We cycle through our breath all life long, with varying levels of consciousness and intention.
As we breathe in oxygen is absorbed into our blood at the very tips of the branches of our lungs, across thin alveolar membranes.
As we breathe out carbon dioxide is released from our body, diffusing from our blood through the capillary walls.
Red blood cells have a pigment called hemoglobin. This protein has four subunits, called “hemes”, which have iron and can carry a molecule of oxygen.
Hemes carry oxygen to tissue, where most of it is used to help convert glucose (pyruvate) into energy in a process called aerobic cellular respiration.
Red blood cells can also pick up carbon dioxide, the natural bi-product of cellular respiration which needs to be released from our body in order to maintain healthy pH balance.
The Bohr effect describes how our hemoglobin’s ability to attract oxygen is inversely related to the acidity (pH) of our blood and our concentration of carbon dioxide.
The more acidic our body is, and the higher our build up of carbon dioxide, the less able our hemoglobin can carry oxygen to our tissue for energy production.
The less acidic our body is, and the lower our build up of carbon dioxide, the more able our hemoglobin can carry oxygen to our tissue.
Our breathing rate is under autonomic nervous system control unless we consciously influence it.
A fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous response will favour quick shallow breaths to maximize oxygen intake for optimal energy production.
A rest-and-digest parasympathetic nervous response will favour slow, deep breaths to release carbon dioxide and clear the body.
Practicing extended periods of intentional deep inhalations and deep, slow exhalations can help our bodies take in valuable oxygen and release accumulating carbon dioxide.