Healthy blood cells contain more oxygen, but how do we get more oxygen into our cells?
You might imagine that we just simply breathe more – as in we tend to be aware that we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. But inhalation has very little to do with storing or “holding on” (to) oxygen since each inhalation breath brings in about 4x what we actually need. Rather than nourish us, this excess of oxygen can cause chronic health problems if it tends to become a natural way of being. One example is anxiety / panic attacks. Panic attacks are the result of a stress response where we hyper-ventilate (over-breathe). If you have ever had one, you will know that in this instance of excess oxygen, we get dizzy and light headed. We might also experience tingly fingers and numbness. It’s scary! Not surprisingly, when some chronically stressed people experience those types of symptoms on a regular basis, they can start to worry that they are suffering from a serious brain related illness such as MS. But the reason lots of us might tend to feel foggy and unable to focus can be due to a constant low level fight or flight activity (SNS) causing us to subtly hyperventilate (breathe more than normal).
In order that oxygen actually makes it’s way into our cells, we need to make and store carbon dioxide. It’s CO2 that enables the exchange and transportation of oxygen via haemoglobin into the cellular body.
So how do we do that and what happens if we don’t?
Generally, efficient diaphragmatic nostril breathing occurs when we feel calm and relaxed and our PSNS (parasympathetic nervous system) is dominant rather than the other way round. Our breathing naturally slows and this hypo-ventilation – breathing LESS than normal – means we build up more CO2. It’s also a fact that diet plays a part, for example, consuming less acid forming foods also slows the breathing. More CO2 = more oxygen exchange.
And think about it for a minute, who is the fittest person at the finish line? The one who can still talk and is breathing through their nose, or the one panting uncontrollably? The one with the highest heart rate or the lowest?
Yes, on the other hand, inhibitors of CO2 include stress / tension – whether functional (postural) or emotional, physical (pain), over-adrenalised (too much SNS activity), environmental, dental issues or sinus problems (meaning we mouth breathe), and of course, dodgy diets.
This is the kind of stuff that may lead to chronic, annoying symptoms showing up at some stage, But, as lots of people have annoying symptoms, they are usually described as “normal” (the new normal for our lifestyle) and on-going medication may be prescribed (and so the cycle goes on…).
Breathing expert, Roger Price, describes the blood trying to work efficiently in these instances as like a jacuzzi trying to function properly when there is not quite enough water in the bath! The body will adapt – because it always does – but our blood becomes like a soft drink that has lost its fizz and doesn’t quite hit the spot! Things just don’t work quite the way they need to for us to maintain good health in the longer term.
Importantly, we know that cancer cells do not fare well in the presence of oxygen and a fully oxygenated blood cell will burn energy (calories) and blood sugar at least 20x better than a sluggish cell. So it’s worth thinking about being that it costs….NOTHING!
Practised properly, physical yoga combined with relaxation offers us an opportunity to efficiently manage stress. How? Well, arguably, the challenge is to artificially induce stress in the form of postures and vinyasas (dynamic exercises) and to try to focus on staying calm and being non-competitive in that space. We also have control over our breathing. So just as when we feel stressed or anxious we might breathe more, we can also consciously slow down our breathing and observe the moment. This calms the SNS response and takes us back into PSNS. Basically, even though our instinct might be to come out of a pose or vinyasa that feels intense or over-whelming, when we sit with it and relax, we become more comfortable and aware that in that moment, all is okay. This is the stuff we can then use in real life situations that we don’t have quite as much control over. We can even apply it in those instances where unimportant (in the scheme of things) stuff feels like a big issue (such as a towel not folded the way we would prefer!). The thing is, we cannot always help what happens in our life, but we can seek to manage life and our reaction to all stressors with simple techniques such as these.
In conclusion, health at a cellular and hormonal level begins with relaxing more, breathing less. It means making time for specific “pranayama” and yoga practises that strengthen and exercise the lungs in a way that develops aerobic capacity without adversely affecting our cellular or nervous system.