The upper respiratory system consists of the nose and the pharynx. Air enters through the nose, where it is warmed, moistened, and filtered. Hair in the nose filters out larger dust particles, while mucus traps the remaining dust. Small structures called cilia move the mucus and dust into the pharynx, which is the throat. From the pharynx, the mucus is either expelled or swallowed.
Breathing and Stress
Many of us live with chronic stress. Our bodies adapt to stress by developing habits to deal with excess stress chemicals. When we are in pain, or in chronic muscular tension, we tend to breathe in a shallower and faster way. This, in turn, can lead to chemical changes in the muscles and in the blood, further leading to stomach upset, headaches, muscle pain, cramps, or anxiety. Learning how to “breathe from the belly” and relax the chest and neck muscles can restore the better breathing habits you once had in childhood. As you give or receive massage, you can practice this kind of mindful, gentle breathing.
The lower respiratory system is made up of the larynx, trachea, bronchi, and lungs. The larynx is the structure that contains the vocal cords and is sometimes referred to as the voice box. The larynx allows air to pass to the trachea, or windpipe. The trachea flows into two structures, the right and left bronchi, which are air ducts that transport air to and from the lungs. The oxygen from the air in the lungs passes into the blood and flows through the body via hemoglobin, bringing nourishment to the cells. The waste matter in the form of carbon dioxide is moved out of the cells, into the blood, back into the lungs, and out of the body as we exhale. Oxygen remains in the body and the carbon dioxide is gone—the exchange of gases is complete.