“Can you control your mind so that it never strays from the way of Tao? Can you control your breathing so that it is soft and gentle like a new-born babe?”
The connection between the mind and the way we breathe has been asserted by Eastern sages for centuries. For obvious reasons, they have not emphasized the physiological connection that would make sense from a Western scientific point of view.
But modern science has recently arrived at the same conclusions as the ancient yogi and meditator. Recent research is clear; the functional chemistry of the brain is largely determined by a delicate balance between carbon dioxide and oxygen – which is directly regulated by the depth and frequency of our breath.
There is no person who breathes within the optimal physiological norms and who suffers with mental problems – to the contrary, their disposition is invariably relaxed, clear and deeply content. They control their mind instinctively and without effort. Anyone can observe how the mind can excite the breathing – but few realize how the breathing can also influence the mind.
A vast and growing number of people are suffering from so called psychological or psychiatric problems such as uncontrolled anger, anxiety, panic, depression, stress and all kinds of behavioral problems – these are breathing related problems.
Less than optimal breathing will result in a less than an optimally functioning mind. The quality and function of the mind are tightly bound to the way in which we breathe, as the latest scientific research shows:
“The brain, by regulating breathing, controls its own excitability” Balestrino & Somjen, 1988.
“Hyperventilation leads to spontaneous and asynchronous firing of cortical neurons”. Huttunen et. Al, 1999.
And this is what certain transcendentalists, meditators and yogis have been asserting for centuries.
“Mind and breath have the same source. Hence breath is controlled when mind is controlled and mind, when breath is controlled. Breath is the gross form of the mind.” Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, 1965.
“The perfect man breathes as though he is not breathing.” Lau Tzu, 604-521 BC
”The removal of outside stimuli and the suspension of the breath within the nostrils controls the mind, and the transcendentalist becomes free from desire, fear and anger, and the one who is always in this state is certainly liberated.” Bhagavad-Gita
“There is no person who breathes within the optimal physiological norms and who suffers with mental problems – to the contrary, their disposition is invariably relaxed, clear and deeply content. They control their mind instinctively and without effort.
“Anyone can observe how the mind can excite the breathing – but few realize how the breathing can also influence the mind.”
What a surprise! When the human organism functions within established normal physiological parameters (in medical text books), there is no incidence of chronic disease. Why then are established physiological “norms” being ignored?
Healthy breathing is simple. Firstly it complies with the physiological norms for ventilation i.e. 3 – 4 liters per minute at rest. Above this amount is called hyperventilation and has a poisonous effect on the organism – below this amount is called hypoventilation, an occurrence so rare to be insignificant for the purposes of this discussion.
The person who breathes optimally will have, by average standards, some apparently strange tendencies. Firstly, they don’t suffer with any of the “diseases of civilization”. Physically they tend to be lean and muscular, regardless of their level of activity. They eat sparingly and prefer simple food. They sleep less, around four hours a day – they can relax easily. Their level of energy is consistent and their stamina significantly above average. They enjoy physical activity. Their posture is naturally elongated.
Their physical attributes are only one aspect. From a mental and philosophical perspective, they tend to be logical and calm – they are not given to paranoia, deep smoldering anger, or greed. They can happily sustain intensive concentration with little effort and do not oscillate between depression and unrealistic or false enthusiasm. Their natural demeanor reflects ease.
It should be noted that an adult, who breathes optimally is very rare in modern Western society. But throughout history there have been sages of all traditions that reflect the principles of optimal breathing.
Healthy or optimal breathing is at the heart of the Buteyko Method. What we routinely see in those who practice the method diligently, is clear incremental improvement in health, starting with the liquidation of chronic disease along with sublime shifts in mentality.
There can be the temporary absence of obvious disease, there can be excuses for disease – but there cannot be health without a corresponding healthy breathing pattern. This is just a simple law of nature.
Russian scientist and medical doctor Konstantin Buteyko, in 1952, discovered that the real cause of asthma and other related diseases is a radical depletion of CO2 – carbon dioxide – in the lungs. This isn’t so strange when we learn that oxygen cannot be assimilated by cells without adequate amounts of CO2. There is only 0.03% carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today. Yet to absorb oxygen a healthy body requires about 6.5% carbon dioxide in the alveoli of the lungs. Therefore your lungs act to trap in some of the carbon dioxide produced by your body. Should the level of carbon dioxide in human lungs fall to 3%, it is fatal.
“Carbon dioxide is the basic nutrition of every life form of earth.
It acts as the main regulator of all functions in the organism;
it is the main internal environment of the organism; it is the vitamin of all vitamins.”
- – KP Buteyko
According to Buteyko’s research, asthmatics and sufferers of other related conditions have adopted a breathing pattern which causes them to release more carbon dioxide than they produce. To prevent the level from dropping to far, the body has developed certain defence mechanisms. These include constriction of the bronchial muscles and increased production of mucus in the membranes of the breathing passages.
Signs of overbreathing are lightheadedness, dizziness, poor concentration, shortness of breath, over sensitivity of the airways, excessive production of mucus, blocked or runny nose, mouth breathing, palpitations, skipped heart beats, muscular spasms, different degrees of anxiety, tension, apprehension, fatigue, insomnia, abdominal bloating, loss of consciousness, and the list goes on!