The life giving process which we call breathing isn’t only innate in humans. Many life-forms use the same or at least a similar method to connect with their surroundings in a life sustaining way. This always implies an interchange and a transformation process. I should actually say processes as they extend far beyond the biochemical functions. Breathing is a central mechanism in the life of a human form which conduces to maintenance, regulation and expression.
One of the most basic functions of breathing in the human body is to bring oxygen into the body and to get carbon dioxide out of it. Most people are aware that we need oxygen to survive. The fact that something needs to be discarded when something else (in this case oxygen) is induced makes sense. What is less known, is that the effect of carbon dioxide as long as it is still in the body. Carbon dioxide (CO2) acts acidic in the human body.
Tissue, cartiglage, muscle and similar structures that are in contact with CO2 enriched blood tend to have an acidic ph-value.To understand the significance of this fact it has to be mentioned that most internal body processes work best in a slightly alkaline environment in the body. Therefore, a too acidic body environment is rather causing damage. Many basic functions are supported by an alkaline ph-value. They include the regeneration of the muscles after a strain, the unhindered functioning of the immune system as well as the synthesis and the production of important substances such as amino acids and proteins which cannot be ingested through nourishment and which are important for the body.
In 1931 Dr. Otto Warburg won the Nobel Prize for his discovery that cancer cannot survive in an alkaline body environment. In other words, an alkaline diet and avoiding acid generating substances such as nicotine, processed sugar or processed food products (nowadays everything that doesn’t come directly from the farmer) are simple but incredibly effective methods to prevent cancer. But, as already mentioned, also the full functioning of the immune system depends on the right ph-value of the body. But as much as diet plays a vital role, the most direct mechanism to work against hyperacidity is respiration. If the phases of breathing in and out are in a healthy relation it helps the body in a relaxed way to be healthy and active. Whether all parts of the body are in a healthy ph-value also depends on other factors. One is the stress ratio of the muscles. Parts which are under a lot of stress or inner pressure often hinder the evacuation of venous blood that is rich in carbon dioxide. You find more information on this topic in the article on effective training for the spine.
Unlike the heartbeat the breathing rhythm is actively controllable (to influence the heartbeat it takes intensive training). You can say that breathing has conscious and unconscious parts. Even though the main part happens on an unconscious level, it is possible to consciously steer your breathing. So what exactly is possible and what isn’t? Here is just an example of the unconscious basic function of breathing: Let’s say you have a strong will. If you are ashore, in sitting or lying position, and hold your breath it will be quite easy for you at the beginning. The increasing level of carbon dioxide in your blood is causing the impulse to breathe in after a while (note: the lack of oxygen as a factor for the impulse only adds up to it after a while). If you are brave you can decide to still ignore the impulse. If you are very disciplined you are able to hold your breath until you faint. You won’t die from it because as soon as unconsciousness sets in, your mind’s control will shut down out of an adverse-effects reflex and the automatic takes over. Your breathing sets in again to save the body.
Apart from the obvious biochemical processes which breathing is important for, the function also has a major role in the expression of emotions and psychological states. Emotions in the body can be described as complex mechanisms which correspond to certain patterns. The mental has learned over time to name these patterns. Thus, love, happiness, sadness, fear, gratefulness etc. are, physically seen, changes of body cells and their pulsation, inter-communication, output of energy as well as changes of the hormones and the neurotransmitters. Every emotion causes a specific functional cascade which we recognize and describe in one word. This also explains why emotions normally don’t “leave you cold”. They have a quite real, physically comprehensible component. Breathing is one of the body functions which are very directly influenced by changed energy requirements of the body as well as changes in the rhythmic processes. In the case of fear, for example, your muscular tension is high and your breath becomes short and quick using much more tension than required. If these two patterns build up further, they lead to a restricted breathing pattern with flat breathing and an inefficient use of your abdominal wall and your diaphragm. Apart from the fact that your breathing reacts on a changed need of energy in your body it is part of primordial programs, e.g. the fight-flight-reaction. There is no rhythmical process in your body that leaves your breathing unaffected. But this fact also makes it possible to change emotional states according to your wishes by consciously control your breathing. In this way, feelings like fear and stress can be dissolved, positive excitement deepened and happiness further unfolded (see: Emotions and our possibilities to influence them).
Free and unhindered breathing with sufficient and especially relaxed exhaling also helps you to be confident in yourself and to express yourself verbally. Your voice is a good indicator to see if you are under stress or feel secure and relaxed. If your breathing is stressed, this can have an uncomforting effect on your body: the reverse effect of what I’ve mentioned before to control your breathing in situations of stress. If your breathing is stressed also your body raises its level of tension. If you find the main steering mechanisms you can generate quite positive effects for you. If these mechanisms remain unattended, even though they are restricted in their function already, it can cause even long term physical and psychosomatic problems. Possible reasons for a suboptimal functioning of central steering mechanisms can be physical illness, psychological stress, overload, a negative self-perception and self-esteem or old traumata and injuries. The good news is that, through your breathing and a conscious use of your mind, you can regain a high amount of health and control of your life.
Regular, conscious breathing increases your ability to concentrate and the higher oxygen-satiation has a very positive effect on the high use of energy of the brain. Whenever you work on a specific part of your body you also have to actively deal with the physical response. This improves your self-knowledge and the relation to yourself as a living entity. Especially in our modern world it is useful to recover from the countless impulses we receive and which often demand a lot of our attention.
It is important to always use psychological processes or ideas in combination with a physical component. If this is not the case it can lead to a one-sided use of the psychological resources and eventually to a number of problems. So you can say that the combination of good awareness of the body and conscious decisions is the key to a positive change.
Positive consequences of a well-functioning and conscious breathing:
- good supply of the body
- support of the immune system by avoiding hyperacidity and providing energy for the cell metabolism
- possibility to actively relax body and soul
- being able to express freely, both verbally and emotionally
- having self-control over emotional states instead of being controlled by them
- increased ability to focus
- being able to feel yourself in a positive way an thus recognize your own value again
- increased general energy level
How you look into the subject of breathing is less important than doing it to begin with. There are many different breathing techniques from different cultures. Mostly, it isn’t necessary to acquire a complex breathing pattern to get positive effects. In video tutorials and my article on concrete breathing exercises I’m describing two basic breathing patterns which are easily learnable for every person and can lead to many positive effects with little effort.
If this article inspires you and you have gained new perspectives and new reasons why conscious breathing can be important for you and your everyday life, feel welcome to read the articles on exercises in my blog, check for the video tutorials or look up possibilities in your surroundings. There is also always the option of setting up workshops with me all around the world, so you have plenty of options. Breathing is easy, it’s fun, it’s natural and it really helps a lot!! J