Friday, November 19, 2010

Why Deep Breathing is Good for You: How Laughter Yoga Helps

To better understand Laughter Yoga benefits, let us learn about our body, brain & lungs first -

Our body is a fascinating bio-reactor. The energy generation engines (Mitochondria) are part of every cell in our body. These cellular engines consume glucose produced by our digestive system as fuel; and oxygen inhaled by us through lungs as catalyst (both delivered through the blood stream) to generate energy that keeps us going. The process of energy production at the cellular level by oxydation of glucose is called 'Metabolism'. Even our brain cells (neurons) need energy so generated to function. As with any other energy generation engine, the process along with needed energy produces metabolic waste. The gasous component of this waste is CO2, which is transfered to the blood suppy and brought back to lungs for expulsion.

Our lungs are gas-exchangers. They transfer oxygen from the inhaled air to the blood supply; and the CO2 from the blood supply to the exhaled air. This exchange happens through tiny sacs (about 300 million of them) in the lungs called alveoli. 

Brain is an amazingly hungry organ – it is only 2% of the human body weight, yet it consumes 20% of the energy mitochondria produces and requires more than 25% of the oxygen out of the blood stream. Many experiments have shown that one can increase brain alertness by either increasing glucose supply to the brain or the supply of oxygen to make the energy production more efficient. Long exhalation cycle accompanied by deep breathing increase net oxygen percentage in the lungs, which in terns  increases the oxygen supply to the cells via blood stream. As a result metabolism efficiency is increased. 

Total normal capacity of human (male) lung is 6 L (+/- 20%). Female lung capacity is 22.5% less i.e. 4.7 L. For now we will take male lung capacity as the basis for our discussion. Out of total 6 L capacity, lungs retain a 1.2 L (called Residual Volume) to keep the alveoli (the small round sacks where oxygen / CO2 exchange between inhaled air and blood stream happens) inflated. Therefore, theoretically one can force up to 4.8 L of air (called Forced Vital Capacity or FVC) out of lungs. But not everyone has the capability of using full 6 L capacity. Deep divers, swimmers and other athletes train themselves to utilize more than average capacity of their lungs. During the normal breathing cycle (respiration), we inhale and exhale up to 500 ml to 700 ml of air (called Tidal Volume). Normally, we leave 2.4 L of air in the lungs after the tidal breath out (Functional Residual Capacity). The inhaled air is oxygen rich, whereas the residual air stale and stagnant with CO2. So deep breathing helps us two ways – one it helps us use the lung capacity more effectively, and second it also helps in renewing the residual air in the lungs. The accumulative effective is increase in the net supply of oxygen through lungs to the blood stream.
Laughter Yoga helps in multiple ways. It reduces the stress hormone cortisone in the blood stream, enhances production of endorphin, which enhances the feel good factor, and also helps you exhale CO2 stagnant residual air from the lungs and hence increase the net oxygen supply to your body and the brain, which helps in enhanced mental and physical alertness.You can achieve minimal benefits with everyday laughter yet to get substantial benefits - the laughter has to be sustained laughter. Natural laughter is seldom sustained. That is where Laughter Yoga (a remarkable innovation by my guru and friend Dr. Madan Kataria) comes to help. You can keep laughing without a reason.

Analogy for Non-Medicos
A gross analogy for the ease of understanding of this concept. Consider lungs to be a balloon with 6 liter capacity. The balloon shape is such that even if you force deflate the balloon, 1.2 L of air stays trapped in it. There is a pump connected to the top of the balloon that is normally bringing in 500 ml to 700 ml of fresh air into the 14 to 18 times in a minute (normal breathing rate). The balloon is housed in a chamber full of smoke. Balloon walls are such that some air moves out of balloon skin to the smoke chamber and some smoke enters the balloon. Hence the smoke chamber is gradually getting fresh air, and the balloon is getting smoke contamination. The balloon normally holds 2.4 L of air including 1.2 L of residual volume. That means over a period of time, we are adding only 500 ml of fresh air to 2.4L of stale smokey air in the balloon. This is also making transfer of air to the smoke chamber less efficient. 

Now if you could somehow force purge 1.2 L of air out of retained 2.4 L; and also instead of 500ml, pump in more fresh air into the balloon (up to maximum theoretical possible of 3.8 L), the quality of air inside the balloon will improve significantly. When that happens, transfer of air to the smoke chamber will improve, enhancing the air quality of the smoke chamber.

Laughter Yoga helps you purge more than normal CO2 stale air volume; and refresh oxygen supply in the lungs. Which improves the oxygen supply to the blood stream - resulting in more efficient metabolism and more energetic / alert you.....   

Some tips to develop Deep Breathing:
- Increasing lung capacity: Inhale at the count of 2; exhale at the could of 3. So you exhale more than you inhale to get residual air out of lungs and fill lungs with fresh oxygen rich air.
- Spreading arms allow chest to expand, so lungs get more space to expand. Diaphragm based deep breathing also does the same by lowering the diaphragm and expand the abdomen so lungs get more space to expand.

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I was born in the lap of Himalayas (Himachal Pradesh) in the home of educationalists. I grew up in an environment where asking questions was encouraged; and curiosity was considered foundation to enlightenment. I dedicate all my learning in life to those who encouraged me in my quest to “figure things out” and responded to my curiosities. Spiritual orientation helps me to accept possibilities beyond the realm of logic.