Recently I ran across some great animated gifs that explore breathing for different life forms- including humans… It got me thinking: Have you ever stopped to consider how you Breathe? It’s a process that deeply affects every cell of the body. Rate, depth and location of our breath send unique messages to the rest of our body about our state of wellbeing and can greatly influence our health- for the better or the worse. Often we don’t think about the amazing physiological sophistication of it all!
Breathing and Chemical/Ph Balance:
Proper diaphragmatic breathing helps us maintain a proper chemical balance of CO2 and O2 in our blood – keeping CO2 in high enough concentration- a “sweet spot” if you will, that allows for proper separation of O2 from Hemoglobin and delivery to the tissues.
Without just the right amount of CO2, O2 remains tightly bound to our red blood cells and never reaches it’s delivery in the cells! Breathing too shallowly and quickly (upper chest breathing) as you would in a stressed state can blow off too much CO2 and leave our cells gasping for oxygen, despite it’s prolific presence in our blood…
Breathing and its ‘Mechanical’ Effects
Breathing helps your internal organs and digestion. Proper diaphragmatic breathing massages the internal organs as the diaphragm moves downwards- this rhythmic pressing from above increases new blood flow/circulation to these organs and can greatly aid in peristalsis- helping with the process of digestion and elimination. Have Constipation? Working on proper diaphragmatic breathing could be a lifesaver.
Have varicose veins or circulation issues? Diaphragmatic breathing can greatly increase venous return- blood flow from veins back up towards the heart against gravity. How? Through the process of the ‘respiratory pump’: as the Ribcage (Thoracic Cavity) expands and the diaphragm drops downwards, air is sucked into the lungs by vacuum pressure- and at the same time a rush of blood is sucked from the venous system of the body into the lung tissues to meet the air and carry away fresh oxygen to the body.
The vacuum pressure of this respiratory pump greatly aids the heart in helping fight gravity to accomplish venous return from the far flung areas of the body, such as our legs. Interested in understanding the mechanism better? Here’s a great video by Dr. John Campbell.
There’s far more to the effects of breathing than this- from activation of your Autonomic Nervous System priming you for a relaxing nap… or for a day of stress, your breathing can help you not only react to, but also shape your emotional response to your life.
In Part 2, we’ll look into our emotional response system, how it’s tied to our breathing, and ways we can use our breath to strongly affect our sense of wellbeing!
Until then, I leave you with a fun comparative graphic of human breathing mechanics vs some other creatures we share this earth with… enjoy! 🙂