It has to be just the right amount to maintain the body’s functions.
OK, so back to your breathing. If you breathe deeply or quickly, you give off more CO2. In hyperventilation situations you breathe off even more, so the body utilizes less oxygen. Think of when you have run too hard. You’re out of breath, maybe you feel dizzy or weak. Your muscles start to cramp. That means you don’t have enough CO2 to release the oxygen you need.
Remember how when someone is anxious and they were told to breath into a paper bag? What does that do? It collects the CO2 we are breathing out and increases the amount we breathe in.
So back to breathing. The body knows what to do under most circumstances. It is trying to maintain the correct balance of gases in our system at every moment. If we breathe naturally, it comes from the motion of our diaphragm, not the chest. The diaphragm is a huge set of muscles that form a hood below our lungs, covering the lower back and upper abdomen. As it moves it works our lungs like a bellows. It appears as if we are breathing from our bellies.
If you watch someone breathing you can tell if they breathe superficially from the movement of their chest, or deeply from the movement of their bellies. Any baby or cat gives a perfect example of correct breathing. Most people think that expanding their chests means they are taking a deep breath.
But by breathing from a relaxed diaphragm, there is no effort. We allow the correct mixture of oxygen and carbon dioxide to occur. This belly breathing is the secret to enriching our cells with oxygen. It enhances our mental function and relaxes our anxieties. If we pay attention to the deepest part of our breath at the bottom of our expiration we can feel the natural return to inspiration. There is no effort. This is the basis for the most common forms of meditation.
We don’t have to close our eyes. In fact, the best time to pay attention to our breath is when we are in a stressful situation. Instead of becoming anxious waiting for the light to turn, breathe from your belly. In fact, don’t try to manipulate your breathing, just feel how deep it sinks. This is the secret from athletes to people who have panic attacks. It is in your control. Deep breathing may help us relax the muscles of the chest, but it is not the efficient way to change our bodies.
A basic understanding of how our bodies operate opens up doors to understanding its relationship to the mind.
Dr. Andrew Lange served as Chair of the Department of Homeopathic Medicine and Supervising Clinical Physician at Bastyr University in Seattle. He is the author of Getting to the Root: Treating the Deepest Source of Disease and a contributing author to A Textbook of Natural Medicine by Pizzorno and Murray. For more information go to www.andrewlange.com.