By this stage, I hope we’ve established the fact that breathing is important.
And, I hope I’ve sold you on the idea enough to get you to at least check out our collection of Notes on the subject plus Breathing 101 and perhaps even go deeper with some books and a breathing practice.
Today we’re going to spend another day on the subject chatting about another key concept from James Nestor’s book Breath.
Not too long ago, we talked about the fact that the longest-lived mammals have the lowest resting heart rates which is driven (in part) by slow breathing.
As it turns out, one of the greatest obstacles to breathing right is “overbreathing.”
As James tells us: “One thing that every medical or freelance pulmonaut I’ve talked to over the past several years has agreed on is that, just as we’ve become a culture of overeaters, we’ve also become a culture of overbreathers. Most of us breathe too much, and up to a quarter of the modern population suffers from more serious chronic overbreathing.”
The fix is straightforward—at least conceptually: breathe less.
Enter: Those perfect breaths featuring that 5.5-second inhale, 5.5-second exhale for 5.5 breaths per minute.
Why do we want to breathe less?
And, why is overbreathing such a problem?
We talk about this in Breathing 101 and I love the way James puts it: “Every healthy cell in the body is fueled by oxygen, and this is how it’s delivered. The entire cruise takes about a minute, and the overall numbers are staggering. Inside each of our 25 trillion red blood cells are 270 million hemoglobin, each of which has room for four oxygen molecules. That’s a billion molecules of oxygen boarding and disembarking within each red blood cell.
There’s nothing controversial about this process of respiration and the role of carbon dioxide in gas exchange. It’s basic biochemistry. …
‘Everyone always talks about oxygen,’ Olsson told me during our interview in Stockholm. ‘Whether we breathe thirty times or five times a minute, a healthy body will always have enough oxygen!’
What our bodies really want, what they require to function properly, isn’t faster or deeper breaths. It’s not more air. What we need is more carbon dioxide.”
Everyone thinks they need more OXYGEN in their bodies and think that the more they breathe the better.
As it turns out, just like you can EAT too much, you can BREATHE too much.
Of course, every healthy cell is fueled by oxygen. And, as James says, the numbers are STAGGERING.
We have 25 trillion red blood cells. Each of those has 270 million hemoglobin which each have room for four oxygen molecules. That’s ONE BILLION molecules of oxygen in all 270 million hemoglobin. Multiply that by 25 trillion and we have a LOT of oxygen in our bodies.
Quick calculator math says: 25 trillion x 270 million x 4 = 2.7e+22. That’s a lot of zeroes.
Optimal breathing isn’t about the OXYGEN per se. All healthy bodies are properly saturated with more than enough oxygen. It’s all about the CARBON DIOXIDE that needs to be present to basically push the oxygen out of the hemoglobin into the cells that need it.
We talked about this in The Oxygen Advantage where Patrick McKeown tells us: “The crucial point to remember is that hemoglobin releases oxygen when in the presence of carbon dioxide. When we overbreathe, too much carbon dioxide is washed from the lungs, blood, tissues, and cells. This condition is called hypocapnia, causing the hemoglobin to hold on to oxygen, resulting in reduced oxygen release and therefore reduced oxygen delivery to tissues and organs. With less oxygen delivered to the muscles, they cannot work as effectively as we might like them to. As counterintuitive as it may seem, the urge to take bigger, deeper breaths when we hit the wall during exercise does not provide the muscles with more oxygen but effectively reduces oxygenation even further. In contrast, when breathing volume remains nearer to correct levels, the pressure of carbon dioxide in the blood is higher, loosening the bond between hemoglobin and oxygen and facilitating the delivery of oxygen to the muscles and organs… In light of the Bohr Effect, overbreathing limits the release of oxygen from the blood, and in turn affects how well our muscles are able to work.”
Patrick also succinctly says: “So how do we ensure that we breathe correctly so as to make optimal use of our amazing respiratory system? As odd as this may seem, it’s not oxygen that exerts the primary influence on your breathing efficiency, but carbon dioxide.”
You know how we achieve that? One more time: Breathe less.
You know the fastest way to flip the “breathe less to breathe right switch”?
Start breathing EXCLUSIVELY through your nose.
Then focus on gently bringing that air down into your belly. Then exhale nice and long.
Perhaps 5.5 + 5.5 for 5.5.
Shall we practice now?
Inhale through your nose for a count of 5.5.
(Down into your belly.)
Exhale for a count of 5.5.
(Let it all out with a smile.)
1, 2, 3, 4, 5.5!!!
Here’s to nice, slow, rhythmic breaths.
In through the nose. Down into the belly. Back out with a nice long exhale.
Get those carbon dioxide levels nice and Optimized!!
+5.5. +5.5. +5.5. +5.5. +5.5.
All day. Every day. TODAY.