To truly understand the miracle of your next breath, letʼs look at the mechanics and energetics of the breathing process on multiple levels. “With each breath we take in about one million particles that have existed in our environment since the beginning of time and which certainly at some point have passed through every living being on our planet – including Buddha, Jesus, Hitler and Einstein. Every time we breathe out, we add something unique to our environment (Minett, 2004).” What are these particles? How do we take them in and what energetic influence do they have on us and us on them?
On the chemical level the air we breathe is about 20 percent oxygen and .03 percent carbon dioxide. The rest of the air is a combination of nitrogen, water vapor and various other gases including carbon monoxide, methane, helium and air pollutants. Our exhale consists of 14 percent oxygen, 5 percent carbon dioxide, 6 percent water vapor and 69 percent nitrogen and other gases coming from the bodyʼs metabolism. We nourish our body systems on the inhale and release waste on the exhale. Our process, in turn, helps nurture the environment around us. Trees, for example, give off the oxygen we need and take in the carbon dioxide we give off for their nurturance.
We pump in the air at a rate of about 12-15 times a minute when awake and 6-8 times when asleep. Men breathe an average of 12-14 times per minute, women 14-15. Newborn babies breathe about twice as fast as adults. The main breathing muscle to expand the lungs and draw in air is the diaphragm, a dome-shaped sheath of muscle fiber forming the floor of the chest cavity and the ceiling of the abdominal cavity. The diaphragm is attached to the inside of the lower ribs as well as the lumbar spine. “The diaphragm is influenced by the health and mobility of the spine and pelvis and their associated muscles and these in turn are influenced not just by our habitual posture, but also by our emotions and attitudes (Lewis, 1997).” Tension in the abdominal muscles produces one of the most adverse influences in the diaphragm by impeding its downward motion on the inhale and consequently its efficiency in bringing air into our bodies. Other muscles involved in breathing include the rib, back and psoas muscles. Unnecessary tension in our shoulders, chest, belly, back or pelvis interferes with respiratory coordination.
Our brain stem (medulla oblongata) sends messages through the vagus nerve to the diaphragm and intercostal muscles to initiate inhalation. Exhalation requires a relaxation of these muscles, initiated by an inhibitory message along the vagus nerves. The respiratory system is connected to most of the bodyʼs sensory nerves and, as such, immediate or chronic sensory stimulation can impact the force and speed of our breath. Pain, tension or stress generally speed up our breathing and reduce its depth. While this may provide a temporary fix to a sudden need for quick energy, when continued over the long term, they seriously debilitate our system.
Pathway to our cells
When we breathe air in through our noses, it flows through the pharynx which controls the coordination of swallowing and breathing. Air then passes through the larynx, with which we make sound, and down the trachea where the bronchi divide into the right and left lungs. All the way along, mucous membranes and tiny hairs, cilia, filter out impurities. In the lungs the bronchi subdivide smaller and smaller down to tiny air-filled sacs, called alveoli. Some 750 million of these alveoli run alongside blood-filled capillaries, tiny blood vessels so small that blood cells can only pass through them single file. Here is where the miraculous transfer takes place and the alkaline oxygen from the air is taken up by the hemoglobin in the blood while the acidic carbon dioxide is discarded back to the alveoli for elimination on the exhale. The blood vessels carry the oxygen to the bodyʼs cells where another exchange takes place, nutrients and oxygen coming in are exchanged for the carbon dioxide waste from the cellular process of metabolism being discharged. Oxygen is essential for the enzymes in the cellular mitochondria to break down carbohydrates and fats into energy we need to work.
” The lungs fill from the bottom up and most of the alveoli/capillary exchange takes place in the lower lungs. If breathing is shallow or in the upper chest, we have to work much harder and use more energy to get our needed oxygen. This is an inefficient process that depletes us, even though we may have accustomed ourselves to it feeling “normal.”
Our brain stem responds to the amount of CO2 in the blood to initiate messages to the breathing muscles. When we are breathing inefficiently, we begin a vicious cycle of the brain sending messages to breathe more, but because we are discharging CO2 too rapidly by breathing ineffectively we are deregulating the pH balance in the blood, and the brain responds as if the system were more and more oxygen starved (Litchfield, 2005). The extreme example of this leads to hyperventilation and/or chronic anxiety. The effects of this oxygen starvation to the systems of the body are legion and well documented (White, 2007).
Factors influencing breathing
Learning to breathe in a healthy way is not a mechanical or a cookbook formula because of the multiple factors on several levels that can negatively influence our breathing process. These include:
•Physical – muscular tension, poor diet, injury;
•Emotional – unresolved trauma, chronic fear, guilt or anger;
•Mental – beliefs and self talk that trigger defense and constriction;
•Spiritual – imbalances in our subtle energy centers (chakras).
The art of healthy breathing relies on manifesting our loving intentions in the physical form through the miracle of our next breath – which is the result of all the above mentioned levels operating together. Taking conscious responsibility for each of these levels starts with awareness. When we bring these levels into harmony, our breath is experienced as the rainbow bridge flowing from the spiritual to the physical.