Meditation is ancient, now neuroscience is uncovering the mysterious magic!
Of course, meditation has been around for THOUSANDS of years and most of us have some sort of awareness that its very good for us. In fact regular practise can strengthen areas of your brain responsible for memory, learning, attention and self-awareness. According to news medical, The earliest documented records that mentioned meditation involved Vedantism, which is a Hindu tradition in India, around 1500 BCE. However, historians believe that meditation was practiced before this time, as early as 3000 BCE.
I’d like to think as a species we’ve evolved a bit since then, be that for the better or for the worse I’m not sure. I remember someone I was interviewing on the podcast explained the term “de-evolution” to me; the idea that the technological age is advancing so fast, we as a species can’t possibly evolve at a speed that even comes close, hence we’ve entered an age of burnout where more people than not are living in a survival mode of exhaustion, over stimulation and reactivity – sound familiar? (I’ve so been there!)
With all our advances, both good and bad, the big difference now is, we have all these sophisticated tools like neuro-imaging, functional magnetic resonance imaging, brain mapping technology, and gene research, thus allowing scientists the unprecedented ability to measure the effects of meditation on the brain and brainwave patterns.
Stay with me….Like with any practise, the more you do it, the easier it becomes and the quicker you can get into it. The same goes for meditation, to the point where you can alter your brain waves to experience differing levels of consciousness – just slightly insanely cool or is it just me?
So, here’s the low down. Let’s start with BETA.
BETA brain waves, between 14 and 24 Hz corresponds to the monkey in your head, that “busy mind” that so many of inhabit most of the time. It’s generally of left brain dominance and is characterised with unbalanced, chaotic and fragmented thinking.
(This always gets me thinking about school, they teach us how to “think” but no one ever explains how to stop thinking which, turns out, is fundamental for our mental health and wellbeing)
ALPHA brain wave frequency ranges between 8 and 12 Hz. Alpha waves calm the nervous system, lower blood pressure and heart rate and are associated with the early stages of meditation. The more alpha waves a person can produce in ordinary states of consciousness, the easier it becomes to access a deep meditative state.
THETA brain waves is where we start to drift into dreamland. Ranging at a frequency of 3.5-7Hz this is a state where balanced brain activity actually increases, creating “inner images and visions”.
(It’s seems as though images from deep within our subconscious, which we usually blur out with our logical minds, are finally allowed to rise to the surface in this state, allowing guidance, insights and even a foreseeing of a significant event to appear. Many who have done great things in this world have often reported that their greatest ideas, insights and “inner guidance” came when they were still, silent and calm. When we’re stressed, our creativity depletes)
DELTA is associated with a more transcendent state thats ‘beyond the mind’. Ranging between 0.5-4Hz, this state is characterised with masters of meditation who are able to reach what in yoga we call “Samadhi”, the final stage of the eight limbed path of yoga. When the “I”, or anything associated with duality, “you and I”, “You and the device you’re reading this on”, dissolves into a universal consciousness. A oneness with all things, known as the subtlest meditative state possible.
(DELTA waves are also associated with the deep stage 3 of NREM sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep (SWS), and aid in characterizing the depth of sleep.)
If you’ve read this far….I’m guessing, like me, you totally geek out on this stuff, the spiritual meets the scientific, and the wonder of our minds. Us humans really are quite miraculous when you consider what our minds our capable of.
SO, if you haven’t given meditation or breath work a go yet, yes there is a difference which I will explain in next weeks newsletter, take a seat, straighten your spine, breathe gently in and out through your nose, and allow all of your awareness to focus on the in flow and out flow of your breath. Just sit with “what is” for a moment, and witness yourself breathing. If your mind wanders, which it will, gently come back to the breath.
Notice what you notice. Maybe sit there for 2 minutes. Then tomorrow, maybe 3 minutes. Just a few minutes a day will make a noticeable difference to your mental health and wellbeing.
Keep breathing friends and if you’d like to breathe WITH ME, join my weekly de-stress online breath work class each and every Monday at 18:00pm GMT time.
Just sign up to my newsletter to receive the info and the link!
✨The foundation of extraordinary performance, joy and confidence – and the primary skill to learn – is how to believe.
✨Beliefs are the control panel of your life, a subconscious thermostat, keeping your life in line with your comfort levels. To improve performance (and your life) in a consistent, powerful way, you must change your beliefs about who you are and what’s possible.
To change your internal belief system takes a heightened awareness and an incredible ability to focus.
The best way to up-level both of these qualities? The breath! It’s the most consistent mechanism you have! Thoughts are incredibly inconsistent and unreliable, not to mention unhelpful at the best of times. Emotions often get the blame for an inability to focus, but the breath? It’s wave like flow creates a portrait mode vision that brings clarity, focus and coherence to an otherwise messy mind.
The longer you can hold your focus on something as simple as your breathing, the more your attention span and ability to become hyper focused increases.
Awareness = Autonomy Focus = Progress
How long can you focus on your breathing before your mind starts to wander?
Awareness is the foundation of any breath work practise….the question is, can you resist the temptation to create an interpretation of what you observe?
Allowing yourself time and space to look inward is one thing, but the real challenge is, can you remove a need to explain the going’s on of your own body and mind and simply be the witness of your own thoughts, feelings and sensations from a place of non-judgement?
The more I practise, the more heightened my awareness becomes and the quicker I can tap into it. My most recent hurdle however has been how to not over think the f**k out of certain things I observe.
Observing things I like are easy…things I’m grateful for, feelings of bliss, wholeness and oneness. But what about feelings of unease, discomfort, trauma…those darker parts of ourselves. How can we resist the urge to NEED TO UNDERSTAND what it all means?
What I’ve come to realise with those less comfy observations is that as soon as you start to interpret them..”this means I must be this” or “I’m clearly in THIS place right now” ..you give weight to them, you start to construct a narrative around those observations, this creates a spiral of over thinking, anxiety and inevitably prolonged, unnecessary suffering. You may be doing all the right practises and reading all the best self help books but if you’re still stuck in a loop of over thinking…you’ve lost the essence of practise, not to do, just to BE.
This is the journey of acceptance. Total acceptance of what is. Whatever that is. It’s all simply experience. And if we can sit with it, if we can remain present with it……we come back to curiosity, we become changeable, we allow ourselves to simply be, without having to “do” anything about all those problems we construct in our minds.
Try it this week….take 2 minutes to take a few gentle deep breaths and notice your thoughts, notice your feelings, notice your sensations…with no need to interpret their meaning, with no obligation other than to be with all that you are in this moment, remembering that that is enough.
Have a wonderful week, and keep breathing…Love Georgie x
There’s something about being in and near water that brings a sense of oneness with myself and nature.
Did you know up to 60% of the human adult body is water? According to H.H Mitchell, journal of biological chemistry 158, the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water.
We and water are one. It’s no surprise that today’s cold plunge left me feeling energised, expansive and in flow with both my inner tide and the tide I was swimming with. I’m so excited to be joining the @thehumanprogramme this month to deepen my teachings in health optimisation to keep bringing you content that enriches your inner experience.
Cold exposure has made it mainstream over the last few years as one of the most popular health optimisation tools, largely due to the influence of resilience legends like Wim Hof aka, the ice man. Every man and his dog are taking cold showers and morning cold plunges these days, and with good reason, the benefits of taking the plunge are numerous and well documented, affecting both physical and mental aspects of your body. Some of which include;
I must say, it took quite a bit of revving up the take the plunge. But once I was in, it felt incredible, partly because of the rush of having actually done it and followed through and secondly because of the surprising sensation of heat! I felt so warm, like I could have stayed in there for hours and as if I had enough energy to run a marathon. According to XPT, explorers, curators and providers of the world’s most exciting and effective training modalities, this isn’t just a coincidence……
Well, it turns out there are real mechanisms to cold adaptation—those of the nervous, cardiovascular, endocrine, and muscular systems. In shocking these systems with a frigid ice bath or exposure to cold, we trigger a response that’s usually reserved for our most dire situations. The body’s response is the trifecta of optimization we need to survive:
Increase metabolic rate to keep the core warm (protect what is important), and turn up the furnace internally with the release of free form fatty acids (FFAs) and glucose.
Restrict blood vessels and capillaries in the extremities (leave what’s not important). In this way, the body teaches elasticity beyond just expanding in heat.
When we increase metabolic rate, we’re also askingour body to vasodilate (decrease blood pressure). This allows the systems above to work incredibly well.
So there you have it! This is definitely the first cold plunge of many for me, being out in nature just adds another level of awesomeness to it beyond the cold showers. However if you’re reading this and fancy a dip in the cold yourself, start small. Experiment with turning down the temperature in your shower to a tolerable cooler temperature and take some deep breaths for about two minutes. Gradually, you’ll get to a point where you can walk straight into a cold shower, jump straight into an ice cold sea and reap the benefits as a result.
On another note, we must respect the water we are so connected to and take care of our oceans. Whether that’s using less water, reducing pollutants, only buying responsibly sourced fish or not consuming fish at all. Or if it’s simply picking up a piece of rubbish that crosses your path.
Next time you’re in the water, take a few deep breaths in a moment of gratitude to acknowledge how truly interconnected you are with nature.
Something my amazing mentor shared with me that got my mind ticking over intentions and how we integrate them into our day to day lives…
If we continue to act on the same limiting beliefs, if we invest in the same narratives regarding our own self worth and potential, why would we expect anything other than the same outcome to keep reoccurring? Until we accept the current narrative is of no use to us, until we begin to embody a new idea or new intention we can’t expect to see any change.
What if everything you did wasn’t just a mere accident but a choice? Could we reach a level of awareness where every decision, every action was done with intention? And what impact would that have on our day to day lives? I’ve found that actively slowing the pace at which I act on things allows me to consider the choices i make and then, if needs be, choose again. Until living with the new narrative becomes habitual (unconscious competence), the new choice will be something that has to be consciously implemented. A practise that will need to be applied daily.
Sometimes, and speaking from personal experience, we can go too far with this idea. Suddenly creating ideals and schedules to try to adhere with some imaginary perfectionist protocol. I’ve learnt, and I learnt the hard way, that the key word here is “try”. As soon as we try or force, we’ve stepped out of flow and into survival mode.
So can we go forth embodying the energy of our intention and then let go and surrender to the present moment? Allowing that to organise the doings of the day. Swapping effort for energy.
A brilliant analogy that really resonates with me is the tug of war rope. You pull and pull and pull and often the more you pull the harder the force of opposition pulls you the other way. So what I’m saying is, let go of the rope. Let go of any need to control the logistics or the direction. This too is a daily practise, and you will mess up, I still do at least once a week. But every mistake is a great gift in the lessons we take from it.
My intention this week is that whenever I feel myself tugging, I will choose again and let go of the rope…what’s yours?
So, I’m in my late luteal phase and find myself experiencing some serious brain fog so, I decided to do a little research.
Here’s what came up.
There is a link between a woman’s sex hormones, primarily oestragon and progesterone and her ability to think, learn and understand. Known as cognition skills. An article from yourhealthhub.com peaked my interest after a flick through google. Feeling both comforted and curious I read onwards, only to discover that brain fog is not only normal but to be expected just before your period hits. Once again, it’s not you, you’re fine, its your hormones. I’ve included my favourite bits of the article below, as well as a link to the full version, to shed some light on this fact that we far too often overlook because we’re too busy judging ourselves for being foggy in the first place.
The menstrual cycle creates fluctuations in levels of these hormones. And the more severe a woman’s premenstrual symptoms are, the more likely they are to experience changes in their cognition skills, or brain fog, says Associate Professor Caroline Gurvich, a Senior Research Fellow and Clinical Neuropsychologist at Monash Alfred Psychiatry (MAP) Research Centre.Assoc Prof Gurvich estimates that about 80% of women have at least one symptom, physical or psychological, before they get their period. Up to 8% of women suffer from premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a significantly more severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) that can cause debilitating emotional and physical symptoms.
“Sex hormones affect the way we think,” says Assoc Prof Gurvich. “The effects across the menstrual cycle can be very subtle. Women who are more sensitive to hormone fluctuations are probably more likely to experience brain fog, but we don’t know that for sure.”
Brain fog is yet to be formally recognised as a medical or psychological condition, but the good news is that it is finally being acknowledged.
“It is real,” says Assoc Prof Gurvich.
“Our hormones that regulate our reproductive functions have direct effects in the brain and affect brain regions that are involved in our thinking skills.”
Tips to help to ease the fog include:
💨Eating healthily, trying to avoid too much sugar, caffeine and alcohol
💨Get some gentle exercise in i.e walking, yoga or Qi gong
💨Get some zzzz’z
💨Try to avoid stress (tough I know, but try)
💨MOST IMPORTANTLY ….don’t be too hard on yourself, in the words of Shakespeare ‘This too shall pass!’
I was listening to a great episode of School of Greatness with @lewishowes and @gabbybernstein and this quote came up. It was one of those brilliantly simple lightbulb moments….something that you had heard said in a million different ways countless times before. But there was something about the way she said it that got my curious brain ticking.
Thoughts become things…..the dominant thoughts in your mind naturally evolve into your beliefs. We’re creatures of habit and we’re made that way. But how much more weight is there to the word belief than the word thought? A LOT MORE RIGHT?! So if even your negative beliefs about yourself originated with “just a thought”, couldn’t we reverse the process and take back some control over our internal belief system? That internal belief system which dictates almost every course of action we take on this crazy rollercoaster ride we call life? Heck yeh we can!
As soon as we start to tap into the power of awareness, we start to realise that we are not our thoughts….nor need we “attach” to that which we previously believed to be a true statement about ourselves; “I’m so unfit” “I’m just not one of THOSE PEOPLE” (what does that even mean though?) “No one will love me” etc etc. what if they were all just menial thoughts? Would they have even half the significance? Considering the average person has around 6000 thoughts per day, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications by psychologists at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada, I’m leaning towards a no.
When we have this realisation, we give ourselves the opportunity to choose again. To acknowledge those “thoughts” as the energy zappers which are not serving us and flip them to ones that do. Of course, this is a process in itself. And no, it’s not that simple but over time ….it can be. Awareness takes practise, shifting your belief system takes time. But the outcome, total bliss and freedom are well worth stepping onto that bridge.
So next time you catch yourself expressing a belief that doesn’t serve you. Pause. Take a breath. Acknowledge it for what it is. A thought, a pretty useless one too. And see if you can conjure up a better one. And just notice, does your energy shift a little? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It’s all exploration, it’s all simply experience.
Why the way you breathe could be causing your insomnia, bad morning breath and annoying night time trips to the loo!
I don’t know about you, but how little sleep you can survive on sometimes seems like a competition amongst individuals that label themselves as ‘successful’ or ‘high performing’. Boasting that they are so busy and important they can’t possibly fit in more than 3 or 4 hours sleep at most as if they are some sort of work warrior. Work addict more like. Ever heard the phrase ‘work hard, play harder?’. I used to be about all the go, go, go and more, more, more life until I realised it wasn’t actually getting me anywhere other than a GP surgery due to becoming so energy deficient that I actually needed medical assistance. And no, thankfully I personally never got to that point but sadly, yes, there are individuals who actually have got to the point of clinical burnout.
Scary right? But not particularly surprising
In today’s goal orientated, fast paced society we are constantly being over stimulated by our, now many, devices and are often being asked to adhere to impossibly high standards in terms of performance. No wonder we can’t sleep! Not only that, this never-ending hamster wheel is causing a lot of us to ‘over breathe’; to breathe in excess of our metabolic requirements, which can cause a whole host of problems to your physical and mental health. We breathe all the time, around 25,000 times per day in fact, and so OBVIOUSLY the way we breathe effects every single area of our lives including, you guessed it, the quality of YOUR SLEEP.
Our quality of sleep is just not what it used to be, back in the good old days before phones and social media, not to mention a year of intermittent lockdowns. A 2020 article in the Guardian titled; ‘Coronavirus lockdown caused sharp increase of insomnia in UK’ revealed some crazy stats on the matter.
The overall incidence of worry-related sleep loss rose from 15.7% to 24.7%. But that 9% increase nationally masked much bigger spikes in certain groups, particularly mothers of young children. For example, while the number of men experiencing poor sleep rose from 11.9% to 16.5%, the increase among women was much more pronounced – it shot up from 18.9% to 31.8%. Sleeplessness doubled from 19.5% to 40% among mothers of children aged 0 to 4 and rose almost as dramatically – from 21.7% to 38% – for those with children aged 5 to 18.1
They go on to name Insomnia as one of Britain’s biggest health problems, affecting millions of people in normal times and often caused by stress, anxiety or depression, as well as often being linked to an underlying mental or physical health problem.
So what’s all this got to do with your breathing?
Well, most likely, the way you breathe during wakefulness is generally how you’re most likely to breathe during sleep. If your breathing is dysfunctional when you’re awake, it will be dysfunctional as you sleep putting you at much higher risk of obstructive sleep apnea, snoring, bad morning breath and insomnia, but more on that later.
A lot of us, without realising, have become habitual mouth breathers leading to a continuous stream of short, shallow breaths residing mostly in the upper chest, also known as dysfunctional breathing. Of course, mouth breathing is occasionally necessary when we’re exercising intensely, under threat, or have a cold or sinus infection, but it’s only ever meant to be occasional not habitual. Essentially, when we mouth breathe, we over breathe, expelling too much carbon dioxide, which actually reduces the amount of oxygen released from the haemoglobin to the tissues and organs. Yep, that’s right, carbon dioxide is actually the catalyst for the release of oxygen from the haemoglobin, you need it!
Sleep is supposed to be a time to repair fatigued muscles and restore the bodies energy levels for the following day, not to mention a chance to give your already over stimulated brain some down time. However, over-breathing through an open mouth during sleep causes carbon dioxide levels and blood oxygen levels to drop, triggering the brain into a fight or flight response through the influence of adrenalin and cortisol release putting the body in a state of stress. Not the ideal recipe for a good nights beauty sleep! The posh science name for this stressful sleep state is hyper-arousal and is characterised in part by chronic sympathetic hyper activation and/or parasympathetic hypo activation which disrupts normal sleep onset latency, sleep quality, and sleep duration.
We all know someone that snores and my heart goes out to anyone who has to sleep next to a snorer. Snoring is now SO common it’s actually been normalised among the western population. I have some bad news for you guys. It’s not normal. Humans should not snore.
Sleeping with your mouth open aggravates snoring in numerous ways. The main culprits being;
The airway is narrowed. An open mouth causes your throat to compress as your tongue falls further back into your airway and the open space behind your tongue and soft palate is reduced.
Inhaled air becomes turbulent. Directly inhaled air vibrates the soft tissues at the back of your mouth
The airway dries out. This is because mouth breathing doesn’t humidify incoming air like nasal breathing does.
You are more susceptible to breathing in harmful things. Unlike nasal breathing, mouth breathing doesn’t trap allergens and bugs which can in turn worsen your snoring.2
In addition to disrupting your sleep, and anyone within the next few rooms sleep, you may also have mouth breathing to thank for your stinky morning breath. Mouth breathing can be a cause of bad breath due to altered bacteria flora and a disturbance to the PH in our mouths. According to Michigan medicine, a major cause is decreased saliva. Saliva has a cleaning action that helps reduce or eliminate bad breath. When saliva decreases, bacteria can grow, causing bad breath. 3
OBSTRUCTIVE SLEEP APNEA
Mouth breathing at night also puts you at much higher risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea. A serious condition that, left untreated, can be fatal. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles that support the soft tissues in your throat, such as your tongue and soft palate, temporarily relax. When these muscles relax, your airway is narrowed or closed causing airway obstruction as your tongue falls further back into your airway, and breathing momentarily ceases causing apnea.
Believe it or not, it’s actually not normal to get up to pee more than once in the night and ideally you wouldn’t get up at all. The question is, what is actually causing our sleepy toilet trips? The posh science term here being, Nocturia.
Brandon R. Peters, M.D. from the Stanford centre for sleep sciences and medicine explains;
The body normally releases anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) in sleep to prevent needing to wake to urinate. It works to shut down the kidneys, preventing movement of fluids from the blood vessels to the bladder. The bladder is like a storage balloon, and there is no need to wake to empty it if the fluid isn’t there to start. No matter how well or poorly the bladder may function, or whether an enlarged prostate obstructs or not, without urine filling the bladder from overactive kidneys, these other issues should not matter.
Research and clinical experience demonstrates that sleep apnea changes the release of ADH (4). More severe sleep apnea may lead to pulmonary hypertension and right-sided heart failure. The body responds to this strain by stopping the release of ADH, which causes more urine to be produced, filling the bladder and triggering awakenings to pee during sleep.4
Peters goes on to describe a treatment called CPAP, whereby a constant flow of air is delivered through a face mask that keeps the airway open and prevents the associated changes and describes sleep apnea as the most overlooked cause of nighttime urination.
If you’re freaking out right now because you know you habitually breathe through your mouth, never fear. The solution is simple, easy and, unlike most medical solutions, will cost you less than your oat milk flat white from Starbucks.
Mouth taping can come across as some kinky millennial craze on first glance, but it’s actually a simple, effective tool that has the power to revolutionise your sleep (regardless of your sexual quirks)
Mouth taping involves placing a small piece of adhesive tape to gently bring the lips together to ensure nasal breathing whilst sleeping, think of it like a tiny moustache moved down an inch or two. If the tape doesn’t take your fancy, plenty of companies are now offering alternatives. Somnifix for example; SomniFix strips are hypoallergenic, can be painlessly removed without leaving a sticky residue, and have a small mesh vent to allow limited mouth breathing if necessary. Myotape is also a reputable company for mouth taping. However you wish to tape up, mouth taping has been shown to allow for deeper, more comfortable sleep, enhanced filtration, elimination of dry mouth, improved blood oxygen saturation, enhanced nitric oxide inhalation (a “mighty molecule” that helps to expand blood vessels and lower blood pressure) as well as reducing and often eliminating snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. I suffered with an excessively dry mouth in the mornings up until about a year ago. From the first night I taped my mouth I noticed an enormous difference in my energy levels, mouth moisture and muscle recovery! It was as if I had experienced a good night’s sleep for the first time in my adult life and it was oh so simple.
In addition to ensuring nasal breathing at night, making the switch as often as possible during the day is going to make your life a whole lot easier in terms of energy levels, your ability to focus, your digestion, your mental health, your fitness levels and your ability to cope with stress.
The key here is AWARENESS.
First, you need to figure out how you habitually breathe during rest and physical exercise then, you can start to implement nasal breathing as much as possible throughout your day. As a bonus, you’ll find that taking a moment, a few times per day, to simply become aware of your breathing will have a wonderfully calming and balancing effect, allowing you to effortlessly transition through the different segments of your day. Take it steady; changing the way you breathe is a journey, so take your time and be patient.
If you really want to optimise your health and wellbeing, why not see if you can breathe slow and low every time you check in with your breathing? Breathing lighter optimises your breathing efficiency, balances the nervous system and increases resilience in times of stress.
For more breathing tips and guided breathing videos check out my Breathe with Georgie channel on You Tube where you’ll find an array of breathing exercises for increased motivation, calm and balance.
If you’re reading this blog post right now, you’re breathing, fact. But have you ever brought your attention to the way you breathe? Besides that moment when you were working out and your breathing got so heavy you knew you were approaching your limit or in a highly stressful situation when your emotions got the better of you and caused your breathing to become erratic. Such heightened moments force us to bring our attention to our breathing because of our innate need for survival, when our breathing feels out of control we act as quickly as possible to restore normality, but what about the rest of the time? Do you ever contemplate the quality of your breath as you sip your morning coffee, cook an evening meal or spend hours vicariously scrolling through social media? Of course not. For most, breathing, like digestion, is an unconscious process. We don’t have to think about it, it just happens.
What if I told you that the way you breathe during rest, sleep and physical exercise can have an enormous effect on your physical and mental health and quality of daily life? What if dysfunctional breathing turned out to be the root cause of ailments most commonly complained about in the western world?
Keep reading, let me explain.
The term hyperventilation usually provokes an image of some poor soul huffing into a paper bag and is almost always associated with moments of high stress or anxiety. And this image is totally accurate. Rapid, shallow breathing is absolutely a normal response to stress and the basis of the primitive ‘fight and flight’ mechanism of the autonomic nervous system. According to the Oxford dictionary, the exact definition is; excessive rate and depth of respiration leading to abnormal loss of carbon dioxide from the blood.
Let’s break this down. In order to put into context what excessive rate and depth of respiration is, we must first understand what is considered a normal respiratory rate and tidal volume, i.e how many breaths you take per minute and the amount of air per respiratory cycle. According to Judith Perera’s article on the hazards of heavy breathing;
‘Twelve regular breaths a minute, each containing around 600 cubic centimetres of air, are all you need to supply your blood oxygen. Anything more, especially if your breathing is shallow and erratic, and you could be in trouble.’ 1
Now let’s look into the second part, leading to abnormal loss of carbon dioxide from the blood. Carbon dioxide is often misconceived as nothing more than a waste gas thats the key culprit when it comes to global warming. But when it comes to our bodies, carbon dioxide is the catalyst for the release of oxygen from the haemoglobin (a protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs).
Switching off? Time for an analogy we can all relate to. FOOD!
Think of carbon dioxide as your Deliveroo driver and your haemoglobin as the motorbike that transports him to your house to bring you your favourite take out. Now, imagine your guy turning up and only delivering you half the take out because he decided to take the long route to your house, got hungry and ate half of it before he could give it to you. I think we can all agree that would go down as a very inefficient delivery. Well, when you breathe in excess of your metabolic requirements, you blow off too much carbon dioxide and the bond between haemoglobin and oxygen increases,due to a right shift of the oxyhemoglobin disassociation curve known as the Bohr effect. Meaning, less oxygen actually gets delivered to the tissues and organs. Just like the Deliveroo driver, your haemoglobin decides to hold on to the oxygen that should have been feeding your tissues and organs and only delivers a portion, another inefficient delivery.
Here’s the thing, hyperventilation is a normal response to extreme stress that in a healthy human being usually lasts no more than 20 – 30 minutes before breathing returns to normal and the body and mind both re-stabilise. But in today’s fast paced, adrenaline fuelled society hyperventilation at low levels has become the ‘new normal’ for an awful lot of people and it can have some disastrous implications on your health. The problem is, it’s not that easy to spot. As Judith Perara goes on to explain;
‘The breathing rate can increase to 20 breaths per minute, and the volume of each breath to 900 cubic centimetres, and breathing will still appear normal, although the intake of air will have doubled.’2
One of the first doctors to recognise this syndrome in the 1970’s was Claude Lum, a chest physician at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge. He nicknamed the syndrome “the great mimic” and estimated that up to 10 per cent of all patients referred to specialist clinics are suffering primarily from hyperventilation.
hypeve.com, a clinic providing therapy for chronic hyperventilation syndrome, list the main giveaways of over breathing, the causes of which are so often misidentified as other ailments;
‘Characterised by overall lethargy, inability to concentrate, poor sleep patterns, dizziness, tingling sensations, chest pain, nausea, cough and difficulties breathing often accompanied by sighing and yawning, upset stomach, unstable blood pressure, bloating, sexual dysfunction, aching muscles and joints, twitching or cramp, tension and associated feelings of panic, anxiety and depression.
Although chronic hyperventilation is nowadays increasingly perceived as a notable cause of poor health, it is still not sufficiently diagnosed. If it remains untreated, those suffering from chronic hyperventilation will always be at risk of its distressing symptoms; this can often lead to a loss in self-confidence and the enjoyment of life. Over-breathers live in constant fear of this peril. ‘3
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Quite literally in fact as the solution to over breathing is well, breathing less! By practising simple breath work on a daily basis to lighten the breath and normalise breathing volume. With practise, your habitual way of breathing at rest, sleep and during physical exercise can become nasal (in and out through the nose), light, gentle, quiet and deep. In other words, working with your body rather than against it.
A great place to start is with the Buteyko breathing method. A method developed by Ukrainian Dr. Konstantin Buteyko in the late 1950s when he noticed that people who are unhealthy generally have noticeable breathing during rest.
‘Over the span of four decades, Dr. Buteyko developed a program designed to normalize breathing volume. Using slow breathing and breath holds following an exhalation, the objective is to take less air into the lungs. With regular practice over a few weeks, breathing is brought towards normal with resultant improvements to a number of common complaints such as asthma, rhinitis, anxiety, panic attacks, and sleep disorders.’ 4
The oxygen advantage was created by Patrick Mckeown who used the Buteyko method to cure his asthma and has been spreading the power of functional breathing ever since. Through Patricks programme, supported by an enormity of scientific research, breathing has not only shown to reduce and often eliminate sleep problems, anxiety issues and asthma attacks its also been seen to supercharge fitness levels going from couch to well, marathon in some cases!
The power of the breath truly is undeniable and better still the prevention and treatment of over breathing is FREE. So why isn’t everybody doing it? This, I have no answer to but I intend to continue to spread the word to positively impact as many lives as possible. The phrase less is more very much sums up today’s post along with a thought that perhaps it’s time to stop popping the pills and trust our own bodies to do what they were born to do, BREATHE.