Dr. Bellows

A quick question Riff Raffers. What do we have two of, we can do without one, the right is larger than the left, they have lobes and they act like bellows? If you said lungs your right on the money.

This remarkable sponge-like organ situated in the thoracic (chest) cavity functions closely with the myocardium (heart) to deliver oxygen to the body. The heart is a muscle which can be strengthened with aerobic conditioning and a chronic adaptation is its ability to function more efficiently at rest. The heart beats less often with more blood being squeezed out with each stronger contraction. The lung is not muscular and chronic training effects on oxygen uptake and lung ventilation are minimal. The skeletal muscles associated with breathing, the intercostals (situated between the ribs) and the diaphragm (dome shaped skeletal muscle between the thoracic and abdominal cavity) will both benefit from exercise. Perhaps the greatest improvement can be made by fully utilising the diaphragm. Breathing, an autonomic response regulated by the brain, can also be controlled with intention. It’s possible to isolate and engage the diaphragm with a technique called diaphragmatic breathing.

The importance of healthy lungs and the airway passages cannot be understated. Here in Australia we have a high proportion of asthmatics (especially in children) by world standards. One in nine Australians about 2.7 million suffer from asthma (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018). There are more than thirty recognised types of lung disease involving airway, lung tissue and lung circulation categories. In Australia COPD Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is in the top five causes of death.

My respiratory health was compromised about ten years ago with repetitive bouts of walking pneumonia and a case of severe bronchitis. My lung function deteriorated quite significantly where I now have to use two puffers daily. I have never been a smoker, but my parents smoked during my formative years and the sporting club rooms I frequented were filled with tobacco smoke (as were the live music venues I ventured into before I was eighteen) these may have been a causal factor in it’s decline. Passive smoking (breathing in other people’s smoke) is considered more deleterious than active smoking because it is inhaled without a filter.

I have believed for some time my return to harmonica playing and performing has been beneficial to my respiratory health in particular my chug-a-lug style. What better doctor for the bellows than the most owned instrument in the world, it fits in your pocket and is the only instrument that requires you to both inspire (draw) and expire (blow). Recently I visited Seydel’s website and blow me down with a harmonica they have two harps specifically designed to improve lung health.

Dr. Dana Keller designed the Pulmonica, a spiralling low ‘G’ tuned harp of low resonating frequencies to recruit dormant lung tissue and loosen congestion in the airways. Dr. John Schaman, who had been employed in Cardiac Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine for twenty-nine years created the Schaman Medical Harmonica for chordal playing to work directly on lung volumes and the muscular structures associated with breathing. John had noted his own decrease in lung function and discovered that fifty percent of lung function declines between the ages of thirty and seventy. This was considered a normal ageing effect! As Professor Sumner Miller used to enquire, “Why is it so?”

This isn’t meant to be a review of the musical playing capabilities of both instruments as they are designed for improving impaired lung function for people of limited musical talent. They are expertly constructed of the finest hygienic materials by the oldest harmonica making company in the world, Seydel. The Pulmonica is styled on Seydel’s Session Steel and the Schaman on their 1847 model. Both have a unique layout of notes providing the opportunity to play more chords than on a typical diatonic harmonica. If you are so inclined high quality music can be created and all with the added benefit of improving your lung health. Having said all that, let me say this, if you are a professional player you probably have low tuned harps and can play chordal rhythmical patterns (you may even have a bass or chordal harp) in which case you could already be receiving similar benefits.

More empirical evidence is required, however with the results already reported and when combined with numerous positive anecdotal reviews would suggest that the Pulmonica and the Schaman harp can improve lung health and that they probably compliment each other in doing so. I can with authority guarantee that you’ll have fun trying. I used to sign off the radio show with a wee saying of yours truly and I believe it’s quite appropriate to use now, May Your Life’s Breath Be Your Life’s Music.”

Cheers SD

PS: “Chug-a-lug chug-a-lug, make you want to holler hi-de-ho, chug-a-lug chug-a-lug!”

Here are the links for more detailed information on both harmonicas