26 JANUARY 1962, Page 9

The Breath of Life

By CHARLES GIBBS-SMITH wo million people in England,' I see from la recent issue of a medical journal, 'consult their doctor each year with bronchitis; in fact, one person in twenty suffers from this crippling condition.' Bronchitis killed over 1,000 people in the week before Christmas. Some 30,000,000 working days are lost through respiratory diseases. The medical profession is helpless to do more than provide palliatives; little or nothing, most doctors privately admit, can be done for the bronchitis sufferer.

You would have thought that bronchitis being a respiratory disease, the profession would con- sider the possibility that faulty breathing might in many cases be responsible. Yet one bronchitic friend of mine who recently went the weary round of specialists tells me that not one of them mentioned breathing. And the man who swung my attention to the subject is not a doctor but a jovial and hugely healthy First World War infantry captain now in his seventies: W. P. Knowles I first wrote to him because I had for many years suffered from what I loosely (and I be- lieve unprofessionally) call catarrh; to me it simply meant a blocked-up nose for most nights of the week and often during the daytime. It was an insufferable nuisance, and I was curious to hear what Captain Knowles would suggest I did about it. At the outset, I am afraid, I did not take him too seriously; but I was careful not to tell one of my closest medical friends, as I knew he would denounce even the most casual approach to a Iringer,' and I was afraid I would be dissuaded.

Captain Knowles sent me a written series of exercises, which I was to perform until such time as I could incorporate his system as an integral part of my daily life. Although the stated principles behind his system made good sense, I was too lazy to carry out the prescribed exercises; time went by; my nose remained blocked. Necessity finally drove me to re- read the exercises, and half-heartedly I started doing some of the simplest of them. After a few weeks, my nose began to loosen up; I also began to feel better in a general sense and began to take the whole thing more seriously and per- severed; my nose got itself properly unblocked and stayed unblocked.

It was time, I felt, to investigate the whole system, so far as a layman could; and I wrote to my distant benefactor and suggested a meet- ing. We met and talked; and here I must break off for a moment to outline the basis of Captain Knowles's teaching, which his ingenious exer- cises are designed to promote. He maintains that:

The vast majority of men and women utilise only a small amount of their lung capacity.

If the whole—or most--of the lung capacity can be brought into play and kept permanently in play, the general condition of the lungs will improve, and many bronchial complaints (especially bronchitis, emphysema, etc.) will be cleared up and the lungs remain healthy and powerfully resistant to disease.

This optimum use of the lungs is brought about naturally and easily by slower breathing and deeper breathing.

Nothing must be done (by conscious effort) in the way of abdominal or other auxiliary body movements to help expand or contract the lungs, except by slower and deeper breathing.

This slower and deeper breathing must be made into a habit, and not just a matter of occasional exercises, which are of little or no value in clearing up bronchial diseases or in any long-term effect on the lungs. h is the built-in habit of slower and deeper breathing that alone brings lasting cure.

Captain Knowles is perfectly frank in admit- ting that he does not know what factors ulti- mately bring about the large number of cures he claims; he believes these results will ultimately be traced to some form of better oxygen utilisa- tion and/or a slight difference in the oxygen- carbon-dioxide 'balance. It is just as simple as that: slower breathing and deeper breathing, resulting in optimum aeration of the lungs. Per- haps the very simplicity of the system has made it suspect.

I decided, as I have said, to investigate this interesting state of affairs: the results have been intriguing, to say the least. Captain Knowles claims thousands of complete cures of both major and minor bronchial diseases over many years; and his testimonials include several mem- bers of the medical profession—including two of world-wide reputation I met one of these senior physicians who had been cured of a serious bronchial complaint. Captain Knowles introduced me to a gymecolo- gist whose name is a household word. Emphy- sema had decided him to abandon his practice; he cheerfully admitted the cure and his gratitude. I asked him how he explained the cure: 'Could it be that the area infected by the emphysema became bypassed by the aeration of those parts of the lungs not previously utilised? As these "good" parts of your lungs came into proper use, the emphysematous area ceased to matter— could that be what happened?' That's as good an explanation as any,' he conceded.

After that, I questioned every doctor I met. (Many, incidentally, showed a curious lack of knowledge of lung physiology.) Some said it was all nonsense or imagination, to which I replied that this was a great tribute to the suggestion techniques involved. Others heard me out and —a little reluctantly, perhaps—admitted that there was probably 'something in it': one even went so far as to admit that the position of the nation's health could be revolutionised if such preventive medicine was introduced. But none of these doctors has lifted a finger to have the matter investigated. My own particular specialist friend, who suffers from emphysema, also heard me out; but he refused even to give the Knowles system a trial, despite the fact that his life might depend on it; he even said that he 'knew all about breathing exercises,' by which he meant those used for special purposes in hospitals (and which, I understand, never cure anyone of bron- chitis or emphysema).

How stubborn, I began to wonder, could human beings become? The more I investigated the subject, the more I thought of those 30,000,000 lost working days; and the heaven knows how many million more lost hours of human misery which those statistics stand for. In view of the evidence, I wondered how it is possible for such massive perversity to continue. One would have thought that any suggestion which promised even the smallest relief from such widespread disease would have been thoroughly investigated tong ago. And clini- cal trials would be the simplest in the world to carry out. Yet nothing is done—not even by the doctors who have been cured by the tech- nique, who fear that their names might be linked with 'quackery.' After one of the more sym- pathetic professionals had heard me out—he is a British-trained surgeon in New Zealand—I added, somewhat tartly, I am afraid, 'It seems that it is better to die officially than be cured unofficially!' To my surprise he smiled, 'Yes,' he said. 'I'm afraid that's about true.'