Part 1: Aligning Mechanics With Chemistry
Breathing and its potential effects on our lives, positive and negative, are enormous. Appreciating this enormity is significantly enhanced by learning about the amazing physiology of breathing, which together with understanding breathing as motivated behavior, can account for the profound and far-reaching effects of breathing on health and performance.
Millions of people from around the world include breathing learning interventions in one way or another in their professional and/or personal lives for a multitude of reasons. Most of them, however, focus on the mechanics of breathing without even so much as a thought about its chemistry, that is, the role of mechanics in optimizing internal respiration and its associated chemistry, e.g., pH regulation of blood plasma. Learning about alignment of breathing mechanics with respiratory chemistry helps to (1) avoid misguided self-interventions that can have adverse effects, (2) avoid misinterpretations of the outcomes of breathing self-interventions, (3) prevent missed learning opportunities at the expense of ourselves and/or clients, and (4) significantly expand the scope and effectiveness of breathwork.
The effects of compromised respiratory chemistry, because of learned dysfunctional mechanics (habits), can be immediate and disturbing. Statistics suggest that tens of millions of people worldwide suffer with the profound and misunderstood symptoms and deficits of learned dysfunctional breathing habits that compromise respiratory chemistry. Surveys suggest that perhaps 60% of ambulance runs in the major USA cities are a result of acute symptoms brought on by dysfunctional habits, often learned early in life. Unfortunately, these habits are rarely identified by healthcare practitioners, their effects mistakenly attributed to other causes, and their resolutions prescriptive in nature where focus is on symptoms rather than on causes, e.g., drug prescriptions.
Breathwork can help provide a solution to this challenge. Precisely the same principles by which people learn dysfunctional breathing habits can also be implemented for overcoming these same habits and/or learning new breathing habits that enhance health, learning, performance, awareness, creativity, and communication. Learning about how mechanics and chemistry work together is fundamental to understanding the potential effects of making conscious changes in breathing mechanics on respiratory chemistry, e.g., improving attention by enhancing blood flow to the brain. This article provides a brief overview of these considerations, while introducing some basic respiratory physiology relevant to improving the effectiveness of breathwork.
Written by Dr. Peter Litchfield
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