When our breathing is threatened, our life is threatened, and all of the body’s warning lights flash frantically. Simply put, we die if we stop breathing. But why are we so dependent on breathing? We need oxygen, right? We are so dependent on oxygen, that we practically live from one breath to the next. If we were to ask our body what it wants, it would answer, “Oxygen.” Ok, no problem, we’ll give you that. And what would you like now? Oxygen. Hmmm, right, ok, we’ll get you that. And now what? Oxygen! You get the point, right – that our body likes oxygen 🙂 !?
Breathing is our primary need. Everything else—sleep, food, water, exercise, love, etc. is secondary.
The natural follow-up question is: “Why is oxygen so vital?” The answer is that it enables us to produce energy effectively. We can produce energy from the nourishment we consume in two ways: with or without oxygen.
Energy production WITHOUT oxygen only gives 6% energy
The energy that is produced in our body is called ATP, or Adenosine Triphosphate. ATP production is a universal process used by all living organisms, be they plants, animals, or humans. ATP is our body’s energy currency, and it is used to accomplish work, such as moving a muscle, thinking a thought, digesting food, or fighting bacteria.
Energy production without oxygen is an anaerobic process known as fermentation. While it does produce energy quickly, it produces very little energy, comparatively speaking.
Fermentation produces two ATP from one nutritional molecule. This means that only 6% of the available energy from nourishment is extracted. Furthermore, only sugar, or glucose as it’s called when it’s stored in the body, is used as fuel. Since fat can’t be burned without oxygen, you shut the door slightly to your fat reserves and over time it may lead to sugar cravings and over weight.
Energy production WITH oxygen produces up to 100% energy!
When we produce energy with oxygen it is an aerobic process known as combustion or cellular respiration. This process is slower but very effective, and it occurs in the cell’s mitochondria.
With combustion, up to 100% of the accessible energy is extracted. From the same amount of nourishment, up to 30-32 ATP is produced, in other words, combustion creates 16 times as much energy as energy production without oxygen. Additionally, with aerobic combustion, the mitochondria can use sugar as well as fat as fuel.
Our need for ATP is enormous. A single cell can consume 10 million ATP every second. When you add the fact that our body is comprised of approximately 50,000 billion cells, it means that in a single 24-hour period, we go through enough ATP to equal our own body weight.
Our mitochondria are our body’s power plants
Our mitochondria are amazing at doing their job. Compared to the sun, they convert 10,000 times as much energy per second, when we compare the two by relative weight. Plus, the electric charge in the mitochondria is as powerful as a 30,000-volt lightning bolt, nearly 150 times as much as a 220-volt wall socket!
So it is not without reason our mitochondria are called the body’s power plants. Normally only 10% of our total energy needs are covered by energy production without oxygen (fermentation); the remaining 90% is produced through aerobic combustion in the mitochondria.
Just as oil is considered the most important source for energy production on our planet, oxygen is the most important source for our body’s mitochondria.
So when we stop breathing we die because of lack of oxygen which in turn creates energy deficiency, as the mitochondria stops working. Arsenic is an example of a deadly poison which targets the mitochondria and causes them to stop working.
Do you live your life as if it were a series of 100-meter dashes?
The ATP energy that is created in the body works the same way as money in your wallet. When you have money, you can eat your fill, buy clothes, and find a place to live, while a lack of money can make life harder.
Running a 100-meter dash is an example of an anaerobic activity. You need energy quickly, and your lungs and heart can’t quite keep up, so you’re forced to rely on producing more energy without oxygen.
A 100-meter dash is characterized by high intensity, but we can’t keep it up for long, and it takes a long time to recover. If you run around, constantly stressed, and live life like it’s a series of 100-meter dashes, you reprogram your body to increasingly attempt to fill your body’s energy requirements without oxygen.
Our society is extremely dependent on energy
We are all extremely dependent on energy, not only as individuals, but also as a society. Imagine what would happen if the power suddenly cut off in a city like New York or Tokyo. What would ensue would be complete chaos.
In the same way, there’s chaos in our body when our oxygen supply diminishes. When we have poor breathing habits, we thankfully don’t die, but we rob our body of some of the critical oxygen it desperately needs, so not as much energy can be created and the chaos increases slightly.
During an oxygen shortage, the starved mitochondria decrease in number and size, similar to a business that has 100 factories but only uses 50. Eventually, the unused factories will be shut down, in accordance with the principle, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”
The organs and functions which suffer the most when you have poor breathing habits are naturally those that use the most energy: your brain, heart, liver, kidneys, eyes, and muscles.
Energy shortages take a toll on our body and our life
When your body’s oxygen sources are reduced by stress and poor breathing, life gets tougher:
- Life seems to be more of an uphill struggle
- You make more simple mistakes
- You wind up in conflicts more frequently
- You feel tired, and your cravings for fast carbs, sugar, coffee, and energy drinks increase
- You may feel you need a little more alcohol to be able to relax
- Your heart works less efficiently
- Your body and muscles become a little more tense and you may experience more pain
- You are more likely to feel worried or afraid
- Your sleep quality may suffer
If you don’t do anything about poor breathing habits, they won’t get better. Quite the opposite — they are likely to gradually worsen, and the oxygen shortage, lack of energy, and chaos in your body will increase
From powerless zombie to lots of energy and vitality
When Lisbeth Lundkvist contacted me, she was raving over her newfound energy. Here’s what she said:
– I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart that I found this (Conscious Breathing). The last 30 years I’ve been to the doctor innumerable times, but I’ve never received any help or advice. I’ve had problems with my sinuses since I was a child and I’ve battled a blocked nose my whole life. I’ve had many, many sinus infections and have taken nasal spray and cortisone. I’ve always felt too tired to do anything. I’ve had zero energy but fought my way through all these years, gritted my teeth, and kept pushing. It’s become worse and worse, and for the last ten years I’ve been so tired I haven’t been able to do anything. I’ve basically been a zombie.
I found your site and began taping my mouth shut at night. Something changed already on the first night as I put the tape on. I felt amazingly calm and became conscious of my own breathing. Since that day, I’ve woken up full of energy and with a smile. I feel ecstatic every day I can wake up with energy. My husband says it’s like he has a new partner?😊.
Does Lisbeth’s story sound too good to be true? Perhaps, but when we understand how the body works and what a major impact our breathing habits can have, it’s not that strange. And she is far from alone in experiencing a massive energy boost thanks to improved breathing habits.
The Five Laws of Nature that govern an organism’s development
Humankind’s ability to handle stress and adapt is unique. It is because of this that we’ve been able to spread across the entire planet. The more energy effective an organism is, the more possibilities there are to reproduce, increase its awareness of its surroundings, adapt, and cooperate.
When it comes to an organism’s development, there are five laws of nature, where an efficient way of producing energy lays the foundation for the other four.
- Energy efficiency – the foundation for the other four laws of nature
- Increased awareness
Man is energy efficient
In comparison with other animals, humanity is inferior in many ways: A dog’s hearing is amazingly more sophisticated compared to ours, bats can fly in darkness, a chameleon can change colors, a penguin can live in extreme cold, a bear is insanely strong, a tiger has very sharp claws, a falcon has incredible eyesight, and we humans have none of these attributes.
Taking all of this into account, how have we been able to spread across the entire planet, living and adapting to radically different conditions, like Eskimos in extreme cold, desert nomads in extreme heat, and mountain peoples at altitudes of tens of thousands of feet?
It’s because we have something other animals don’t: our unique ability to manage our energy. This energy efficiency gives us several evolutionary advantages. Here are a few examples:
- One breath – several steps. The fact that we walk on two legs has made it possible to disconnect our breathing from our movement. A cheetah running at 80 mph takes one breath for every step it takes. This means that it gets tired very fast. The anatomy among other animals is constructed the same way. Humans, on the other hand, can take several steps in one breath, which gives us much greater endurance.
- Sugar is absorbed in the mouth. Thanks to the fact that we have a protein in our mouth called amylase, which we have 20 times as much of as a chimpanzee, for example, we can break down sugar as soon as it enters our mouth. It is absorbed into the blood, and can reach our brain, which runs exclusively off sugar, very quickly. This has contributed to our brain becoming incredibly complex.
- Free hands. Since we began walking on two legs, we’ve had our hands free. Once our hands developed, we were able to develop increasingly advanced tools and weapons. So when the tiger developed speed and sharp claws to be able to hunt, and the bear developed fur to keep warm, we developed stamina and tools to hunt, and a complex brain and nimble hands to make clothes.
- Heating food. In order to convert the food we eat into energy and building blocks our bodies can use, it costs a certain amount of energy. For our ancestors, food had to be caught and then chewed and digested before the nutrients could be absorbed in their intestines. Using cars as an example, the term fuel efficiency is used. The higher the fuel efficiency, the farther the car can travel on a certain amount of gas and oil. When our ancestors mastered fire, they could heat up their food, which increased the fuel efficiency, i.e. less energy was needed for the food they ate to be converted to energy and building blocks.
The development of life is ruled by the accessibility of energy
Let’s zoom out and travel back in time to get a wider perspective on how life’s development is ruled by the accessibility of energy. Current research indicates that life began in the form of bacteria, algae, and amoeba-like creatures approximately four billion years ago. These organisms were anaerobic; they created energy without oxygen.
As bluish-green algae, cyanobacteria, began to spread, the oxygen content in the atmosphere increased. They use sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to produce energy and carbohydrates. This is known as photosynthesis, and this process also creates oxygen. This occurred slightly more than two billion years ago, and as they spread out, the oxygen content of the atmosphere increased. In “just” 200 million years, the oxygen content of the atmosphere multiplied by 10,000.
As the oxygen levels increased, organisms which could use oxygen to create energy from their food developed. This occurred when the mitochondria, which originally was a bacteria, moved into a cell. Thanks to their cooperation, oxygen could be utilized, which gave these organisms a massive advantage, since energy production with oxygen is much more effective.
Cooperation has energy related advantages
After life had begun, the single-celled organisms spent approximately three billion years evolving their intelligence and awareness. This is an unfathomable length of time. The greater awareness of their surroundings, the greater the chance of survival, reproduction, and further evolution.
Thanks to the cyanobacteria’s expansion and the resulting higher oxygen content, the various single-celled organisms could produce more energy, and increasingly complex lifeforms evolved. For example, a normal cell is incredibly complex, nearly a thousand times as large as a bacteria, and is ten thousand times as large as a virus.
Eventually, the cells couldn’t increase their intelligence on their own anymore. They couldn’t contain any more organelles (miniature cell organs) or grow larger without bursting. When they couldn’t increase their own complexity any more, the next step was for the cells to begin working together. These cooperative cells are known as multi-cellular organisms, and we believe this to have occurred around 7-800 million years ago.
From an energy standpoint, the advantages of cooperating were obvious, and the multi-cellular organisms spread rapidly across the planet. All animals, plants, and people you can see with the naked eye are examples of multi-cellular organisms.
Examples of cooperation
Have you ever seen an anthill? If you have, you know that the ants are extremely good at cooperating. It is estimated that there are more than 100 trillion ants, and they are one of the most successful species at spreading across our planet.
A city is another example of the energy-related advantages of cooperation. It’s much more effective, from an energy standpoint, to supply an apartment complex with heat, water, and sewer lines, compared to single houses in the countryside. The fact is, that we’ve created a society which mirrors our body’s enormous energy requirements.
In a way, we can compare the different organs in our body to our cities. The cells in our organs live very close together, like the inhabitants of a city. In the same way that the blood supply is critical to the organs, access to water is equally important to a city. Therefore, it is not surprising that fourteen of the world’s fifteen largest cities are located next to the sea.
Lack of energy — the foundation for poor health
If you look at yourself in a mirror, and view yourself as a single unit, you are correct. But if you were to look at yourself through a microscope, you would discover that you are comprised of a bustling community of nearly 50 000 billion cells, all working together to make you who you are.
Thanks to an increasingly effective ability to produce and save energy, mankind has been able to evolve and become even more complex. The more energy a cell has access to, the better it is at cooperating. And the better our cells cooperate with each other, the better we feel.
However, if our cells suffer from a lack of energy, because of, for example, poor breathing habits, and thereby have a smaller supply of oxygen, they are forced to prioritize and shut down important functions. The cells become less focused on development and cooperation and more focused on survival.
We’ve given a name to a cell in our body that doesn’t cooperate: we call it a cancerous cell. A cancer cell can be thought of as a more primitive organism that has adapted to an environment lacking in energy and tries to survive off of less energy.
When enough cells experience a lack of energy, the ability to cooperate drops so much that our health drops too. Where the problem occurs, and which diagnosis is given, depends on where the shortage is, as well as on every individual’s genetic weaknesses. All sicknesses boil down to some form of imbalance that can be attributed to an energy shortage on the organ or cellular level.
Do you leak unnecessary energy?
The first aspect of feeling tired is that our ability to produce energy is lowered, we have too little energy production, and the other aspect is that we lose too much energy, our energy usage is too high.
Energy is for humans what money is for our community. When we are tired and don’t feel good, it’s the same thing as when a company that does poorly has a shortage of money. Either the company has too little income or too high costs, or both.
We’ve talked about how oxygen is critical to producing energy effectively. Let’s look closer at what affects our ability to save energy.
– What happens if I hold my hand out for a while?
– Exactly, but what if I hold my hand out for an hour?
– You become tired.
– Yes, and what happens if I do that for twenty-four hours?
– “You’d be completely drained and likely would get a cramp in your hand…
– Definitely, but what if instead of an empty hand I hold a kettlebell that weighs 20 lbs?
– You’d be exhausted very quickly!
There’s nothing strange about that example, right? It’s how our body works. It gets rid of massive amounts of energy when we flex our muscles. If we go around flexing and tensing our muscles for no reason, we use lots of energy unnecessarily.
Bottled-up emotions weaken us
What is the price of bottling up our emotions or dwell on old conflicts? It’s obviously not without a cost. We lose a large amount of energy when we hold on to anger, worry, fear, trauma, and more. The more intense they are, the more energy is lost.
In an interesting study, the participants were split into two groups where the first was instructed to bottle up their emotions inside and the other group was encouraged to be in touch with their emotions. Then they watched the same movie.
After the movie they were instructed to squeeze a hand grip strengthener as many times as they could. It turned out that those who had bottled up their emotions were markedly weaker than those who had been in touch with them. In other words, we leak energy when we hold in what we really think and feel, hold grudges, or carry unprocessed trauma, sorrows and inner conflicts.
Time for a personal,conscious energy budget
Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME) are two closely related diagnoses that are characterized by aches, pain and fatigue. Fifty percent of everyone with fibromyalgia has had a mycoplasma infection in their lungs. Fifty percent also reveal that they have breathing problems. When you have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME), an extreme and lasting exhaustion can occur after physical and mental activity.
If we are tired and don’t feel well, we need to ask ourselves the same question a company does when it doesn’t do well: What do I do to increase my body’s income (produce more energy), and how do I minimize my body’s expenses (unnecessary leakage of energy)?
In order to keep track of their finances, a company makes a budget. Budget means plan, and is something nearly all households, companies, organizations, and countries work with. You have a goal for income, and a goal for expenses.
Did you know that our body also makes a budget? Constantly. Unceasingly. Every second. It occurs all the time, but on a subconscious level in every cell, every organ, and every organ system. Incoming stimuli are judged against the accessible energy and previous experience, and from this assessment, our body prioritizes what the most effective course of action is in the moment.
The decisions a company makes follow the same patterns – incoming stimuli – resources and previous experiences – response.
What can you do on your own to become consciously energy efficient?
Since breathing is so closely related to our energy production, there is a lot to gain from improving your breathing habits so you can produce energy more effectively and become better at managing your energy. To become consciously energy efficient, you can:
- Do breathing retraining. Begin by finding out where your breathing stands by answering the questions in our Breathing Index. If the result shows that your daily breathing habits have room for improvement, you will likely benefit from a 28-day Conscious Breathing Retraining Program. The program supports you in using Conscious Breathing’s four tools: a) to become more conscious of your breathing, b) taping your mouth shut at night, c) breathing retraining with the Relaxator, and d) doing physical activity with a closed mouth.
- Get a driver’s license for your body. Use the right gear (breathing frequency) at the right moment. Become effective at using the brakes when appropriate and the gas pedal when appropriate. By learning to listen to your body, you will realize that it is not your enemy but your friend. When you have a headache, it isn’t because you suffer from a lack of paracetamol or because your body wants to screw with you. It ALWAYS wants what’s best for you and is simply informing you that you need to rest more or make a change in your lifestyle.
- Accept what happens. It’s not about what your situation is, it’s about how you deal with it. Accept if you don’t feel well or if you are tired instead of fighting against it. You have to accept the fact of something before you can successfully address it. It’s okay to be tired, hungry, sick, feel pain, fail, or feel inadequate. One of my favorite stories is about the farmer and his horse. The farmer’s horse ran away, whereupon the neighbor said, “Ooh, bad luck.” “Perhaps,” the farmer replied. The horse returned the following day and brought another horse with it. “Wow, lucky,” the neighbor said. “Perhaps,” the farmer replied. The farmer’s son fell when he rode the new horse and broke his foot. “Ooh, bad luck,” the neighbor said. “Perhaps,” the farmer replied. The next day the military came and recruited all the young men in the town except the farmer’s son. “Wow, lucky,” the neighbor said. “Perhaps,” the farmer replied. The story continues in the same vein. In the words fo the English Nobel Prize Laureate Rudyard Kipling: “If you can meet both triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors the same…the earth and all its treasures are yours.”
- Dexterity training. Do Yoga, qigong, or other exercise to make your body dexterous and minimize muscle tension. Massage is another powerful tool to minimize tension and reduce the unnecessary outflow of energy.
- Express what you feel. Many of us are afraid to make mistakes, disappoint others, to not be liked, to lose face, to show weakness, to show grief, or to not fit in. We are afraid of one thing, then another. This means that many of us live our life full of fear, which becomes something mirrored in our way of communicating. As we become better at daring to express our likes, dislikes, needs etc. we will not only have a better and more genuine relationship with our surroundings, we will also have a better relationship with our own emotions. Namely, communication goes both ways. When we are hard and tough with someone else, it’s a mirror of how hard we are on ourselves. When we have a hard time forgiving ourselves for mistakes, we also have a hard time forgiving others for their mistakes. Miscommunication creates both inner and outer conflict and chaos which leads to separation and energy leakage, while improved communication creates affinity and the retaining of energy, and this also makes us more caring towards ourselves and others.
In spite of whatever life hands you, low energy, exhaustion and illness don’t have to be your way of life forever. It is not set in stone. By becoming more self-aware, paying more attention to self-care, addressing your emotions and choosing to adopt better breathing habits, you can improve your mental, physical and emotional health. If you stick with it, “leaky energy” and fatigue may become a thing of the past, and you may find that many chronic problems that plagued you before seem to improve or disappear altogether.
This article is based on of the book The Power of Your Breath.