On Breathing Normalization

You may have been advised to  “Breathe deeply”, or to take a big inhale and release  through your mouth

But there’s a paradigm change underway on the subject of breathing.

And it is NOT to take a deep breath.

For one thing the word “deep” as in deep  breath  is being confused with deep as in  “big” volume. Breathing diaphragmatically through the nose, brings the air into the bottom of the lungs, where  gravity concentrates  the greatest blood supply. That’s what’s meant by deep.

Pranayama ,the study of breathing  and breath control is an advanced practice.  The breath is  the gateway to influencing physiology and  it has  powerful effects through which   it  can  benefit and at the same time, can do harm.  Yet it seems  Pranayama,  as big breathing,  is being taught casually without precaution, to people of all ages  as well as all psychological and physical conditions.

The big breath, pervasive in yoga culture,  can make a sort of naïve sense in that it  equates big breathing with  big oxygenation.  This is intuitive but false. The science is difficult.

Respiration  is intimately bound up with blood chemistry and PH. When I took chemistry, particularly   on the topic of PH,  I didn’t think “ oh how  beautifully and divinely simple”

(I won’t even mention what I thought).  

The body exists in a delicate equilibrium  and breathing is at the center of it. O2 (oxygen)and CO2 (carbon dioxide) maintain the balance  of  acids and bases,  or PH of the blood. Unless the PH stays within a narrow range (around 7.4) we can’t live at all.

Breathing in Oxygen increases alkalinity. CO2, produced by the body’s metabolism, is acidic.  Far from being a waste gas, CO2 is a vital part of the blood’s bicarbonate buffering system.  

It is  also vital for allowing  oxygen release to the tissues.  Almost all the oxygen in your blood is bonded tightly to  hemoglobin,  and  it resists letting go unless it’s in an acidic environment, such as that of  the metabolizing, CO2 releasing tissues.

This is called the Bohr Effect.

The Bohr Effect is a non-intuitive scientific reality.

If you blow off too much of your carbon dioxide because of higher volume  breathing; then you’re slightly reducing the acidity,  and thus  the oxygenation to your  tissues.   

Your body will be undersupplied with O2 – as will your brain.

Sub- optimal oxygenation to the brain -not so good

The truth is our breathing rate is controlled to a great degree by the brain stem, which senses CO2 levels. It’s a bit like how a thermostat senses temperature. It’s a setting- not the truth .  People who over-breathe, lower the CO2 setting at which their body thinks it needs air. They  may even feel they ’re not getting enough, despite the fact  that they are over- breathing.  Anytime you take in more breath than your metabolism requires you’re also  exhaling big and losing too much carbon dioxide.

The thing is, most of us don’t even realize that we’re doing it . Have you ever heard yourself or a partner breathe heavily during  sleep, a time when the body should require minimal oxygen?  This is called-sleep disordered breathing and is another form of hyperventilation.

Over-breathing  or subtle hyperventilation can greatly aggravate anxiety. It also dries your airways, contracts smooth muscle which CO2 relaxes, and can cause or contribute to asthma

What to do?  Bring awareness to your breath:

  • Is your breath audible,  cold, sharp  or associated with effort  or pronounced movements of your ribcage?
  • Does your breathing  resemble the breath of an older person,   more so than the almost invisible breath of a young healthy being?
  • Do you breathe through your  mouth  habitually  because your nose is clogged?
  • Do  you gulp air  when you talk ?

Awareness is the first step towards health

Breathe lighter - from your diaphragm.

take in  less volume; relax on exhale

Breathe  like the healthy person you want to be.

Sara Siegel