Realities Created, Maintained and Destroyed, WHILE-U-WAIT!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Breathing is Very Important

If you don't think so, just hold your breath for ten minutes.

I have talked about breath in relation to martial arts here, but I want to expand a bit on the subject as not only martial artists will benefit from breath work.

One generalization that comes close to being correct is "Every spiritual path starts, explicitly or implicitly, with the breath." I have found this true enough over the years that it has become a "rule" for me. When I examine a path or teacher, it there is not some way that teaches people to intergate and heal their there breath, I tend to stay away from them.

One of the things that I have noticed is that pathological breathing has become epidemic world wide. This is rather troubling.

Here is a piece that I wrote a while back, reedited for the blog that addresses breath and health.


I have noticed over the years that many people tend to think of the respiratory system as analogous with the digestive system, that is to say, some people are under the impression that we breath in to get the food (O2) and breath out to expel the waste (CO2). This leads to the assumption, O2 = good, CO2 = bad. Sadly for those that see it this way, nothing could be further from the truth. The function of the respiratory system is really nothing like that of the digestive system, and trying to view them as the same only leads to dysfunction.

I remember years ago reading a book by a Norwegian Olympic athlete by the name of Thorleif Schjelderup, (not to be confused with Thorleif Schjelderup-Ebb who is another interesting person) who suggested that if things continued to progress as they had been in the Industrial World, that one day we would have to attend classes where we could learn to walk and breath. (or something very close to this).

Well, that day came quite some time ago and we just didn't notice.

One of the things that I watch as I travel around the world is how people breath, it is a professional interest, being as I am a martial arts instructor. Outside of sports and music there is very little attention paid to breathing, and even in these areas there is a lot of misunderstanding.

What I have seen is a substantial increase in pathological breathing over the years world wide. I am not sure of all of the reasons for this, but the effects are quite obvious.

A good number of the maladies that the "First World" countries suffer from can be linked directly to pathological breathing patterns. Interestingly, a good number of problems health-wise found in the Third World can be traced back to the same problem.

As long as we as a species are willing to live at the level of Darwinism this is not too much of a problem, enough of us will breed before we die to keep the species going.

The problem comes when we want a little bit more than the continuance of humanity for its own sake. Allah has set up things so that the species will continue, and evolve according to environmental pressures, but if the individual wants to evolve it is a different game entirely.

It only takes about fourteen years for a member of our species to pass on his or her genetic inheritance, but it takes several decades at least for the individual to do the work necessary to evolve.

The Sufis of Central Asia were well known for their longevity and good health. They all attributed this to Breath Work. Breath work is also essential for bringing the Nafs under control and bringing the individual to a state of true consciousness.

The problem here is that by and large, the true understanding of Sufi Breath disciplines have been lost or hidden away from public scrutiny. I suspect that this was mostly done as a defense against the rising tide of fundamentalism, which makes any spiritual practice dangerous.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this message, the "digestive" model does not work well for breathing. Let me give you a different view on the process of breathing and you will understand why.

(Most of the important work on the subject was done by Coach Scott Sonnon and I am pulling heavily from him as he has the best descriptions of the process in English)

Unless you have a medical background you most likely have never heard of the "Bohr Effect", but it is essential to the understanding of proper breathing.

Stated very simply, Oxygen does not transfer from hemoglobin to tissues except in the presences of CO2.

When we breathe normally ("Reflexively"), hemoglobin, the principle carrier of oxygen in the body, remains about 98% oxygen (O2) saturated. When we breathe more, we increase O2 saturation negligibly but lose the CO2 that is essential for O2 utilization. If the level of CO2 in the body decreases our hemoglobin does not release O2 to the tissues, which in turn causes O2 starvation. As a result, the more you breathe the less oxygen the tissues of your body might receive! This explains the light-headedness associated with many breathing practices such as "re-birthing", it is oxygen starvation.

So breathing is much more about maintaining the correct balance of blood gases than it is about taking in a "nutrient" and expelling a "waste by-product".

So let's take a quick look at pathological breathing.

(excerpted from a paper by Scott Sonnon)


This rapid-breath pattern (averaging 20 breaths/minute) uses accessory muscles and restricts diaphragmatic movement being predominantly Thoracic (see below) in nature. Produced from poorly managed anxiety, this pattern manifests as very shallow, very rapid, and compounded by sputtered sighs (periodic) and gasps (clavicular). Panic, anxiety, and shock habituate this common phenomenon. Trainees exhibiting this pattern immediately imperil their health.


Those conditioned with this pattern exhibit chest-raising that elevates the collarbones while drawing in the abdomen and raising up the diaphragm. Trainees who are “open-mouth breathers” attempt to increase intake through oral inhalation, but this provides minimal pulmonary ventilation. Worse still, the accessory muscles used in this pattern consume more oxygen than it provides. In training, these individuals fatigue quickly.


These "“chest-breathers" typify aggressive individuals. This pattern lacks significant abdominal movement, being shallow and costal. Enlarging thoracic cavity creates a partial vacuum by lifting the rib cage up and out through external intercostals muscles. Although the lungs do manage to be expanded by negative pressure, it is not enough to ventilate the lower lobes. This reduces pulmonary ventilation, since the lower lobes receive the greatest blood volume due to gravity.


Often called "Reverse" Breathing, this pattern abdominally contracts during inhalation and expands on exhalation (using the muscles for the opposite purpose for which they were intended.) Paradoxical breathing associates with the expectation of exertion, sustained effort, resistance to flow, and stress. We see this most prominently in new trainees, who require intense pattern deconditioning. Through stress, shock and fear, they have conditioned themselves to inhale (often married to Clavicular and Thoracic patterns), followed by Hypoxic breath-retention and Periodic sighs. As a result, this pattern causes very rapid fatigue.


This pattern demonstrates rapid-shallow breathing, followed by a holding of breath, followed by a heavy sigh. It is an over-responsiveness to CO2 concentrations in the bloodstream. This "“airy" panting "blows off"” or flushes out the CO from the bloodstream, which causes the brain's autonomic system to shutdown respiration until the CO2 level raises to appropriate gas mixture. In the Periodic pattern, this cycle perpetuates. This is not to be confused with true Apnea, and can be diagnosed by witnessing that the pattern does not cause a change in color "no blueness of the lips" – and the individual resumes shallow, rapid breathing without intervention, following the sigh. This pattern can be created through sustained anxiety, or by post-traumatic stress syndrome.


In preparation of perceived exertion, this pattern comprises an inhalation, withholding of exhalation (breath retention) until the perceived exertion concludes. Holding the breath dramatically increases intra-thoracic pressure, causing health risks such as, fainting associated with Vagal nerve stimulation, increase in blood pressure, and hypoxia (lack of oxygen). Chronic, baseline hypoxic breathing is very common, especially in "athletes"”, – those conditioned to exertion. Hypoxic patterning connects with Fear-Reactive Armoring, the defense mechanism of "bracing" caused by anxiety. This inflexible armor either aggressive exerts (breath-holding) Through these six dysfunctional breathing patterns, alone or in concert, we undo our health, as well as our sportive and combative performance.

Dysfunctional breathing patterns reduce oxygen delivery to the lungs, as well as biomechanical and structural efficiency, resulting in fatigue. This sets us in motion for a feedback loop, where the longer within the dysfunctional pattern(s) we remain, the more we attempt to work harder through the pattern(s), which conditions us more to remain in the pattern(s), and so on and so forth.

Here is an interesting thought for you.

A person who has been correctly trained can tell a great deal about the state of another person's Nafs just by watching them move and breath. This is of course because the Nafs is directly connected with every aspect of a person's physicality.


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