Emphysema? Time to take life-positive steps.

Bharat Savur

It's not easy for a person to hear "You have emphysema," a premature aging of lungs. The doctor will tell you there's no cure (in allopathy) and that you must guard against bronchitis and the sniffles. At that moment, you feel stunned, shocked, isolated, fearful, helpless, and betrayed. But remember this beautiful axiom: even if there is no external cure, you can heal yourself from inside. Then take all possible concrete, life-positive steps.

Self-help edges out helplessness and prevents the brood from entering the mood. The steps are:

Stop smoking.

Liberate your lungs from pollution. Request your spouse, friends, relatives, or colleagues to stop too. Passive smoking is equally dangerous.

Keep things simple:

Simplify your environment; keep stuff at easy-to-reach levels. Discard dust-magnets. The more easily you breathe, the more efficiently you use your muscles, the more energy you conserve, and the healthier you feel.

Swim or walk:

Swimming is great, but if a pool is not accessible, walk. Make weight-training a must too. With one-kg dumbbells, strengthen your respiratory muscles in the neck, shoulder and chest. The stronger they are, the easier you breathe.

* For the neck, hold weights in the

namaste

position, elbows bent. Raise bent elbows to shoulder level 10 times.

* For the shoulders, hold weights in hands. Shrug shoulders backward 10 times.

* For the chest muscles, hold weights in the

namaste

position, elbows bent. Move weights in a swooping action as does an orchestra-conductor while conducting an orchestra. Make sure your arms swing wide enough for the chest to open out. Do this movement 10 times.

Power breathe:

Breathe deep from your stomach. Lie down, and place a telephone directory on your stomach. Now, inhale and exhale deeply. The directory should rise and fall with your breath. Deep breathing daily transforms the quality of your mood, your perception, and your life. In that soil of dread, you'll now feel a sapling of hope growing and spreading...

Eat small, eat smart:

Have small portions. Have easy-to-digest, low-fat food. This is to avoid gas. A bloated stomach makes breathing difficult. Also, since the body needs a lot of energy to digest fatty food, it draws oxygen-rich blood away from other parts and sends it all to the stomach. In this, the lungs are the losers.

Meditate:

Meditate to calm your thoughts and breathe freely. Agitated thoughts agitate your physiological mechanism and consume loads of precious oxygen and energy. When you calm your thoughts, your system relaxes and you discover an inner health.

Widen your identity:

It's easy to slump into the "I'm emphysematic" identity. But, remember, you have a wider identity beyond the physical the one who loves and cares for near ones, the worker who gets fulfilled through service, the music-, art-, literature-lover; the nature aesthete; the reader and so on. When you see how many sides you have, how many activities you participate in and add order or beauty to the world, your affliction appears not so important.

Laugh:

Don't take life seriously. Adopt an irreverent attitude. Often, over-serious, intense thoughts constrict our chest- and throat muscles. Making light of situations, seeing their absurdity makes you laugh, relax and breathe easy. As somebody said: A smile is a curved line that makes all things straight.

Loosen up:

Alongside loosening your intensity, loosen up your clothes too. Forget tight T-shirts, inner-wears, girdles, and belts. Shrug into loose, comfortable clothing that gives you the freedom to move freely and allow your chest and abdomen muscles to expand to their maximum.

Develop a sense of cosy coherence:

There would be some things you can't do which you could pre-emphysema. It's okay. You have fewer things to do. Develop a deep sense of gratitude for all that you can do. Set yourself an orderly routine that comprises work, play, relaxation, exercise, meals, interactions, meditation, and study. You develop a sense of cosy coherence when you see a peaceful order in your life. You will have flashes of insight like "I wouldn't want my life any other way. This is perfect." This beautiful all-there sensation balances the potentially agitating sympathetic side of our nervous system with the calmer parasympathetic side. That balance makes life feel good.

Sing:

Sing two songs everyday. Sing so that you can breathe. Don't fear your lung disorder; serenade it. An asthmatic person once told me, "I couldn't scream out my frustration, I couldn't shout. My lungs couldn't afford this luxury. They needed to breathe, not blast. I learnt from a swami not to allow situations or people or even my own angry thoughts to influence and disturb me. He said, `Make yourself more powerful than your thoughts. Let them come. Let them go. You remain steadfast.' I learnt to be detached. I learnt to sing away my emotions." Ultimately, wellness is about making beautiful music with life's situations.

The writer is co-author of the book, `Fitness for Life'.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated February 23, 2007)
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