Part 6: Concluding Comments
Anyone who does breathing work with clients should know at least something about the basics of respiratory physiology and how changing breathing mechanics immediately, profoundly, and precisely alters breathing chemistry. A truly practical understanding, however, of the dynamics of breathing physiology, how it is ultimately governed, how it affects us, and how we interact with it requires knowledge of its psychology, not just the details of its mechanics and chemistry.
Breathing mechanics and breathing chemistry weave together in a dance. In this dance, however, as we embrace the daily diverse circumstances of our lives, everyday-breathing should provide for the alignment of mechanics with chemistry in the service of health, performance, and consciousness. The “chemical axis” of breathing needs to remain within the optimal respiratory envelope, thus meeting
oxygen, carbon dioxide, and acid-base balance requirements.
Everyone has learned breathing habits, positive and negative. Habits are solutions triggered by specific experiences (stimuli) that are sustained by their outcomes. That is, breathing not only serves respiratory requirements (external respiration), but very importantly serves a host of other behavioral and psychological objectives, most of them unconscious. Examples of conscious objectives include: talking, emotional control, relaxation, meditation, psychotherapy, consciousness exploration, and cultivating spiritual awareness. Examples of unconscious objectives include: accessing secondary gain (e.g., headache), feeling in control, accessing emotions (e.g., anger), anxiety reduction, avoiding memories, disconnecting, and many others. Unconscious objectives are achieved through learning breathing habits based on personal experiences. Everyone has learned breathing habits, good and bad, regulated by
specific triggers based on personal history.
The relationship between breathing and respiration, mechanics and chemistry, cannot be fully appreciated without understanding the psychological nature of physiology itself. Breathing, like any other behavior, is motivated and changes as a function of its outcomes. Breathing isn’t simply mindless automation of physiology. And, it isn’t simply physiology to be somehow consciously manipulated in the name of self-help. It’s truly so much more than this. Simply manipulating breathing physiology for well-intended purposes, without regard to the bigger picture, does not do justice to the richness and complexity of breathing.
Optimal breathing might best be expressed by the two images which define the Japanese word for breathing: HEART and SELF. Another way of seeing this might be: heart + self = presence. Breathing, in other words, may be a fundamental glue that holds the self and the heart together, making possible a greater personal presence for the world, others, and ourselves.
TABLE 1: HYPOCAPNIA (respiratory alkalosis, overbreathing)
● Compromised O2 distribution (hemoglobin)
● Compromised nitric oxide distribution (hemoglobin)
● Cerebral vasoconstriction (increased pH)
● Cerebral hypoxia, hypoglycemia, ischemia
● Increased neuronal excitability & contractility
● Neuronal acidosis (lactic acid)
● Sodium and potassium migration into cells (excitability)
● Hyponatremia (sodium deficiency, long term effect)
● Hypokalemia (potassium deficiency)
● Bicarbonate deficiency (long term kidney effect)
● Cerebral excitatory and inhibitory disturbances
● Stress hormone release (ACTH)
● Increased overall vascular resistance (smooth muscle constriction)
● Bronchial constriction (airway resistance)
● Reduced lung compliance
● Myocardial electrophysiology disturbances
● Coronary (vascular) constriction
● Gut smooth muscle constriction
● Calcium migration into muscle cells (fatigue, spasm)
● Release of excitotoxins such as glutamate
● Thrombosis, platelet aggregation
● Antioxidant reduction
● Tissue inflammation (systemic)
TABLE 2: HYPOCAPNIA (respiratory alkalosis, overbreathing)
Symptoms and Deficits
● Respiratory: shortness of breath, airway resistance, bronchial constriction, asthma symptoms
● Peripheral: tingling, numbness, trembling, twitching, shivering, coldness, sweatiness
● Cardiovascular: palpitations, tachycardia, arrhythmias, angina symptoms. ECG abnormalities
● Emotional: anxiety, anger, fear, panic, phobia, apprehension, worry, crying, low mood
● Autonomic-stress: acute fatigue, chronic fatigue, headache, muscle pain, weakness
● Sensory: blurred vision, sound seems distant, reduced pain threshold, dishabituation, dry mouth
● Consciousness: dissociation, state change, dizziness, fainting, confusion, hallucinations
● Cognitive: attention deficit, learning deficits, poor memory, brain fog, inability to think
● Muscles: tetany, hyperreflexia, spasm, weakness, fatigue, pain, difficult to swallow, chest discomfort
● Smooth muscles: cerebral, coronary, bronchial, gut, and placental vasoconstriction
● Abdominal: nausea, vomiting, cramping, bloatedness
● Movement: diminished coordination, reaction time, balance, perceptual judgement
● Performance: sleep apnea, anxiety, rehearsal, focus, endurance, muscle function, fatigue, pain
● Psychological: shifts in personality, self-esteem, memory, emotion, thought
TABLE 3: HYPOCAPNIA (respiratory alkalosis, overbreathing)
Exacerbation of Health Issues and Complaints
● Neurological: epilepsy
● Cognitive: learning disabilities, ADD, ADHD
● Emotional: anger, phobias, panic attack, anxiety, depression
● Psychological: trauma, PTSD, drug dependence
● Vascular: hypertension, migraine, ischemia, hypoglycemia
● Cardiovascular: angina, heart attack, arrhythmias, ECG abnormalities
● Efficacy of drugs: shifts in pH and electrolyte balance alter absorption
● Fitness issues: endurance, muscle strength, fatigue, altitude sickness
● Gastric: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), non-ulcer dyspepsia
● Respiratory: asthma, emphysema, COPD
● Chronic pain: injury, disease, systemic inflammation
● Pregnancy: fetal health, premature birth, symptoms during pregnancy
● Neuromuscular: repetitive strain injury (RSI), headache, orthodontic
● Sleep disturbances: apnea
● Psychophysiological disorders: headache, chronic pain, hypertension
● Behavioral: performance issues, speech, singing, task challenges
● Unexplained conditions: fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue
Written by Dr. Peter Litchfield
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