Hi all! Thought we would tackle another FAQ and do some myth busting around breathing.
Oxygen is the main drive for breathing
Oxygen levels are actually the backup system. Carbon Dioxide (what we breathe out) is actually our primary respiratory drive. These levels are detected through receptors and fed back to the respiratory centre in the brain to guide when we need to adjust our breathing. Relying on oxygen levels are actually our back up system and have to get quite low to trigger a breath. Note: this can adapt over time given special circumstances including chronic disease.
If you've ever heard of shallow water blackout this is the mechanism underpinning it.
The more oxygen we breathe the better
-> Partly FALSE
Ok so obviously we want good saturation of oxygen because it's the molecule we can make energy from. However, even if all your red blood cells were full of oxygen we need Co2 so we can actually use it. This is called the Bohr Effect and here is the best metaphor to describe it.
The red blood cell is a boat and oxygen are the passengers. CO2 is a pirate. Oxygen isn't going to jump off the boat unless carbon dioxide competes for its place on the boat. If oxygen never gets off the boat our muscles can't use the oxygen to make energy.
With these myths in mind can we see how deep breaths which often involve large volumes of air can expel too much CO2 and disturb some very important roles of CO2? Not to mention, the increased flow often associated with a deep breath can actually irritate the airways. Think about how your airway would feel after a night of heavy snoring (large volume, fast flow)? Furthermore, deep has become synonymous with belly. We don't breathe in our belly we breathe in our diaphragm. Whilst the belly can be used as a cue to bring the breath down it's not necessary and can cause increased air in your gut (Think belching and flatulence). Gentle nasal breathing automatically biases you towards a diaphragmatic breath. Furthermore, it's the diaphragmatic breath keeping pathogens out of your lungs and facilitating optimal efficiency.
Whilst both deep and gentle breathing will slow down your respiratory rate and leave you feeling calm, hopefully you can see there are even more benefits for breathing gently. Check the flow of air coming out of your nostrils on the back of your hand. If you feel anything other than a gentle warmth, try to breathe a little more gently.