The Science Of Breathing

We all know that breathing is vital to life as without breathing we die. But between those two extremes of breathing as a cause of life or death, there are some other aspects of breathing that are important to explore and understand. Breathing well is critical to being well. This is what we try to explain and develop in this section. We have selected two essential aspects of breathing that are supported by scientific evidences and one based on traditional knowledge. They are:

  • The ancient understanding and “wisdom” of breathing in pranayama yoga
  • The science of our breathing pace and its impact on the autonomic nervous systems (ANS) function
  • The mechanisms of energy production and the importance of oxygen in “cellular respiration”


Prof. Paul Johnson – Introduction to Breathing video:

Breathing in Pranayama Yoga

“One of the five principles of Yoga is ‘Pranayama’, which uphold proper breathing.

Pranayama – the science of breath control consists of a series of exercises that will keep people practicing it fit and healthy.

Proper breathing is essential to bring more oxygen to the blood and to the brain, and in pranayama yoga, to keep control of prana – the vital life energy.

These techniques have also proved to help prevent diseases and to alleviate minor illnesses.

Breathing is important as it is the only means of supplying our bodies and its various organs with oxygen which is vital for our health.

Breathing is one of the crucial ways to get rid of waste products and toxins from our body.”

To read more about breathing and Pranayama yoga click here.

Prof. Paul Johnson – Importance of breathing video :

Breathing and the autonomic nervous systems (ANS) function and pranayama yoga

“The autonomic nervous system (ANS or visceral nervous system or involuntary nervous system) is the part of the peripheral nervous system that acts as a control system functioning largely below the level of consciousness, and controls visceral functions. The ANS affects heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, salivation, perspiration, pupillary dilation, micturition (urination), and sexual arousal.

One of the strongest and most recently explored pathways is the relationship between ANS stress and the immune system, which critically influences a wide range of responses to both communicable and non-communicable diseases.

Genetic and specific organ predisposition to dysfunction means that a wide range of apparently organ-specific conditions affecting endocrine organs, cardiac and vascular systems, visceral organs, joints and the nervous system results from chronic ANS stress and immune disorders.

In health, the most prominent biorhythm for the heart rate when resting is the oscillation related to breathing. This is still referred to as respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), although it is rhythmic with breathing. Many of these biorhythms are interdependent and ensure stability, efficiency and resilience to respond to daily life.

Most of us have lost the basic art of breathing – in fact ‘degenerated’ to breathing badly. This includes over breathing (hyperventilation)– especially considering the stresses with which we now live, often subconsciously and under-breathing

(hypoventilation). Both are inefficient and destabilizing, which leads to many life-style related acute and chronic diseases.

Pranayamic breathing, the platform for effective Yoga for centuries, is remarkable because it involves deep slow -3 phase – thoracic and abdominal breathing in ‘yogic’ postures, many of which seem extreme to the western novice. However, in addition to producing effective slow rhythmic breathing, development of its full range of breathing positions provides exercise and restoration of flexibility and posture; a complete wellbeing program in its own right for an active life at any level, from the office to sport.

To understand more about the ANS and breathing click here

Energy production and the importance of oxygen in cellular respiration

“Cellular respiration is the process cells use to retrieve energy stored in carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Glucose and other molecules are broken down, and the energy released is used to make another molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the “energy currency” of the cell.

While our cells can use fermentation to make ATP without using oxygen, cellular respiration is far more efficient — so much so that humans and most other animals quickly die if deprived of oxygen. Oxygen is important because it makes aerobic respiration possible by accepting electrons from the transport chain in the mitochondria.”

To read more about cellular respiration click here