Our lungs are a major eliminative organ for toxins and waste products. By performing breathing exercises, we can enhance the efficiency of this process, increasing air flow for those gas exchanges to take place, and enhancing overall the benefits of fasting.
The biggest gas exchange taking place in the lungs is, of course, between oxygen and carbon dioxide. The blood picks up oxygen from the lungs and lets go of its carbon dioxide. As the blood moves throughout the body, a similar exchange takes place with the cells, as they take in oxygen and give up their metabolic waste product, carbon dioxide. The blood returns to the lungs with its carbon dioxide load, where it is released, and a fresh supply of oxygen picked up.
This process is essential to each and every cell in the body. It is said that all death is caused by loss of oxygen supply to the cells, and that finding a "cause of death" is really about determining what caused the cells to "suffocate".
We can use breathing exercises to improve the oxygenation of our blood and cells. Without the use of breathing exercises or other physical exercise or exertion, our inhalations are usually pretty shallow and only a small portion of the lungs are active in gas exchange. This is the way most us naturally breath while at rest or involved in sedentary activities.
Look at the diagram to the right. Notice the fine pulmonary capillaries that do not receive air flow during shallow breathing. These can become activated by deep breathing, increasing the surface area for gas exchanges of oxygen and carbon dioxide to take place.
Even if you are getting a sufficient amount of physical exercise that creates deep breathing, it is still beneficial to perform separate breathing exercises. They have the additional advantage of providing you time to go inward, to FEEL your body, FEEL your breath. They are physically relaxing and emotionally calming. They can create states of increased consciousness and awareness.
Some of these exercises will feel wonderful and expansive to you, while others may seem to do nothing. You'll need to experiment. Try those that you are most drawn to and give them your full attention for at least several minutes.
Yogic tradition tells us breathing is closely related to our emotional state. When we are angry or fearful, the breath is very different than when we are calm and centered. Learning to control the breath can help us alleviate the hold our "negative" emotions can seem to have over us.
Breathing exercises are not just for use during a fast or cleansing diet, but are a recommended practice for all times of life. Fasting does, however, present a perfect opportunity to begin, as your attention is focused more inward and your intention is toward greater health and well being. See the Water Fasting Tips page for other activities that are beneficial during fasting or cleansing.