If you've been diving into the world of breathwork, you've probably experienced its incredible power to transform your mental and physical well-being. But have you ever wondered why it works so effectively? Today, we're going to embark on a fascinating journey into the science behind breathwork, where biomechanics and biochemistry take center stage.
The Breath: More Than Just Inhales and Exhales
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, let's take a moment to appreciate the complexity of something as seemingly simple as breathing. It's not just about oxygen in and carbon dioxide out; it's a dynamic interplay of biomechanics (how we breathe) and biochemistry (the underlying physiology) that keeps us alive and kicking! An understanding of this critical relationship allows us to truly get the most out of our practice.
Biomechanics: The Art of Breathing
A discussion about breathwork should (in my opinion) always start with biomechanics. Why? It is the foundation for all other aspects of breath. Breathing is made up of ventilation (air in and out of the body) and respiration (the internal chemical processes that keep us alive). Ventilation refers to the mechanical side of things whereas respiration refers to the physiological side of things. Biomechanics is about what part of my body is moving to get the air in and out. This is where the diaphragm and ribcage become incredibly important.
Think of this simple analogy, if I put a balloon inside a coffee cup and try to blow it up, the balloon will only inflate as far as the coffee cup allows. In this example, the balloon being the lungs, the coffee cup being the ribcage. These structures work together to facilitate the breathing process.
Now, why is this so crucial? Well, optimal ventilation, driven by proper diaphragmatic function and ribcage mobility, is the key to optimal respiration or gas exchange. It ensures that oxygen enters your bloodstream while carbon dioxide, the waste product of metabolism, is efficiently removed. In other words, biomechanics sets the stage for the gas exchange that fuels your body's energy production.
Biochemistry: The Magic Happening Inside
Now, let's talk biochemistry. It's like the backstage crew that makes the show run smoothly. When you breathe, you're not just taking in oxygen; you're also influencing the chemistry of your blood.
Here's the thing: dysfunctional breathing, often characterized by shallow chest breathing (poor biomechanics), can impair your carbon dioxide (CO2) tolerance. You might be thinking, "Wait, isn't CO2 a waste product? Why should I care?" Well, here's the surprise – CO2 is more than just a waste. It's a key player in the body's acid-base balance, and it's involved in the release of oxygen from your red blood cells, ensuring your cells get the oxygen they need.
So, when your CO2 tolerance is compromised due to poor breathing biomechanics, it affects your body's ability to manage pH levels and oxygen delivery. This in turn reduces your ability to produce energy and remove waste. At the cellular level (current estimates suggest we have around 60 trillion cells in our body) energy production is highly dependent on oxygen. So it’s pretty important that we can actually get oxygen to our cells, not just into our lungs.
The Domino Effect on Energy
Now, let's connect the dots. Biomechanics influences the efficiency of gas exchange, while biochemistry governs the chemistry of your blood, which relates to your ability to deliver oxygen to your cells. When these aspects are in harmony, your body operates efficiently and effectively.
Optimal physiology, influenced by effective breathing biomechanics, sets the stage for your cells to produce energy efficiently. Think of it as a well-choreographed dance where oxygen and nutrients are delivered to your cells, and waste products like CO2 are whisked away. Dysfunctional breathing mechanics leads to poor gas exchange and a reduced ability to deliver oxygen to cells - this means less energy. I don’t mean energy to run up a hill or lift weights, I mean energy to repair cells, detox, manage inflammation, beat the heart, power the brain .. you know, important stuff like that!
Why Start with Biomechanics?
So here's the punchline: If you're looking to enhance your well-being through breathwork, biomechanics should be your starting point. It's the foundation upon which the entire breathwork experience is built. Breathing exercises performed with poor mechanics are unlikely to give us the results we are looking for. Just as lifting heavy weights with poor form is less likely to lead to positive gains. Improve the way you breathe, and the outcomes of your practice will change.
Remember, your breath is not just inhales and exhales; it's a dynamic, powerful force that influences your entire body.
How to get started?
As mentioned in this post, on the journey towards better breathing we should start with mechanics. Here is a simple exercise to assess and begin to improve the function of your diaphragm.
Before diving into your next breathwork session, it is a great idea to “warm up” your body and breath using this short routine.
As you continue your breathwork journey, keep in mind that the way you breathe matters. Start with biomechanics, and you'll set the stage for a cascade of positive effects on your physiology, energy levels and overall effectiveness of your breathwork practice.
Remember, it's not just about breathing; it's about breathing better. And as you explore the science behind it, you'll find that every breath can be a better breath.
Stay curious, stay breathful, and keep exploring the wonders of breathwork!
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