to breathe out in strong bursts. When we laugh, we breathe out in longer, broken streams of air. When we are depressed we tend to breathe out in long sighs. When we emphasize breathing out we become warmer and to cool off we breathe in more. When we are tense, we intuitively breathe a long, sustained out-breath in order to relax. The way we breathe influences both our physical and mental conditions, because our breathing is a major key to regulating our overall energy.

Because all our body parts depend on our energy flow for their activity, our health can either get better or worse along with changes in our food, environment, breathing, thinking, and activity. To achieve health we need to maintain a full and unblocked flow of energy. Some materials conduct energy better than others, and since our food is the material that makes our body and organs, we need to choose our diet thoughtfully.

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