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Breathing Mechanics

Breathing Sequencing, Balancing, Patterns, Coordination and Mental Focus

Copyright 2013 Michael Grant White. All rights reserved.

Hospital admissions for possible cardiac or neurologic disorders are extremely common and many patients with chronic breathing pattern/breathing coordination problems carry an assortment of incorrect diagnosis with bottles of corresponding ineffective or even harmful medications.

Hyperventilation is in some ways a maladaptive response to stress. It is also caused by poorly coordinated unbalanced breathing. It is also a partial misnomer as it is often occurs when breathing is improving. Where does YOUR situation fit in here?

Faster (than you are accustomed to) breathing is mostly looked upon by the western medical community as "hyperventilation".  Hyperventilation carries a bias of being the wrong way to breathe; there is an illness connotation to it.   That is largely because  medical science does not clearly differentiate between healthy fast and unhealthy fast breathing. 

There are different types or qualities of fast or forced deeper breathing. I call the good kind hyper-inhalation, or balanced deeper-easier-smoother-grounded-faster breathing. This is the relaxing and energizing breathing such as from our Fundamentals video 176.

Bad breathing is over-stimulation (high chest dominant).  When the faster breathing  is predominately chest it can still be somewhat appropriate but only in the sense that it resolves an immediate emergency  and then reverts back to healthy slower deeper easier balanced breathing as soon as the emergency is over. Within seconds to a few minutes hopefully.  Wild animals seem to do that (adapt and recover) much better then most humans but humans can be trained to adapt by developing their breathing in optimal fashion.

One form of breathing pattern disorder is when one takes quick deep or shallow dominant high-chest in-breaths. These over- stimulate the nervous system and engage the reptilian (survival) portion of the human brain.  Most gas exchange perspectives say hyperventilation sharply reduces the level of carbon dioxide in the blood.  I see this as important in many ways and misleading in others. 

I borrowed the following (italics) more scientific explanation of hyperventilation from a colleague. I will announce him and his company sometime in the not too distant future. He is doing some very, very special work.

"Overbreathing* means bringing about carbon dioxide (CO2) deficit in the blood (i.e., hypocapnia) through excessive ventilation (increased “minute volume”) during rapid, deep, and dysrhythmic breathing, a condition that may result in debilitating short-term and long-term physical and psychological complaints and symptoms.  The slight shifts in CO2 chemistry associated with overbreathing may cause physiological changes such as hypoxia (oxygen deficit), cerebral vasoconstriction (brain), coronary constriction (heart), blood and extracellular alkalosis (increased pH), cerebral glucose deficit, ischemia (localized anemia), buffer depletion (bicarbonates), bronchial constriction, gut constriction, calcium imbalance, magnesium deficiency, and muscle fatigue, spasm (tetany), and pain"

*Note: “Overbreathing” is a behavior leading to the physiological condition known as hypocapnea, i.e., carbon dioxide deficit.  “Hyperventilation,” although nomenclature synonymous with hypocapnea in physiological terms, is often used as a clinical term to describe a controversial psychophysiologic “syndrome” implicated in panic disorder and other clinical complaints."

In other words, no matter how much oxygen we may breathe into our lungs, if the O2 is taken in in a certain way then our sympathetic nervous system will dominate, constrict the blood vessels in the brain and our body will experience a shortage of oxygen.  It's like the old saying "the hurrier I go the behinder I get".  STRESS is a key word here.

A severe asthma attack is one example of this. Panic attacks and aspects of many seizures are as well. The lack of oxygen and or increased carbon dioxide switches on the sympathetic nervous system which makes us tense, anxious and potentially irritable.  So in some sense we need to become more tolerable to increased levels of CO2. 

I partially disagree with the gas exchange over-breathing-carbon-dioxide-is-the-major-marker perspective.  My research and experience leads me to believe that the primary issue  is more about the way the nervous system is stimulated, ie., whether parasympathic/abdominal, breathing, or sympathetic, high chest breathing is engaged.  And the speed of that.

I have observed people breathing intensely for hours without any signs of distress,  but rather with signs of bliss and joy.  The key to "over-breathing" is more about chest or belly breath dominated balance.  The way they take the breathing stimulates the ANS in a good way or a bad way or something in between.  CO2 levels are influenced this way, but they are not always the dominant theme like the CO2 gas exchange proponents seem to believe. When it comes to breathing mechanics CO2 is the effect, not the cause. 

Our evolution and survival often necessitated having fast responses. The shortest distance between two points is the straight line connecting them. High chest dominated "sympathetic" breathing causes constriction and what I call "hyper vigilance"; a stronger and physically closer  connection to the reptilian survival brain.  Abdominal breathing invites expansion and increased energy toleration and is tied into the creative process (think alpha waves).  It has much more of the vagus (parasympathetic-rest-digest-heal ) nerve action engaged with it and allows for the neo-cortex as well as parasympathetic relaxation response to "buffer" the survival instinct. 

High chest breathing generally hyper-stimulates, causes increased breathing rate, lowers blood CO2 amount and exacerbates nervous system distress.  It causes blood vessel constriction and according to basic science as interpreted by Dr. Peter Litchfield makes O2 less transferable to the cellular system and your brain.  Once the high-chest dominant breath ceases, adaptations need to occur to raise CO2 levels that dilate vessels to allow for replenishment of CO2 balance. According to today's accepted science optimal oxygen uptake is not possible without proper CO2 presence.  Hmmmm.

As an aside, we need to remember that sometimes it is good to be ungrounded and unbalanced as with being able to laugh or cry wholeheartedly, change one's rigidity, one's attitude and or achieve quantum shifts in awareness and ability by altering one's emotional anatomy.  When done in a healthy way, it will help to  change sympathetic/parasympathetic balance toward more harmonious levels. Parasympathetic response also relates to one's balanced grounded power base. Sympathetic enervation can be fun or excitement which is often good ( zealotry and hyperbole are examples of excitement or fun without seemingly realistic parasympathetic, neocortical/rational accessed reality checks and physical groundedness).  

Generally, parasympathetic enervation accompanies relaxation and lessened activity such as rest digest and heal.  Sympathetic relates to action, anxiety, fight/flight/freeze/fake it, fumble and FUN. FUN is a strong sympathetic enervation that to my way of thinking is balanced with enough parasympathetic enervation. 

There are other relevant influences towards hyperventilation such as nutrition and toxicity that veers one toward anxiety or confusion.  But, barring congenital nutritional/toxicity considerations,  it is still only when sympathetic enervation becomes dominant  without the proper amount of parasympathetic enervation, that anxiety states occur to invite hyper constriction of blood vessels and signs of overbreathing/hyperventilation. I am discouraged with the use of  the "overbreathing" word as it implies that breathing more is bad. It is not about QUANTITY, it is BALANCE that is the key. Sympathetic Dominant Deep Breathing or SDDB is the label I believe should be used to describe hyperventilation. 

Nutrition and toxicity aside, low CO2 caused vasoconstriction does not happen so much or at all when the parasympathetic nervous system is strong enough to maintain nervous system parasympathetic dominated balance. Another way this manifests in real living conditions is with maintaining reasonably relaxed self control and centering during extreme states of stress or  "courage under fire". Ahhhhh! -- Insights from martial arts.

"HyperINHALATION" or charged breathing as opposed to "quiet" breathing is a more objective way to look at the good kind of increased breathing, ie,  depth and rate, which focuses on the nervous system as opposed to just  CO2/O2 relationship which is the effect and not the cause.

To re-emphasize, having watched over a million breaths of advanced breathing work clients, I have observed -with the help of a pulse oxymeter, that quick-deep or quick-shallow breathing, if dominated by belly, back and side breathing, most often increases the level of oxygen in our blood. By gas exchange standards, this would seem to reduce the CO2 ratios, invite constriction and inhibit O2 transfer into the cells but this MAY or MAY NOT not occur depending upon how well the breather is able to relax and stay dominant parasympathetic. Key factors are how well they adapt, tolerate or become accustomed to the increase in physical energy (chi, prana, Qi, pneuma etc). 

Dominant front, side and back abdominal breaths allow the nervous system to remain calm and to stay out of the potentially vaso-constrictive "anxiety/survival responses", CO2 depletion, and high chest, sympathetic breathing pattern.  We get more energized and in touch with our power without being overwhelmed with oxygen deprivation. The key is HOW this occurs and that is a lot of what this program attempts to improve.

To repeat.  
It is not over-breathing which is a general term like hyperventilation. It is too much high chest breathing without enough lower abdominal breathing.  There is a HUGE difference between over-breathing parasympathetic (abdominal) and over-breathing sympathetically. It is not the over-breathing. It is the way we over-breathe, and how we maintain internal and nervous system balance.

Certain schools of allopathic  medicine presently lump everything into one word -hyperventilation- which is grossly inadequate. So this prejudice distorts and increases the importance and relevance of carbon dioxide. The effect of carbon  dioxide levels are very important and permit tremendous insight and without them we can fail to help many in need. We must recognize that this is an imbalance that has a cause, and the cause is unbalanced breathing. I steadfastly believe that higher O2 levels and the way we balance them with CO2 levels are primary factors in developing and maintaining internal balance and optimal health..

There are instruments that can easily record the CO2 levels and help gauge therapeutic  progress. I believe that science will support my thesis that a stronger stimulation of the parasympathetic "rest, digest and heal" aspect of the nervous system, produces  "safe" increased levels of oxygen, peptides, endorphins and subtle energies of the various forms of what the ancient - and modern -breathing practitioners call chi, ki, prana, pneuma, spiritus etc. The arteries, including the carotid arteries going to the brain, remain more open,  thus allowing increased flow of energized blood throughout the brain and body.  It feels great, sometimes even ecstatic.  Gospel singing is an example of this experience, as well as some forms of chanting, and transformational breathwork.

Increased Energy Developed Safely
Breathing practices are most often safe when the body’s sensing mechanisms are engaged on a moment to moment basis to monitor against excessive or inappropriate breathing related energy.  But many people are so far out of balance that the "breather"  may have forgotten about or never have felt (due to traumatic birthing or infancy)  a  state of wholeness and balance.  This puts practices such as singing or voice training and the teachers that comprise this population in a completely new light and shows how singing can be not only a performance-personal growth tool, but a health modality as well.

Though they are often monumentally powerful healing and energy paradigms, many Chi Kung and Pranayama teachers are often at a disadvantage in teaching their art forms because their students may be lacking fundamental, internal breathing balance and coordination, plus subtle aspects of feeling and kinesthetic feedback, and do not internally sense themselves in ways familiar to these paradigms. Making sound can give tremendous insight to this missing link, and the vocal/speech trainer becomes an integral part of the Optimal Breathing paradigm.

To address this problem I developed advanced breathing development techniques in the Fundamentals video 176 and the Optimal Breathing School that bring the person back into balanced mechanical breathing coordination; safely, rapidly and without hyperventilation or discomfort. 

When the basic breathing work of the Fundamentals video 176 combined with the deeply relaxing forces of Better Breathing Exercise #1 or the gentle energizing of (Exercise #2) you will feel a strengthened sense of deep peace within, wholeness and incredible lightness of being. When this occurs, quantum healing and transformational results often present themselves.

Better Breathing Exercise #2 comes with TWO phases, a training tape and a practice tape plus a special devise that helps develop the other 60% of the breath beyond the belly/abdominal breath. It includes my recorded reminders of what to feel for as your natural energy slowly and safely increases. Reich called this increase "toleration". Gay Hendricks calls it "raising your energy thermostat".

Competitive athletes and non competitive exercisers routinely  breathe too hard, too fast, and too soon. This is unbalanced hyper-inhalation. They  often mouth-breathe, breath-heave and/or gasp to get the air they need to support their exertions.  This kind of charged breathing can develop respiratory problems due the constriction of the breathing muscles, reduced breathing volume, and internal coordination restrictions such as presented in sports induced asthma. I believe this is often why many athletes develop sports induced breathing problems, and die prematurely of heart and vascular problems, and incur many of the problems listed below.

Most forms of competitive sports are in NO way a guarantee to a long healthy life. Most often the reverse is true such as with sprinters and or  professional football players (an average age life span  of 56 years - information obtained in 1993.) 

Signs of possible hyperventilation are:
a. shortness of breath  
b. breathlessness
c. chest tightness & pressure
d. chest pain
e.  feelings of suffocation
f.  sweaty palms
g  cold hands
h.  tingling of the skin
i.  numbness
j.  heart palpitations
k. irregular heart beats
l.  anxiety
m.  apprehension
n.  hyperventilation
o.  stress
p.  tenseness
q.  fatigue
r.   weakness
s.  exhaustion
t.  dry mouth
u.  nausea
v.  lightheadedness
w. dizziness
x.  fainting
y.  black-out
z.  blurred vision
aa. confusion
bb. disorientation
cc. attention deficit
dd. poor thinking
ee. poor memory
ff. poor concentration
gg. impaired judgment
hh. problem solving deficit
ii. chronic pain
jj. headache
kk. trembling
ll. twitching
mm. shivering
nn. muscle tensions
oo. muscle spasms
pp. stiffness
qq. abdominal cramps
rr. bloatedness
ss. panic attacks
tt. too many thoughts that will not stop when you would like them to
uu. seizures
high blood pressure
ww. can't meditate

A small sampling of the abilities or conditions directly related to the way you breathe.

The long term answer to optimal breathing is not in surgery, steroids or inhalers, but in establishing one's internal homeostasis and maintaining it on a moment to moment, day to day basis.  The 8 Steps to Optimal Breathing need all be in place and in balance. We work on and train  people in techniques, exercises, nutrition and  insights that will permanently keep you out of future breathing trouble. Our self help programs are guaranteed to help a great deal. Our private sessions take the progress further and faster.  Our school trains others to do what I do.

Reduce or Eliminate Hyperventilation

Many thanks to J. Michael Wood, core faculty member of the Optimal Breathing School, for his editing support.

About copyrights. 
My patience is running a little thin with plagiarists copying my work and not giving me credit for it.  Understand that I will challenge/expose  those that use this material without proper credits.   mgw

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The breathing improvement techniques, practices and products outlined in this publication are extremely gentle, and should, if carried out as described, be beneficial
to your overall physical and psychological health. If you have any serious medical or psychological problem, however, such as heart disease, high blood pressure,
cancer, mental illness, or recent abdominal or chest surgery, you should consult your health professional before undertaking these practices.