Some science behind the scenes
Increasing the breathing rate
This description shows the effects of increasing the breathing rate as part of the Controlled breathing process, in effect showing how it works.
By increasing the breathing rate whilst we are at rest and inactive, we are going to supply the blood with more oxygen than we need for our activity rate. What might be the first thing that happens?
Metabolism produces heat
Glucose and the glucose stored in fat and the liver [as glycogen] might start to be burnt just as if we were active and we might feel hot. In other words the energy created is converted by our homeostatic system into heat – internal heat. Our body surface area might then expand to dissipate the heat and furthermore we may start to sweat quite profusely. The blood flow to the skin will increase in an attempt to dissipate the heat via our blood to the surface of the skin and we will look flushed and pink. Here is a quote from the Sharadatilaka 25; 21-22
“The early stage is that in which perspiration occurs due to the practise of breath control. ”
The brain constantly measures the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood [not oxygen] and uses this as its trigger on what to do next. Normally, a high carbon dioxide concentration signals a low oxygen concentration and a low carbon dioxide concentration signals a high oxygen concentration.
All this burning of oxygen to produce heat produces the waste products of carbon dioxide and water and this will enter our blood stream and head on back up to the brain. We now have high carbon dioxide levels, which to the brain seems to indicate a low oxygen content.
The brain assumes that oxygen levels are low, and accordingly, the blood vessels dilate even more to assure sufficient blood flow and supply of oxygen. You can see that all this has got to be good for people with hypertension [as long as you get the rate of breathing right] – dilation without drugs, with the added benefit of warmth for cold extremities where the circulation is not so good! It will also tell the lungs to breathe more in order to increase oxygen supplies – but you are controlling your breathing and resisting the urge to breathe yet more quickly so you are determining the flow and rate.
But this should also show how very finely tuned this process is.
Over time another effect kicks in.
Reduction in CO2
Eventually your temperature stabilises, you will still feel hot, but the level at which CO2 is being produced will be dropping. The gases in the alveoli of the lungs are nearly in equilibrium with the gases in the blood.
Normally, less than 10% of the gas in the alveoli is replaced with each breath taken. Deeper breaths exchange more of the alveolar gas with ambient air and have the net effect of expelling more carbon dioxide from the body, since the carbon dioxide concentration in normal air is very low. So, by controlling the breathing we in the end reduce the carbon dioxide concentration of the blood to below its normal level because we are expiring more carbon dioxide than we are producing in the body. You can see, however, that all this is very finely balanced.
The resulting low concentration of carbon dioxide in the blood is known as hypocapnia. Hypocapnia results in the blood becoming alkaline, i.e. the blood pH value rises. This is known as ‘respiratory alkalosis’.
Alkalosis interferes with normal oxygen utilization by the brain. The symptoms of alkalosis are: twitching, tingling and numbness of the extremities and around the mouth and dizziness. Paraesthesia.
Alkalosis generally induces:
- vasodilatation - widening of the blood vessels - in the body
- vasoconstriction - narrowing of the blood vessels - in the brain alone
This vasoconstriction can be made even worse by a sudden increase in blood pressure caused by squeezing or holding the breath ‘hard’.
This constriction of the blood vessels in the brain prevents the transport of oxygen and other molecules necessary for the function of the nervous system. At each stage of this process, if we had let our normal systems take over, all this would right itself naturally , but we are not allowing these natural systems to work because we have controlled the intake of breath. Anyone who has a panic attack for example is simply told to breathe into a paper bag and this corrects the carbon dioxide balance - we breathe in the carbon dioxide we have expelled and right the acid/alkaline balance.
The hypothalamus, which is the decision making ‘control tower’ organ in our brain recognises the dangers and because, by an action of will, we are preventing it from taking corrective action, it acts independently to provide its own corrective measures gradually shutting down less essential functions and reverting to operating system type functions.
A brain deprived of oxygen which is in effect gradually shutting down will revert to the key functions. The body has no need of either memory or reason once it is on autonomic processing. If we use the analogy, the computer of our brain has reverted to running the operating system and not much more.
The act of regulating the breathing affects the reasoning process and memory so that they are no longer active. As they cease the composer kicks in and we get our spiritual experience.
One would expect that the vasoconstriction in the brain might result in a certain level of panic, together with anxiety, but this does not happen. This appears to be as a result of GABA action.
GABA is a neurotransmitter that is the cornerstone of the inhibitory (calming) system of the body, and controls the action of epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine. The main function of GABA is to prevent anxiety and stress-related messages from reaching the motor centers of the brain. Whereas Glutamate is always an excitatory neurotransmitter, GABA counters this action. The brain secretes GABA neurotransmitters which all aid to calm, reduce anxiety and panic and sedate. We are to a large extent almost anaesthetised, ‘high’, relaxed maybe even a little euphoric.
The key part of the brain controlling GABA secretion is the hypothalamus, where there is a very high concentration of GABA. The pituitary gland is the master endocrine gland affecting all hormone functions of the body, they are very close together physically in the brain itself. Thus it is this GABA agonistic action that finally completes the picture.
Some forms of increased breathing push the rate to extremely high levels – as close to a panic attack as one is ever likely to get without panicking! In this case, it is also possible that the body will release endorphins. The hypothalamus which makes all the decisions about what to do next [the processor for the function of ‘will and decision making’] gets all sorts of panic stricken messages from the nervous system which all boil down to a cry for help. It is probably hugely confused. Our body is at rest, but our lungs are being pumped as if we are in flight or fight mode and fight or flight seems to be predominant . Since our action is deliberate it can see that ‘we’ are stronger than ‘it’ is, so it does its best to set in motion all the things that might make the experience more bearable.
Endorphins are endogenous opioid peptides that function as neurotransmitters. And endorphins are opioids. β-endorphin has the highest affinity for the μ1 opioid receptor, slightly lower affinity for the μ2 and δ opioid receptors and low affinity for the κ1 opioid receptors. Endorphins thus resemble the opiates in their abilities to produce analgesia and a feeling of well-being. Endorphins disinhibit the dopamine pathways, causing more dopamine to be released – which explains why we get euphoria and pleasure.
And of course they are addictive in the sense that once we have experienced a truly great ‘hyperventilating high’ we want yet more, we want to get it again and again. In the long term over use can result in an opium like dependency pattern and withdrawal symptoms.
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