What is air? Why must we constantly consume it, and what function does breathing really serve?
To begin with, air – what we think of as just plain oxygen - is a blend of gases of which oxygen is only about a 20% participant of. Like almost everything else on earth water/H20 is involved, while along with less than 1% carbon dioxide, and only traces of other gasses such as helium and argon, the majority of earth’s atmosphere is pressurized by nitrogen, which makes up around 78% of air’s content. Thing is, while nitrogen and its minor relatives weigh in at 80% of the pressure filling our lungs, these gasses are not readily absorbed by our cells, leaving oxygen at the minority 20% of atmospheric pressure to do most of the work. The 80/20 ratio may sound relatively familiar, while just coincidence, there is good reason why we’re administered pure oxygen in case of respiratory failure. No one will disagree our bodies require a constant flow of oxygen, so no matter how it’s summed up, clean air is life’s best friend. But why do we actually have to breathe? We breathe – or respirate- because we have aerobic metabolisms, and here on earth, oxygen must be present in order for anything to burn, and we must “burn” caloric energy to fuel survival. Therefore, breathing is the cause, and cellular respiration the effect, as oxygen is the vital key in extracting calories from the food we must consume. That is if we want to remain a vital part of humanity here on planet earth.
Aerobic defined is “with oxygen” and metabolism means that in order for live tissue to continue to function – i.e. the basis of all living creatures – we must regularly consume energy and “burn” caloric energy with oxygen. Saying somewhat paradoxically, we burn caloric energy just so we can continue finding and consuming more caloric energy. Now at the heart of our matter - sustaining life – our bodies must maintain pressure and temperature, which are ultimately any warm-blooded creature’s primary function. For our bodies to autonomically accomplish this phenomenon, we have trillions of cells containing Mitochondrion, likened to micro-furnaces with no flame which explains the “burn.” Our mitochondria work around the clock and calendar to power all of our factory’s operations. As soon as they clock out, we’re off the calendar. Mitochondria are the “powerhouses” of our cells, and by extracting caloric energy from food, they can charge the chemical process which produces ATP. ATP are the molecules which facilitate the action potentials that stimulate our muscle cells, and this whole wonder is known as the Krebs Cycle. These crucial “powercells” (my Neword or MNW) energize our hearts to build blood pressure, force our diaphragm and chest muscles to expand to promote respiration; and in turn: spark and charge braincells, digest said food, create physical balance, fight disease, and eliminate waste; all allowing us to blink, think, drink, walk, talk, gawk, falk, etc.
Our brains are but about 5% of our mass, yet they can consume 20% of our body’s total oxygen levels. Equally miraculous is how our body’s intelligence autonomically orchestrates trillions of intrinsic actions all simultaneously occurring every split-second, all in the order of controlling the multifarious functions of our internal biosphere. Giving us an ability to comprehend that last sentence. Any way we say it, oxygen is without a doubt our most immediate and vital source of regenerative energy, however, the key fact I want to convey here is… the way in which we consume air does have a direct effect on our level of vitality. We cannot stop – nor would we want to – any one of our bodily functions except maybe overthinking at times, and we certainly have the brainpower to consciously gain control over most of our intrinsic part’s volume and rate. So as long as we’re awake making decisions, choosing to pay attention to our breath patterns is always in our best interest. If we work toward homeostasis (complete balance of all our intrinsically functioning parts) during the day, our bodies will get the message and continue to work on that goal through the night. As an example, we’ll have greater success at a good night’s sleep if we take control of our mind by setting a good morning routine and a habitual bedtime, as opposed to letting ourselves randomly fall asleep to late night television, only to wake feeling like the bottom dropped out. What can be assessed can be controlled, what can be controlled can be improved.
Also, consider how - prior to the Industrial Age - to make it through the “work week” or sunup to sundown, almost everyone on the planet had to perform chores on the level of an endurance athlete. And as food was less abundant, we naturally had to be more efficient breathers to be sure to make good use of every calorie. Consider how we developed bigger brains as the result of thinking more efficiently. Today however, how many complain if they don’t get a good parking spot, or will waste half a tank of gas trying to find one? Most will avoid walking up a single flight of stairs for fear of a little huffing and puffing while further creating a gross inefficiency in their cardiovascular system, apparently so they can brag about all the meds they’re on. Although technology continues to drive us further into “sedentarism,” through better – more efficient - breathing practices, we can again continue to unlock our innate potential. Or allow ourselves to deteriorate while technology – with a growing mind of its own – continues to take our reigns. As we let go of self-control, we’re simply allowing ourselves to become less healthy, all the while technology continues to drive itself further up the new-food chain (MNW) of oil, coal, and gas, fueling humanity while leaving us in its wake to choke on the toxic emissions. Over 97 Billion tons of carbon were released into our atmosphere in 2019 alone.
Instead, efficient breathing when practiced, can change our entire state of being. Here we simply need to devote time to finding our respiratory sweet spots, for once identified, it only requires six consecutive breaths to shift ourselves into an enhanced state. Forever after, no fairytale, we can apply or modify our breath practice where and whenever our hearts desire (yep another pun there). Our first hint of improved breathing is to focus our inhalation through our nostrils. By taking intentionally slow and controlled breaths through our nostrils with full conscious attention, the key secrets of millions of years of human evolution will unlock themselves from right behind our eyes - or, better said; inside our third eye. While the basis of cellular respiration is an oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange, the old “in with the good, out with the bad'' breathing cliché is now (for the most part) outdated. It’s been demystified (Neword), for our biology has proven that carbon dioxide circulating in our bloodstream is not completely a waste product. This is because when CO does remain present in the bloodstream, it works to release more of the oxygen molecules being carried by our hemoglobin. This is recognized as the Bohr Effect as it was discovered by 19th century scientist Christian Bohr. Likewise, the more oxygen molecules that get attached to hemoglobin, the more that are attracted to get on board. Just like happy people, the more the merrier. To be more explicit, more efficient breathing automatically works to retain carbon dioxide in the bloodstream, and when this occurs simultaneously with an effective intake of fresh air, it creates a distinct advantage to this mixed-gas cycle.
Science in the way of self-quantification known as “biofeedback” can show us through a pulse oximeter (a very simple tool placed on the end of our finger to measure oxygen saturation) that hefty breathing is not required for oxygen saturation levels in the blood to be maintained above 90%. With a mindful approach to our breathing practices, we can effectively maintain high levels of oxygen saturation in our bloodstream. Most importantly, nasal breathing activates our parasympathetic nervous system calming respiration, and when the breath calms, the mind calms, and the nervous system autonomically follows suit. Nasal breathing also solicits a Nitric Oxide response. NO is a gas which promotes vasodilation, the relaxed opening of our blood vessels. Therefore, relaxed breathing induces greater circulation, and in turn relaxes and harmonizes our autonomic nervous systems so that we naturally focus more toward a state of homeostasis than self-protection. A calm state is almost always more efficient, and likewise more receptive, and is quantified as high “Heart Rate Variability” or HRV. HRV is another modern biofeedback tool, and is the measurement of the time interval between heartbeats, where a high response rate produces a high score, and a sluggish response a low score.
Packed into our birthkit is our Central Nervous System and peripheral nervous system, which is split into three segments, one being the Vagus Nerve which acts as the root of most of our cause. This major player branches throughout our entire body, and is bifurcated into what we’ve been referring to as our sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Like a nano-manager, the Vagus nerve is involved in almost every one of our actions/reactions, and the relationship between SNS and PNS is known as our Vagal Tone. Crucial information regarding our state of being swings between our SNS and PNS like a vibrating pendulum and this is HRV. Good vibrations produce high HRV for a singing tone, and low HRV means something’s screaming “FIX THIS.” Pay attention to the signs or ignore and invite disease.
Consider how between the millions of thoughts we can have per day, we never have to ask ourselves “should I breathe?” Breathing is about the only thing left on earth that’s still free, and doesn’t require any one’s permission - even water for drinking now comes with a transaction or at least a request. Consider how often the world around us seems hectic - even when it might not be - and in response, if breathing is left unchecked and it becomes equally erratic, causing low HRV, and we can unconsciously shift into the superlow response state of depression, or the overly heightened sympathetic state known as “fight, flight, or freeze.” The deal is, in reality we do have a choice. That choice is to either take control of our wellbeing through better, conscious breathing - or to throw caution to the wind and breathe haphazardly. Let’s practice our first breathing exercise. First swallow. Okay do it again feeling how your tongue naturally seats itself on the roof of your mouth (soft palate). Now before your next breath, purposefully rest your tongue here and take in a slow conscious breath through your nostrils and sense that you’re pipelining oxygen directly into your brain. For the next steps click on developing this foundation click on Breathing 101 below.
If our heart is beating, respiration is creating cellular energy without question or hesitation. It’s nice to know we don’t have to understand any of the science to breathe - or in fact conceptualize any of the internal processes we’ve discussed to be better breathers - but it helps to know, and it’s why I wrote this. As an analogy, we can be “better eaters” simply by chewing more times before swallowing (pre-
digesting) but it’s also best to know what kind of calories our body needs (what is most nutritional) before taking the first bite (planning). There is almost nothing better in our health interests than learning and applying better breathing practices, as more efficient breathing is a potentially life changing practice for any and every person. Although we subconsciously know the basis of better breathing is found in our conscious application, how many of us are applying as part of a daily routine? Again, this is why I am writing this to you. By becoming aware of our breathing patterns, we give ourselves the chance to consider, by way of feeling or sensory perception, how respiration is actually fueling our bodies, calming our nervous systems, aiding digestion, improving sleep, and in the big picture promoting wellness and therefore longevity. That’s a lot of bang for no bucks. Through our conscious awareness, we create the opportunity to enhance homeostasis every time we draw air into our lungs. Think of our own consciousness – our present sense of awareness - as having the ability to further enhance our own personal miracle, life. It’s totally a function of self-health! And here at Health Defense, our mission is to start a Self-Health Revolution! Care to get onboard? Enter your email, FB, or IG below so we can stay in touch.
Consider the other end of the spectrum, where over time, we can effectively eat enough to bring disease upon ourselves, even to the point of death, while we can also drink enough water to deplete our electrolyte stores and cause death from hypernatremia within hours. Although we cannot realistically breathe ourselves to death, we could hyperventilate to the point of becoming so “light headed'' that euphoria can set in. This can be fun in the right setting, yet this could potentially be a problem in already dangerous situations such as free diving. According to the science revealed by the Buteyko Method, chronic overbreathing can cause a greater release of free-radicals, which causes us to age faster.
Hopefully you’re aware of the newage fad of adding antioxidant rich foods and supplements into our daily diet. It is based in the same science I’m speaking of here and it is something we should all be doing, but if antioxidants slow oxidation then why would we consistently add more oxygen - over oxidizing - than is required if this causes our metabolisms to release even more free-radicals when our body’s activity level isn’t creating that level of demand. Efficient breathing then is not necessarily about getting more oxygen into our bloodstream all the time, it’s about consciously controlling respiration to get the right amount for creating homeostasis, the balanced state of all our energy systems.
So, how much air is right? And, how should we breathe properly? Better breathing begins in our nasal cavity - and the foundation of improving any habit begins in the mind. Habits stem from being consciously aware of what adaptations need to be made, and then building a system of reminding ourselves until they take hold. Our evolutionary instincts assure that repetitiveness over time will do the work for us, as good habits turn us into self-motivating machines. “Repetition is the father of Skill” says Tony Robbins, while Patrick McKeown in his fantastic book The Oxygen Advantage (featuring the Buteyko Method) states “Breathe light to breathe right” suggesting this as a superhealthy (Neword) habit. Here, I like better posture to be my reminder for better breathing. Bad posture causes aches and pains, and can constrict our breathing space. Therefore, I let my posture serve as a reminder, where – less than efficient - breathing can easily go unnoticed. Posture, like breathing, is just as important when sitting or standing, and as well sends improved messages to our nervous systems. Need more reasons? Guided inhalation through our nasal passage is best because, as we inhale through our nostrils, the air is first warmed/cooled closer to our body temperature, and filtered by those pesky cilia hairs, where dust and toxic particles can also be collected in the just as pesky mucus membranes. With NO stimulating more efficient circulation of oxygenated blood, we can actually feel the improved vitality as it causes us to feel better, think better, and sleep better. Yes, and for both sexes, that function will be enhanced too. If we breathe 20,000 times a day it’s worth repeating a few times that the foundation of a better daily - and nightly- inspiration is through the nose.
Let’s kick this horsepower thing one more time. First, we learned to communicate, next we walked, then discovered fire, made crude tools, invented the wheel, and between innovations such as engines and drive-chains, the Industrial Revolution motivated itself into computerized automation. Well, as technology has far outpaced our own development since that time, here today where we can start our oven from a smartphone, our modern minds still can’t distinguish the difference between bad bosses, bad drivers, bad customer service and big lions which wanted to get our flesh stuck between their teeth. The hypersensitive Vegus Nerve constantly acts as if it were a two-way switch that is polarized to either engage one branch or the other. The switch is constantly flipping (HRV) and although evolution (instinctual functions of our brain) prefers to save calories by defaulting to rest/digest… anytime for any reason we become alerted, this autonomic switch triggers the heart to ramp up to be ready for action. In response, we then dump fuel/glycogen into our bloodstream so we’ll be primed for fight of flight. Here our breathing also ramps up because we need to burn these calories now released from storage, and this triggers an insulin response to shuttle the sugar molecules to the required sites. But if it’s a false alarm, where are these calories going to go? Not to our wheels but to our spare tire.
So! Does your emotional switch seem to stay on alert? Well, each and every one of those alerts causes our vascular systems to dilate, and with repeated bouts of glycogen being dumped into our bloodstream, we’ll suffer from “glycemic variability” a leading cause of many chronic diseases including obesity (along with “comfort” food to calm us down). On the other hand, when our environment seems to be in the clear, and our nerves naturally slow our heartrates down, our run-for-the-hills blood vessels constrict, allowing more blood to facilitate the digestive system, or repair any damage done from preceding stresses or strains. Let’s just say our metabolisms cannot be in a state of defend and digest at the same time. As the sensing mechanism of heartrate variability becomes overworked, it will unnecessarily drive us into super-sensitive emotional states of fluctuating hormones such as cortisol the “stress hormone” for no apparent reason. This “switch” is as a metaphorically accurate way of saying this is “how we’re wired.” But after our switch takes too many high amperage hits, it becomes a “hair-trigger.” This my new friends, is why better breathing, exercise, meditation, and the feeling of being connected to others are all so beneficial for a holistic lifestyle, or as well human performance.
Now how do we otherwise stay calm, cool, and collected? The only logical way is to take conscious control and breathe our way into a parasympathetic state. Better breathing, better diet, better sleep, consistent hydration and functional exercise all add up to an increase in the smooth circulation which is homeostasis. As a supplemental ending here, healthier – freer – joints are as necessary for good health. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (only about 5,000 years in development) the root of all disease originates in our joints, for this is where our Chi energy stagnates. Chi or prana is our lifeforce, the impulses which spark our hearts and fire up our braincells and nervous systems. So how many of these “must-do-everyday’s” do you take the time to focus in on? Now to call the question. Considering what we’ve learned here, doesn’t it make sense to begin by honing in on not only the most vital, but the most readily available resource we have to improve our health, which naturally translates into longer lives? Of course it does. Yea yea… this is why I wrote this, but as importantly this is why we at Health Defense developed our line of holistic training products! Please check them out and let’s all work together on our Selfhealth Revolution!
All the best breaths!