What Happens When We Breathe Copy

When you breathe in, you inhale oxygen (O₂) (and other molecules and gases), when you breathe out, you exhale carbon dioxide (CO₂) (and other molecules and gases). That’s respiration.

When you breathe in, your heart rate goes up a bit. When you breathe out, your heart rate goes down a bit (Lehrer, 2007). This is the basic principle of respiration, but it is also important for metabolism.

When you breathe in O₂, it binds to red blood cells from your lungs. Those blood cells transport the O₂ to tissue and organ cells thanks to the pumping action of your heart. The oxygen is needed by the mitochondria in the cells of your body as a means of energy, like a fire (“Cellular Respiration”, n. d.)

Imagine you have a fire burning inside of you that produces all the energy you need to live.

Too little oxygen, and a fire cannot burn at all. Just like in our bodies: too little oxygen and we can’t survive. Too much oxygen, and the fire will burn too much, potentially cause some damage. If our body has too much oxygen, it causes something called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress happens when there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in our body. It can lead to cell and tissue damage.

So it is clear that we need the right balance of oxygen; not too much and not too little.

O₂ + Glucose ⇨ ATP (energy) + CO₂+ H₂O

The oxygen you inhale is carried around your body by red blood cells and it combines with glucose in the mitochondria of your cells, which produces adenosine triphosphate (ATP) energy, carbon dioxide (CO₂), and water (H₂O). When you exhale, you breathe out the carbon dioxide and water. The ATP provides energy to your body, so it can function normally.

The autonomic nervous system is made up of the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. It regulates bodily functions like pupil dilation, heart rate, and saliva production.

Inhalation stimulates your sympathetic nervous system, exhalation stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. By changing the way you breathe you can make one of them more dominant than the other in that moment depending on what you want (Russo et al., 2017).

Rapid breathing and taking in more oxygen than normal energises your body. It will also cause contraction in the body as you breathe out carbon dioxide at a faster rate, stimulating the sympathetic nervous system.

Slowing down your breathing and extending your exhale to be longer than your inhale will have a relaxing effect on the body. It causes an increase in carbon dioxide levels and also stimulates the production of nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels (vasodilation). Vasodilation reduces blood pressure and increases blood flow (Russo et al., 2017).

Oxygen Transportation and The Bohr Effect

When tissue cells have high enough levels of CO₂, the O₂ that is bound to haemoglobin in red blood cells detach and then bind to tissue cells (Benesch & Benesch, 1961; Patel & Cooper, 2018). You can think of it like a currency exchange.

If you breathe out too much CO₂ at a fast rate, the O₂ stays bound to red blood cells and doesn’t transfer to the tissue cells, because there is not enough CO₂ for the exchange to take place. This is how over-breathing causes problems.

We need to have a good CO₂ tolerance, so that we don’t need to breathe much. When we don’t breathe as much, CO₂ levels are higher and that allows the O₂ to detach from red blood cells and bind with tissue cells (“Transport of oxygen in the blood”, n. d.).

CO₂ is a vasodilator (Yang et al., 2017), which means it widens (or dilates) the arteries and veins. Nitric oxide also plays a role in this process (Costa & Biaggioni, 1998). Vasodilation reduces blood pressure.

O₂ is a vasoconstrictor, which means it narrows (or constricts) arteries and veins, and increases blood pressure. (Cornet et al., 2013).

This is why goal of Pranayama is to slow breathing down: when you develop a good CO₂ tolerance, it literally keeps you expanded thanks to better dilation of arteries and veins, which keeps O₂ coming in for healthy respiration and metabolism.

On average people breathe 10+ breaths per minute. The main goal of SOMA Breath is to correct your breathing so that your resting rate is 4-6 breaths per minute. This can help protect against disease, balance your emotions and help you spend more time in flow state.

How Your Body Rusts

We’re not trained or taught how to breathe when we’re young. Over the years we experience stress, challenges, chronic activation of the sympathetic nervous system, and so on, so we don’t breathe consciously. Instead, we tend to breathe under control of the reptilian brain, which means our breathing can become erratic, fast, slow, or it can just pause without conscious control. That leads to incoherent heart rhythms, which leads to incoherent functions in the body.

When you expose metal to air for long periods of time, the oxygen in the atmosphere reacts with the metal through a process called oxidation that causes it to rust. The same rusting occurs in the body that can lead to inflammation and cell damage. This is why it is beneficial to consciously control the amount of oxygen that goes into the body.

Too much oxygen as a result of over-breathing leads to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is like a rusting of your arteries and veins because the oxygen is unable to release itself from your red blood cells. It leads to inflammation, plaque, and corroding. If you exercise too much or do too much physically strenuous work, that can also cause oxidative stress. In fact, just being stressed out in general can cause oxidative stress because our breathing is erratic and inefficient.

Too much oxygen and inefficient oxygen use leads to oxidative stress, which leads to free radicals attacking your system. This leads to protein and DNA injury, tissue damage, inflammation, and cell death. Autoimmune conditions, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer can occur as a result of oxidative stress (Bashir et al., 1993; Uttara et al., 2009; Reuter et al., 2010; Asmat et al., 2016).

Similarly, if you do not use oxygen efficiently, you can experience low moods, depression, low energy, and no motivation (Black et al., 2015).

By a process known as the Bohr effect, an increase in carbon dioxide results in a decrease of blood pH (more acidic), which makes the haemoglobin proteins release their oxygen. When the haemoglobin releases oxygen, it goes to the tissue cells of your body, to the mitochondria, to create ATP energy. You need a certain concentration of carbon dioxide in your body for this to happen.

When you are stressed or anxious, you over-breathe (hyperventilate). This causes you to have too little carbon dioxide in your body, so the haemoglobin is not prompted to release oxygen sufficiently. That means there is not enough oxygen going to our cells where it is needed to create ATP energy – which keeps us alive and functioning!

So disease can also be the result of over breathing or hyperventilation that happens when you are stressed or anxious which causes you to have too little carbon dioxide and too much oxygen bound to haemoglobin and not enough going into the cells where it is needed to create energy.

One of the aims of SOMA Breath is to help you create the optimum balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide for your body, so that you can experience a consistent flow of energy, increased productivity, better and more regulated moods, and be more resistant to stress. It can also help you stay physically healthy, and reduce your chances of getting diseases associated with excessive or a lack of oxygen.

Yoga may have been developed to help you become super efficient at burning oxygen, giving you the right amount of carbon dioxide in your body, so that you can survive with less oxygen, creating less oxidative stress on the body, promoting longer, disease free lives.

pH: The Most Important Factor For Life To Exist

For the important chemical processes in your body to function correctly, your blood needs to be at a pH of 7.4 – slightly alkaline. Therefore, your body automatically does its best to maintain this exact pH value. Oxygen increases the alkalinity of your blood (higher pH), while carbon dioxide makes it more acidic (lower pH) (“Acidosis and Alkalosis”, 2018).

A pulse oximeter measures something called SpO₂ (peripheral capillary oxygen saturation), which is an estimated measure of the amount of oxygen in the blood (Chan et al., 2013). It may surprise you to learn that we have a total abundance of oxygen in our bloodstream: most people have a 97-99% SpO₂ reading under normal conditions and it is not easy to significantly reduce this measurement (“What Does SpO₂ Mean?”, n. d.).

With such high SpO₂ levels to begin with, you can see how it is very easy to over-breathe and make your blood too alkaline under times of stress: you breathe in too much oxygen, and release too much carbon dioxide.

Your body can easily survive a low pH of around 6.8 without any lasting disturbances to your physiology. Intense exercise or long breath retentions can lower the pH of your blood, and you easily recover from it.

Respiratory alkalosis occurs when your blood pH level reaches 7.45 or above (Sampson, 2019). Your blood cells can quickly correct respiratory alkalosis by producing more acid. However, it is possible to have chronic respiratory alkalosis due to high stress levels or certain diseases that cause you to over-breathe. This is when your kidneys may also contribute to the balancing of your blood pH levels (this is called renal compensation) (Barker et al., 1957; Iftikhar, 2019).