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Breath of Life

“And Mariam, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her of Our inspiration and she accepted the truth of the words of her Lord and His books, and she was of the obedient ones” (The Qur’an:  66:12).

In the Qur’an, the breath is related to the physical and spiritual life of the human being. Therefore it makes sense that the health of the lungs would be of utmost importance to Muslims.

Hakim Moinuddin Chishti, a well-known Sufi healer, states that, “The Holy Qur’an, in addition to all else that it may be, is a set of breathing practices [intended to keep our lungs healthy].”

However, lung diseases are becoming more and more prevalent all over the world. In fact, every year  more than 361,000 Americans die of lung disease.

Lung disease is America’s number three killer, responsible for one in seven deaths: And that is in addition to the large number of casualties from asthma or other lung related complications such as Pneumonia (ALA).

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There are many diseases and pollutants that can damage the lungs, however, many people are not aware of how fragile their lungs or how many ways they can damage them.

The findings are particularly troubling, Sam Gauderman, Researcher at the University of Southern California, says, because “low lung function is a very strong risk factor for later life health effects, such as chronic pulmonary disease and even death. The lung is a sensitive organ; it can only take so much” (Mitchell).

The lungs are actually a very sensitive organ. Although they perform an extremely difficult task in the body, they are delicate enough that they must always be protected by the rib cage.

The main function of the lungs is gas exchange, which is accomplished by a well-coordinated interaction of the lungs with the central nervous system, the diaphragm and chest wall musculature, and the circulatory system.

Gas exchange happens in the alveolus where the thin blood flow and inhaled air are separated only by a thin tissue layer. In fact, the entire blood volume of the body passes through the lungs each minute in the resting state, that is five liters per minute.

The total surface area of the lung is about 80 meters square, equivalent to the size of a tennis court. However, only about 10% of the lung is occupied by solid tissue, whereas the remainder is filled with air and blood.

Supporting structures of the lung must be delicate to allow gas exchange, yet strong enough to maintain architectural integrity (Godwin). Because of this delicate balance the lungs are easily susceptible to a number of pollutants, viruses and stresses.

Outdoor air pollution is still a big issue in many cities around the globe. In fact, findings from the University of Southern California confirm what old studies have been saying for years: “Children living in smoggy areas have reduced lung function” (ENS).

The 10-year long Children’s Health Study is now considered one of the nation’s most comprehensive studies to date of the long-term effects of smog on children.

This study, as well as older studies, shows that even when smog levels are within the legal parameters, the lungs are still showing adverse effects.

Various pollutants – acid vapors, nitrogen dioxide, and fine airborne particles called PM2.5, carbon and ozone – have been implicated in the University’s study.

However, other chemicals may be present in other cities such as Cairo, New York, Bangkok or Mexico City. The study concluded that children with decreased lung function may be more susceptible to respiratory disease and may be more likely to have chronic respiratory problems as adults.

Dana Best, a pediatrician at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., agreed, saying the findings suggest pollution is not just making people’s asthma worse, it may also be causing “perhaps permanent lung function changes.”

She continued by adding, “This is a critical period in children’s lives when their lungs are developing and that may set them up for lung problems for the rest of their lives” (Mitchell).

Indoor air pollution is a hidden danger for many people. Many times pollutants in indoor air can be up to 100 times that of the air outside (ALA) however, most people view being indoors safer than being outdoors in polluted areas.

Viral infections are another way in which the lungs can be damaged. Diseases like Pneumonia and Bronchitis can weaken the lungs, thus causing a susceptibility to further lung damage. Smoking is still one of the main causes of lung problems around the globe.

Furthermore, exposure to smokers can be even more dangerous than smoking itself since the smoking coming from the outside of the cigarette is inhaled without a filter and oftentimes a person may be exposed to four people smoking in the same room. This is equivalent to having smoked more than four cigarettes themselves.

Smoking is the major cause of emphysema, lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, and heart disease. Smoking damages the airways by constant irritation and inflammation and complicates the treatment of asthma and other lung diseases (Asthma Center).

In fact, even one exposure to smoking can be hazardous to sensitive people. This is because nicotine is both a stimulant and a sedative to the central nervous system.

The ingestion of nicotine results in an almost immediate “kick” because it causes a discharge of epinephrine from the adrenal cortex.

This stimulates the central nervous system, and other endocrine glands, which causes a sudden release of glucose (Rowley). This can be dangerous for diabetics, people with hypoglycemia or people prone to anxiety attacks.

Exposure to toxins or even materials at work is another hazard to lung health. Safety procedures now require that workers in many jobs wear masks, but many times safety procedures are ignored if the pending threat is not obvious.

Farmer’s lung is a good example. Farmer’s lung is an allergy related disease that occurs from breathing in moldy hay. However, many farmers consider it unusual to wear a face masque while baling hay. Similar dangers are faced by farmers harvesting corn, tobacco or beans (CCOHS).

Other unusual occupational related lung diseases include malt workers lung caused by inhaling moldy barley, mummy disease caused by inhaling mummy powder, Paprika slicer’s disease caused by inhaling moldy paprika pods, and air conditioner lung, which befalls many office workers exposed to contamination in air conditioning systems (Mount Sinai Medical).

Even animal caretakers can develop lung diseases related to breathing in spores from fur or feathers and workers at plant nurseries can develop lung problems from breathing in harmful plant spores. In fact, The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that every year 400,000 people develop a disease caused by their jobs.

An estimated 100,000 deaths each year are caused by occupational diseases. More than half of these diseases and deaths are due to lung disease (Mount Sinai Medical).

Finally, improper breathing is another danger to the lungs and can reduce lung capacity and overall lung health. It can also reduce oxygen supply to the body and natural detoxification ability of the body.

Although breathing is something that occurs to most people automatically one’s breathing can actually become modified and restricted in various ways, not just momentarily, but habitually.

Some people actually develop unhealthy habits without being aware of it such as slouching, sniffing or breathing in through the mouth instead of the nose (ICBS).

To best protect the lungs the Holistic Institute Online recommends the following instructions for better lung health:

  1. Always breathe in through the nose and out the mouth.
  2. Breathe deeply and take long breathes rather than breathing quickly with shallow breathes.
  3. Always wear a face masque when being exposed to any environmental or chemical hazard.
  4. Move to areas that are less polluted.
  5. Use an air filter in the home.

“And [make Jesus] an apostle to the children of Israel: That I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I determine for you out of dust like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird with Allah’s permission and I heal the blind and the leprous, and bring the dead to life with Allah’s permission and I inform you of what you should eat and what you should store in your houses; most surely there is a sign in this for you, if you are believers” (Surat Ali Imran 3:49).


  • “Data and Statistics on Lung Disease.” American Lung Association. 2002.
  • “Air Pollution Linked to Reduced Lung Function.” Environmental News Service. July 1, 2002.
  • Mitchell, Steve. “Pollution Damages Kids’ Lungs.” Science and Technology UPI. July 1, 2002.
  • “Farmer’s Lung.” Canadian Center For Occupational Health and Safety. May 28, 1999.
  • Goodwin, Thomas A., MD. “The Respiratory System.”New York Hospital Queens. 2002.
  • “The Importance of Breathing.” Holistic Online Reports.
  • Mount Sinai Medical. “Occupational Lung Hazards.” Breathe Easy. 2002.
  • Asthma Center. “”Smoking and the Lungs.” The Asthma Center Manual. 1997.
  • Rowley, Christine. “Smoking Cessation.” Cigarettes and Other Nicotine Products.” 2002.


This article was first published in July 11, 2002 and is currently republished for its importance.
About Dr. Karima Burns
Dr. Karima Burns has been counseling as a Home-path for over 9 years. From the U.S. she is a doctor in Naturopathy, a Master Herbalist, and teaches with inspiration from the Waldorf school. She uses art, health and education to heal others.