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How Breathing Can Kill You

By Christopher Caile

Everyone knows that an adequate oxygen supply is critical to health. Of all the elements the body needs, only oxygen is in such constant and critical demand that if breath is cut off, in a few minutes one dies.

Few realized, however, that improper breathing, over time, could have dire consequences, leading to disease, ill health and even premature death.

Proper breathing isn’t easy. It takes a lot more than just filling the lungs with air. Oxygen must be transported to the cells by the circulatory system and absorbed by body cells. The efficiency of this process varies greatly and is influenced by many factors, including what we eat and drink, exercise and, even posture.

If our cellular oxygen supply is impaired, the energy used to fire our biological functions is reduced. Sheldon Saul Hendler, MD, PhD, notes in his book, “The Oxygen Breakthrough,” that an “emerging spectrum of disorders characterized by impaired immunity, and are at a still deeper level by disabled energy-making mechanisms in the cells.” Disorders include infectious diseases, auto-immune disorders, AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety, depression, respiratory aliments, cardiac symptoms, and susceptibility to aches, pains and irritability.

While poor breathing can negatively impact the body’s energy, oxygen shortages can be further aggravated by environmental and other factors. Polluted urban environments, for example, can significantly reduce the oxygen content of air. And, if air smells foul, we tend naturally to take shallow breaths, receiving even less oxygen. Other oxygen robbers include smoking, stress, allergies, toxins, and infectious agents. Stuart M. Berger, MD, author of “Forever Young,” notes that with age, a combination of reduced cardiac function and lung capacity cuts oxygen availability to the cells by as much as 50 percent.

That is why good breathing, to maximize oxygen intake, is the most important action we can do to improve our heath. “Good breathing” requires efficient use of the lungs (external breathing) to maximize cellular oxygen absorption for energy (internal breathing), as well as maximizing the bloodstream’s transport of oxygen to the cells (transport efficiency).

External Breathing

Put one hand on your abdomen and the other hand on your chest. Now, breath. Which hand moved? If only the upper hand moved, you are a chest breather. Your air is pulled in mostly to the upper regions of the lungs so your breath tends to be shallow, more rapid and inefficient.

If your lower hand moved too, you are breathing from your diaphragm (stomach breathing) and are pulling down a larger volume of air into the lower lung regions where more blood had settled so more oxygen can be absorbed. Optimum breathing involves the whole lung, upper and lower sections, in a deeper, slower breath cycle. This has a quieting psychological effect and reduces stress and anxiety.

This mind-body connection is a central tenant in Chinese Chi Kung, the science of body energy. This and other ancient practices are receiving growing attention from researchers, including Harvard University’s Herbert Benson, MD, author of “the Relaxation Response.”

Inner Breathing

The body is a composite of 75 trillion cells, all constantly absorbing oxygen. Oxygen fires with sugar, and the breakdown of fats and starches produces biological energy. This energy is ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the energy of life, the fuel that runs our cells and biological processes. It charges each cell with energy, much like a microscopic battery, consumed with every heartbeat, through muscle movement, or enzyme creation.

How much ATP do we use? Dr. Hendler states that every day the average person creates and uses and astounding amount, about equal to his or her own body weight. Most of us take in over 2,500 gallons of air daily to fuel the process.

Cell Efficiency

The efficiency of our cells to absorb oxygen through their membranes and expel carbon dioxide can vary significantly and can be negatively affected by what we eat and drink. The typical American diet is especially bad, due to its high cholesterol and fatty acids, dependence on animal protein and refined carbohydrates, and deficiency in vegetables, fiber and adequate water.

Consequently, cell membranes become less able to pass oxygen, and electron transfers, which are essential to cell energy production, are interrupted. Dr. Shelden explains, “A kind of bio-electric short … reverberates through all body parts.”

Diet recommendations to increase cellular oxygen absorption include cutting down on fats and cholesterol and most cheeses and increasing intake of vegetable d and fruits with emphasis on fish oils, fiber and protein from vegetable. Other recommendations include changing to skim milk and butter substitutes and switching to olive vegetable oils in cooking.

Transport Efficiency

Or blood is the intermediary between the lungs, which gather oxygen, and the body’s cells, which consume oxygen. In the process, carbon dioxide is transported back to the lungs to be expelled. Two important factors are the alkaline pH balance of the blood and the availability of red blood cells to carry oxygen.

Traditional Chinese Medicine, including Chi Kung, has always observed the constitutional characteristics of patients and the proper yin/yang balance of foods. Dr. Theodore Baroody, Jr., author of “Alkalize or Die,” states that slight changes in acid base balance of the blood have significant effects of oxygen availability to the tissues. For example, slight acidity associated with an excess of hydrogen ions, which combine with oxygen to create water, depriving the blood of large quantities of oxygen, causing oxygen deficiency. Especially detrimental is the standard American diet. It derives much of its calories from acidic foods, which alter the blood pH balance.

Dietary recommendations to obtain blood alkaline pH values, or Yin foods, include raw vegetables and fruits, salad greens, bean spouts, raw fish, coffee, tea and milk (acidity-alkaline balance makes no distinction between skim and whole milk). Acidifying or Yang foods should b eaten in moderation. The include sugar, honey, alcohol, white flour, meat, fish (preferable to higher cholesterol meat), eggs, nuts, whole grains, beans and legumes.

Another overlooked factor in oxygen transportation is the available quantity of red blood cells to transport oxygen. World-class athletes often train at high altitude to boost aerobic capability with the body adjusting by pumping out more red blood cells to compensate for lower atmospheric pressure. For thousands of years, Chi Kung and Indian Yoga have used a variety of prolonged breathing exercise, for example breath lengths gradually slowed to over a minute. Many believe this technique stimulates the body to compensate by producing more red blood cells. If exercise is maintained, the blood level of oxygen transportation is increased.

O2 therapies and supplements

Medical researchers claim increased oxygen may be effective against cancer, AIDS< and other diseases, as is medical ozone and low levels of hydrogen peroxide. Experimental trials are being conducted on the use o hyperbaric oxygen treatment to fight cancer and other illnesses. Also, many traditional herbs, nutrients, and drugs have been shown to be effective in immune and energy disorders. Supplements such as organic germanium boost the blood’s ability to carry more oxygen, according to Kazuhiko Asai, PhD, author of “Miracle Cure-Organic Germanium.”

Breathing properly, however, reduces the need for treatments, supplements and medicine. The Chinese and Indian Yogis have used breath therapy for thousands of years. A combination of improved physical breathing, proper diet and exercise, effectively maximize oxygen intake, transportation, absorption and use by the body.

Breathing is not a simple act, but rather a holistic process of maintaining good health.

This article was re-printed with permission of Holistic Health Journal

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About The Author:

Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of He has been a student of the martial arts for over 50 years and a teacher of karate since 1962. He is the author of over 300 articles and columns on the martial arts and editor of several martial arts books. Over the last 20 years he has conducts seminars on street self-defense to community and student groups in both the United States and Canada. His seminars topics also include his specialty areas of kata applications and joint locks and other jujutsu-like techniques found within karate. Caile started his martial arts career in judo. Then he added karate as a student of Phil Koeppel in 1959. Caile introduced karate to Finland in 1960 and then hitch-hiked eastward. In Japan (1961) he studied under Mas Oyama and later in the US became a Kyokushinkai Branch Chief. In 1976 he followed Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura when he formed Seido karate and is now a 6th degree black belt (Sei Shihan) in that organization's honbu dojo (NYC). He is also Sensei in Wadokai Aikido under Roy Suenaka Sensei. Other experience includes diato-ryu aikijujutsu, Hakuho-Ryu Aiki-jujutsu, kenjutsu, kobudo, Shinto Muso-ryu jodo, kobudo, boxing and several Chinese fighting arts including Praying Mantis, Pak Mei (White Eyebrow), Wing Chun, Chin Na and Shuai Chiao. He is also a student of Zen. A long-term student of one branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong, he is a personal disciple of the qi gong master and teacher of acupuncture Dr. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.). He holds an M.A. in International Relations from American University in Washington D.C. and has traveled extensively through South and Southeast Asia. He frequently returns to Japan and Okinawa to continue his studies in the martial arts, their history and tradition. In his professional life he has been a businessman, newspaper journalist, inventor and entrepreneur.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

breathing, nutrition of oxyogen, ATP

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