One of the best-kept secrets in the nutrition business is this: there’s only one true miracle nutrient, it has a profound metabolic power, it’s freely available and seldom used to the fullest. The nutritional secret is vitamin O – Oxygen. And we need lots of it. With food, quality is what’s important. With oxygen, quantity is what counts. Plenty of people restrict their eating intake but no one goes on an oxygen diet. Try it sometime and see what happens. You can survive for four weeks without food, four days without water, but you can last only four minutes without oxygen. Talk about a highly essential nutrient! Whether you’ve known it or not, oxygen has been and always will be your number one nutritional priority.
The bottom line is that if you don’t have breathing, you don’t have a meal. The entire process of digestion is designed to break food down into microscopic morsels that can be sent to your cells and combusted with oxygen for energy release. Over 95 percent of all energy generated in the body comes from the simple combination of oxygen plus food. Without oxygen your food is literally useless. Start a fire in your fireplace and the two things that concern you most are good wood (fuel) and the right amount of air circulation. Without oxygen, the fire couldn’t exist and the fuel wouldn’t burn.
The same is true for your body. Indeed, the body itself is literally a heat-producing biological machine. Just about every chemical reaction inside us has, as a by-product, heat. At the cellular level, then, food is the fuel, and oxygen literally serves to fan our metabolic flames. That’s why the most commonly used measurement for our metabolic rate is oxygen utilization. Metabolism is oxygen. And oxygen comes from breathing.
It’s amazing how the breath is such a vital yet overlooked part of our diet. In junior high school biology most of us learned that oxygen combined with carbohydrates (food) yields energy release. Yet few of us learned this secret:
When you breathe more, you burn more.
Try this exercise:
At every meal or snack, and any time food is about to pass across your lips, ask yourself “Am I about to eat under stress? Is my mind in high gear?” If the answer is yes, pause. Then take 5-10 long, slow, deep breaths. Ideally, your deep-breathing experience would follow this sequence:
• Sit in a comfortable position with spine straight, feet flat on the floor.
• Eyes can be open or closed.
• Hold your breath for several seconds.
• Exhale fully.
• Repeat this cycle 5-10 times.
This simple practice can shortcut the stress response in as little as one minute, depending on the intensity of your stress. Even if you’re in a situation where breathing is socially unacceptable, such as at a business luncheon with tough-minded associates who have little regard for oxygen, you can still use this technique. Simply remain focused on your breathing while you continue to look at others and monitor the conversation at the table. They’ll think you’re listening to them attentively, but what you’re doing is secretly stimulating the relaxation response. It’s really quite exciting.
By holding in the breath for several seconds, the carotid bodies – tiny clumps of nerve tissue containing specialized chemical receptors and located along the carotid arteries – are fooled into thinking that blood pressure is rising. The carotid bodies will then signal a message for blood vessels to dilate, which causes an overall drop in blood pressure and hence a diminishment of the stress response.
By breathing in to only two-thirds of your lung capacity, you ensure that blood pressure won’t go up from the sheer exertion of forcing the lungs to maximum expansion. By breathing out more fully than you breathe in, you help move stale air out from the lungs. Slow, deep breathing has also been shown to increase endorphin release in the body, producing a sense of relaxation and well-being.
With basic deep breathing it’s preferable to breathe in and out through the nose. Air entering through the nasal passages is quickly warmed to body temperature because the lungs work most efficiently with warm air. Step outside on a cold winter day, breathe in through your mouth, and you’ll prove this to yourself quite easily as the cold air causes the lungs to tense. Nasal breathing also has a potent effect on the central nervous system because nerve receptors in the nose reach directly to the brain. If your sinuses are clogged and nasal breathing is difficult, breathing through your mouth will still work sufficiently.
A useful variation on this technique is to place a hand on your belly, or even one hand atop the other over your abdomen. This may help you focus more clearly on your gut and relax more deeply.
Are you starting to grasp the true metabolic power of oxygen when it comes to nutritional metabolism? Are you willing to incorporate this vital nutrient to your meals as a simple yet powerful nutritional experiment?
Have you had an experience where your conscious attention to breathing yielded positive results?
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