Why was I so often drowsy when doing the deep breathing that I had been taught in meditation, yoga, and biofeedback? I wondered this for over 3o years. I didn’t find out why until I measured my ETCO₂ (my breathing chemistry) with a CapnoTrainer while breathing deeply. Wow, was I surprised when I saw that my CO₂ significantly dropped then. This means that I was actually shorting myself of oxygen. What I mistook for a relaxed meditative state was actually a lethargic, hypoxic state where I was taking in too much air and not letting it all back out. The Easterners had it right. It’s not about TAKING a breath, it’s about finishing a breath, completing the exhale. That’s what get’s the oxygen to the bloodstream and brain.
Yes, the deep breath feels relaxing to many, and probably for several reasons: 1. That is what we are told to do when stressed, so we expect it to help. 2. It takes our awareness inward. 3. When we take deeper breaths, we usually slow our breathing, which slows our heart rate and calms the system. BUT, if your deep breath is one that actually shorts your oxygen supply, that is definitely not good because it means everything will start to constrict due to loss of oxygen.
SO, if a deep breath isn’t a guarantee of getting more oxygen from your lungs to your bloodstream and brain, then HOW DO YOU KNOW if your breathing is giving you the right amount of oxygen? There is one way that is scientifically accurate and one way that is a best guess. The sure way is the use of a capnometer (the more scientific oriented method is to use a capnometer which measures carbon dioxide such as the “CapnoTrainer” which also measures Heart Rate Variability, HRV). The best guess is not by pulse ox (oximeter) but by noticing the symptoms that accompany lowered ETCO₂ and lowered oxygen, like feeling light-headed or short of breath (see symptom checklist on our website www.BreatheHeartfully.com).
When I first jogged regularly, around the same time I started meditation and yoga, I wore one of the first heart rate monitors and was baffled by how much my heart rate was jumping around. I wasn’t sure whether the there was something wrong with the heart rate monitor or me, so I checked both out. For myself, I found I had a few PVCs, which can be very dangerous and cause sudden heart attacks. I overcame those working with breathing and heart rate monitoring and exercise moderation. Only later did I find out that our heart rate is supposed to vary rhythmically, both at rest and while being active. For example, when at rest, when we breathe in our heart rate (HR) increases and when we breathe out it decreases. How much it varies is called HRV. The least healthy is to have a steady or irregular heart rate, with not much rhythmic variability. In fact regularly low HRV is a predictor of all causes of death and a correlate of negative emotions and poor health. And the converse is true also—greater HRV is a correlate of good cardiovascular health and of more positive emotional states, better cognitive and physical performance, greater intuition, and much more. For more.
Now, I am happy to BreatheHeartfully as we go into the Art and Science of Better Breathing and Greater Heart Rate Variability for your health and enjoyment and for your very BEST. My motto is OPT for the BEST, my acronym for: Optimal Performance Training for the Body, Emotions, Spirit, & Thoughts.
I look forward to being of help and service. Well come and see our programs, biofeedback instruments, trainings, presentation and resources.
Till we connect again,
Bob Whitehouse, EdD 7/19/2010