Part 5: Respiration and Consciousness
RESPIRATION AND CONSCIOUSNESS
Overbreathing results in reduced CO2 concentration (hypocapnia) and alkalosis in blood plasma, cerebrospinal fluid, and the interstitial fluid that surrounds all neurons in the brain. Hypocapnia results in cerebral vasoconstriction, as a function if its direct impact on vascular smooth muscle tissue, and compromised delivery of oxygen and nitric oxide on the part of hemoglobin as per the Bohr Effect in the red blood cells (less CO2, higher pH). The net effect is a potentially serious compromise of the
delivery of oxygen (hypoxia) and glucose (hypoglycemia) to neural tissue. These compromises, along with the migration of calcium ions into smooth muscle tissue because of plasma alkalosis, can trigger vasoconstriction so significant that blood flow in the brain as a whole can be reduced by as much as 50 or 60 percent within less than a minute. It is this kind change that can precipitate symptoms so severe
that people call 911 for help (that is, emergency ambulance service for transport to the hospital).
Respiratory alkalosis in interstitial and cerebrospinal fluids results in electrolyte changes that have profound effects on neuronal functionality. Sodium and potassium ions migrate into neurons, in exchange for hydrogen ions (H+) which increases neuronal metabolism, excitability, and contractility.
Unfortunately, this is taking place at a time when there is significantly reduced oxygen availability and thus hastens and exacerbates the onset of anaerobic metabolism in neurons where intracellular lactic acidosis then compromises neuronal functioning that may result in all kinds of psychological changes.
The basic outcomes of these changes in physiology thus include brain hypoxia (oxygen deficit), brain hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and metabolic (lactic) acidosis in neurons, all of which can profoundly alter overall brain function. Besides unfortunate physiological outcomes (e.g., headache, ischemia, and the possible triggering of neurological syndromes), these outcomes can have immediate effects on
attention, perception, motivation, emotion, cognition, learning, memory, personality, performance, sense of self, and consciousness.
Examples of psychological changes, from a downside perspective, include: emotional vulnerability, anxiety, anger, fear, panic, phobia, apprehension, worry, crying, low mood, dissociation, disorientation, dizziness, fainting, confusion, hallucinations, attention deficit, learning deficits, poor memory, brain fog, inability to think, low self-esteem, and undesirable shifts in personality. On the other hand, from a
consciousness perspective these kinds of “negatives” can lay the groundwork for important “positives” through individualized guided breathing explorations.
The ways in which a specific person responds to these physiological changes are highly variable and are dependent upon personal health, life circumstances, personality, immediate social environment, and especially personal psychological history. For example, disorientation and dizziness, as a function of oxygen deficit, may trigger fear or anxiety in one person and relief or relaxation in another. These
differences are based on unique personal histories involving specific experiences in specific situations.
State change and dissociation are key players in how people respond to breathing mediated physiological changes. Breathing-induced state change may serve the individual in both positive and self-defeating ways, much in the same way as do psychoactive substances that provide for access and experience of self, others, and the world from new, different, and sometimes revealing perspectives.
Intentional state change through overbreathing can set the stage for life altering and spiritual experiences, including uncovering and triggering traumatic memories that provide for working through painful episodes in life or for discovery of dysfunctional habits and their associated effects when triggered by specific places, times, people, tasks, emotions, thoughts, social circumstances, fatigue, challenges, and physical feelings based on personal histories.
Unintentional breathing-mediated state changes, brought on by dysfunctional habits, are common. These state changes can serve people in powerful and unique ways, outside of their awareness, based on a personal history that gives specific meaning to such changes. These state changes can be habit-
forming in the sense that they may provide for avoidance of thoughts, emotions, and memories or access to a different and preferrable sense of self (personality). State-dependent learning and memory, and their role in drug addiction for example, have been extensively researched in both humans and animals and are described in thousands of articles in numerous science journals.
Written by Dr. Peter Litchfield
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