How we breathe: Cellular respiration

Warning:  biochemistry…put your thinking cap on, people, because we are going deep.

When we breathe with our lungs, the pressure difference between outside and inside makes air rush into our lungs.  This air contains Oxygen. Oxygen, once in the lungs, is carried across the membrane of the alveoli and into the bloodstream.  In the blood, Oxygen is carried by the haemoglobin, using Iron.

Where does the blood take it?  The blood takes it to all the cells of the body.  Everything needs Oxygen. well, almost everything.  The brain, heart and muscles definitely do, not to mention all the internal organs, the skin, the endocrine (hormonal) glands…  Pretty important stuff.

But, these cells don’t want Oxygen as O2 bound to haemoglobin.  No.  They cannot use Oxygen like this.  They want something called ATP.  Imagine you live in England and you earn British pounds.  You are flush and decide to go on holiday to Thailand.  Everything seems cheap, there is plenty to buy and to eat.  But they can’t use your British pounds.  They want you Thai Bhat.  What do you do?  You convert your money.  You probably lose a little on the way, and maybe if you decide to use your credit card, you get stung.  But you can have that delicious meal, that massage, whatever…paying in Bhat.

So, Oxygen in the body is a bit like this.  You, hopefully, take in loads because of excellent breathing (earning British pounds).  It gets into the blood (your flush wallet, ready for your trip) and gets transported to the cells (cushy flight on Thai airways).  It gets to the cells (airport) and the conversion to ATP starts.

ATP is Adenosine-Triphosphate.  It is a carrier of energy and is made from the glucose and Oxygen.  I won’t explain further, but get that clear.

Glucose, sugar, without Oxygen gives 2 molecules of ATP.  Glucose with Oxygen gives 38 molecules of ATP.  So, without oxygen, you use your credit card in British pounds, get a terrible exchange rate and a service charge and maybe some dodgy waiter takes an imprint of the card.  With Oxygen, you find the best rate in town, get a reliable service with a smile and walk away happy.  Easy enough to understand.

So, cellular respiration is using Oxygen to make ATP.  ATP is then used for, well, everything else the cells want to do.  That can be reproducing (dividing), making new DNA, excreting waste products, importing nutrients, whatever a cell wants to do, it does with ATP.

Any questions?  Comment below.  Thanks for reading and have a super day.  Get on your mats!

 

Advertisements

How We Breathe: Mouthbreathing

Introduction

Mouth breathing is an all too common habit, and one that can be broken through yogic breathing techniques called pranayama.  In today’s post, I am going to talk about how mouth breathing can become habitual, the problems brought on my this bad habit and some ideas on how to correct mouth breathing.

The mouth-breathing habit

Mouth breathing is always an acquired habit as newborns are anatomically unable to breathe through their mouths.  This is why many a parent of a newborn with a stuffy noses sweats in fear as the baby struggles to breathe.

As the muscles of the neck and throat develop, though, the baby becomes able to breathe through the mouth.  If the child suffers from repeated bouts of  sinusitis, catarrh or rhinitis, mouth breathing may becoming habitual.  The child may become so accustomed to mouth breathing the shape of the mouth and teeth is permanently altered.  

If a person gets through childhood without developing a mouth breathing habit, they may still fall prey in adulthood.  Many high-intensity sports, like aerobics, running, spinning, tennis etc. can exert the cardiovascular system and make some mouth-breathing necessary.  However, external stressors like a very competitive attitude, pushing far past the pain barrier or a lack of awareness while exercising (the body is moving, but the brain is chewing over past or future events) can transform an otherwise healthy activity into a less healthy one.

So, why is mouth-breathing so bad?

The lungs work best with clean, moist, warm air.  They are made of an extremely fine tissue and produce mucus to protect themselves.  In fact, the whole respiratory system has a mucus lining.  What do the lungs, bronchii and throat need protecting from?  Bacteria.  Dust and particulate matter.  Dry air.  Aerosols.   Smoke.  Anything that can get into the breathing apparatus should be stopped before it gets to the lungs.

When we breathe through the nose, the cavernous area behind the visible nose, called the nasal turbinate, warms, moistens and cleans the air before it enters into the lungs.  When we breathe through the mouth, this happens to a far lesser extent, stressing the lungs.

Then, there is the adenoid tonsil.  This is a lump of lymphatic tissue that is a first defence against invaders.  If you breathe through the nose, the air passes over the adenoid tonsil.  If  any invaders are detected, the early-warning team of the immune system, the helper T-cells, kicks into action.  Keep in mind a cute and simple fact about immunity:  an early response keeps infection contained because the invader has less time to reproduce, so the extent of infection is lower.  That’s why you need a strong, quick immune response.  Bacteria and viruses reproduce very, very quickly.  You don’t want to give them even a few hours in the body without immune response!

Helper T cells are arguably the most important cells in adaptive immunity, as they are required for almost all adaptive immune responses. They not only help activate B cells to secrete antibodies and macrophages to destroy ingested microbes, but they also help activate cytotoxic T cells to kill infected target cells. As dramatically demonstrated in AIDS patients, without helper T cells we cannot defend ourselves even against many microbes that are normally harmless. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK26827/)

The nasal turbinate also slows down the entry of air into the respiratory system because the air has to circulate a little bit in there. In slowing down the passage of air, the turbinate performs another very important function:  it warms and moistens the air.  How does this happen:  The air comes into contact with the mucus membrane of the turbinate and the blood in the capillaries which is at body temperature, transfers some heat to the air.  The mucus transfers a little bit of water, and ta-dah! cold and dry air becomes warm and moist air, just right for your lovely alveoli.

So, to resume:  the lungs want warm, moist, clean air.  The nose is the structure that can deliver air in the right conditions to the lungs.  Anything else is second-rate.

How to correct mouth-breathing.

As with anything, becoming aware is the first step. Watch yourself and see when and if you breathe through the mouth.  What are you doing when it happens? Do you breathe through the mouth at night?  Does that Netflix series you like so much keep you on the edge of your seat and alter your breath?  Just keep an eye.

When you figure out the triggers, you can put the brakes on when you need to.

If you find it generally hard to breathe through the nose and are prone to a stuffy nose, maybe you can use some neti nasal irrigation, or saline cleansing.

If physical exertion makes you mouth breathe, or pant, maybe you need to tone down the pace so that you can breathe steadily and correctly?  I know that is hard in a group class, or when we want to reach goals.  But doesn’t it make sense to not harm yourself while exercising?

Finally, if it is emotional stuff that makes your mouth breathe, try to keep your cool. Most of us seek out stimulating stuff like video games, television series and movies.  When the adrenaline gets moving, the heart rate increases and we are more likely to breathe through the mouth.  This is a totally unintentional and avoidable side-effect of a very normal activity.  Becoming aware of this can help you stop it happening.

Mouth breathing and sex.

There is one area where mouth breathing seems almost unavoidable:  lovemaking. If you are lucky enough to have a beloved to cuddle and canoodle with, right now, I’d say go for it, mouth breathing be damned! ha!  I mean, if your lover makes you pant, it is probably a good thing, right? hah!  Still, correct breathing will make it even better:   if you want to learn about tantra, or multiple orgasms for men, you will have to work on your breathing technique.    Having said all that, the good folks over at Conscious Breathing have published a very complete article about the links between good, nasal breathing and sexuality.

Conclusion

Since this is a yoga blog, I will resume by saying that the practice of hatha yoga, and pranayama will help you to breathe nasally and makes all the above easier, more pleasant and more natural.

So, come on down to class, get on your mat, breathe deeply, feel peace and joy within, and shine your little light, dear people.  The guru is within you.

Love,

Rachel

 

 

LUX (Nicolas Jaar Remix)

Here is a delightful, trippy, chilled-out track, just right for your yoga practice. Breathe deeply, be still on the inside but move on the outside. Practice and all is coming.  The guru is within you. Your path is just as personal and unique as you are.

Yoga makes me feel…old. What’s up with that?

The lady who asked the question I blogged about last week, “Yoga is meant to calm me, so why do I feel so nervous?” asked another great question yesterday.  Gosh, I love students who give honest reflections and ask questions!  Thanks, honey bunch.

After class I noticed that her face wasn’t 100% bliss.  Quite the opposite.  So, unlike a YouTube video would, I sat next to her and asked her what’s up.  She said:

“I couldn’t do some of the simplest poses.  It made me feel old.”

Ouch.  And yes, yoga does that.  You see, if you give someone a workout routine like Crossfit or marathon training, it is very normal that they will find, at first, themselves not able to do it.  But because it is hard, challenging, perhaps unattainable, they are quite happy to just thrust away at it for a long time until they reach the goal.  To not do something hard on the first go is quite normal and acceptable for the ego.

But when we are asked to do something simple like lie on our backs and stretch one side of the body and breathe deeply, and find that there is pain, discomfort, we say “hold on a second…what is happening here?”

What is happening here is that our bodies have aged, have adopted fixed patterns, have held onto thoughts and emotions and stored them in our abdominal muscles, our hips, our necks, and we have become unable to make those muscles do our bidding.  We try to move the ribs with the breath, and we can’t.  Upon finding that we can’t do something so seemingly simple, we reflect on how, once upon a time, we could.  As children, we were all free and loose and easy.  But time, and life, and blows, and ailments, and all that, steals our childhood from us and we become adults, then middle-aged and then, if we are lucky, old.  The body ages but so does the mind.  We swap physical agility for mental wisdom.  Or that is the idea, anyway.  There is concept that I love in yoga that goes like this:

Why do we do âsana?  We do âsana to  keep the body strong and supple and youthful so that we can live a long time.  And why do we want to live a long time?  So that we can gain wisdom.

Doing yoga is like holding a mirror up to our true selves and being forced to look.  Mostly, we won’t like all that we see.  The mirror as a symbol is powerful and appears all over in the popular culture.  In Jean Cocteau’s 1950 Movie Orphée, the mirror is the portal between two worlds, the living and the dead.  And in fact, a very eerie reflection uttered is :

“Les miroirs sont les portes par lesquelles la Mort va et vient. Du reste, regardez-vous toute votre vie dans une glace et vous verrez la Mort travailler commes les abeilles dans une ruche de verre.” (Mirrors are the doors by which Death comes and goes. You have only to look at yourself in the mirror every day and you will see Death at work there, like bees in a glass hive.)

Yes indeed.  When we look at the mirror every day, we look at the face of Death.  Our own death.  This is getting heavy, but the Yoga Sutras are very clear about all this, in the first 5-10 aphorisms of the very first Yoga Sutras book, Patanjali identifies the Kleshas, the mental patterns that cause the vrittis, the mental fluctuations that assail us all.  And right up there in spot number five is fear, abhinidvesa.  Principle fear? Death.

We are all aware of our mortality but none of us wants to admit it, to face it.  When we do, we cringe and shudder.  This is normal.  I love to ruminate on the human being’s awareness of the passage of time.  We are, I believe, the only animal that marks time with such precision.  We are time-obsessed species.  Why?  Because we are all unconsciously counting down the seconds of our lives.  And this is wildly uncomfortable.  Because what this forces us to do is to admit that our time is limited, that we must live fully in the present and create from our meagre and humble little lives the best and brightest creation that we can.  And any abstention from this duty, whether through fear, intransigence, obstinance or fakery, is a negation of our duty to grow and gain wisdom and be the best person we can be.

Uff. All that at 8 in the morning.  I think a lot.  That is why I do yoga.  So, I will leave you with a Joy Division song with footage from Orphée.  Enjoy it, and live this day fully.  And get on your  mats, and breathe deeply and feel the love.  It is there, all the time, and there is enough for everyone.