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Improved mitochondrial ATP Generation With Limbic Breathing

Majid Ali, M.D.

In 1988, I introduced the term Limbic Breathing for slow breathing with gentle, prolonged breathe-out (expiration) as its essential component for a program of self-regulation and healing. How can slow breathing promote healing? I anticipate doubt in the reader’s mind. It is counter-intuitive. Healing is an energy function and energy in the body depends on mitochondrial ATP generation. How can mitochondrial function be enhanced with slow breathing? Deep breathing is so entrenched in people’s mind, that the very notion of slow breathing is problematic for them.

Simply stated, slow breathing allows more time for oxygen to move from air sacs in the lungs to the blood in the lung capillaries. Oxygen takes almost twenty times more to travel that distance than carbon dioxide. Rapid blowing of carbon dioxide disturbs the body’s chemistry in many ways that also impair the ability of oxygen to cross cell membranes and enter cells. These simple and basic facts of physiology are seldom, if ever, duly recognized by doctors.

Development of Limbic Breathing

In The Cortical Monkey and Healing (1990), I described the development of Limbic Breathing and presented the results of experiments I performed to objectify and quantify blood gas, biochemical, and energetic changes produced by Limbic Breathing. In subsequent years, I published a large body of clinical and laboratory data that document the clinical benefits of Limbic Breathing, many of which are included in several companion tutorials dealing with Limbic Healing. Two major benefits of such breathing are improved energy and mood stabilization.

Overbreathing to Breathlessness

As a species, we humans now overbreathe to breathlessness and sicken ourselves in a thousand ways. Rapid and shallow breathing is the mark of our time. It slowly and steadily disrupts the finely orchestrated balance between oxygen, carbon dioxide (CO2), acidity, and free radical activity in the lungs, circulating blood, and mitochondria (the cellular structures that generate energy with oxygen-driven energetics). If my statements about slow Limbic Breathing were to be accepted, it would follow that we should be able to deal with a thousand disorders by simply breathing less, at slower rates. That would be a tantalizing possibility if it were true. Is it?

In chronic illness, the most effective and cost-free approach to improving energy levels through increased mito efficiency is slow Limbic Breathing. This is also true of healthy people interested in benefits of meditation and prayer. (My 4-hour teaching seminar on the practice of Limbic Breathing is available on a 2-DVD set 2-DVD entitled "Healing: Energetic and Spiritual". Call 973-586-4111 to obtain the set). Below is a list of seven mechanisms by which Limbic Breathing improves health and energy by restoring optimal mito function:

1. Increased oxygen delivery to cells and mitochondria for enhanced cellular energetics;

2. Reduction of total body burden of acids;

3. Normalization of free radical activity;

4. Restoration of viscosity (degree of fluidity) of blood, lymph, and other body fluids

5. Improved blood flow

6 Normalization of Neurotransmitter Function

7. Prevention of unnecessary and involuntary muscle contraction

1. Increased Oxygen Delivery to Cells and Mitochondria

How does slow Limbic Breathing increase oxygen delivery to cells and improve mitochondrial function? The answer: rapid, shallow breathing causes excess loss of CO2 from the lungs and blood. It is noteworthy in this context that CO2 passes through the lung membranes twenty times faster than oxygen does. That is one of the explanations of the fact that rapid, shallow breathing prevents efficient diffusion (absorption) of oxygen in the lung without slowing the escape of CO2. Lower than normal (physiological) blood levels of CO2 interfere with optimal delivery of oxygen to cells by several mechanisms.

First, less carbon dioxide in the circulating blood directly tightens arteries? vasospasm is the medical term for it-and markedly decreases blood flow in these vessels. Less blood circulation means less oxygen delivery.

Second, less carbon dioxide in the circulating blood directly reduces delivery of oxygen by hemoglobin (Hb, the protein that carries most of the oxygen in the blood). Higher blood levels of carbon dioxide facilitate oxygen dumping by the protein while lower levels of carbon dioxide (caused by overbreathing) block oxygen dumping. This is due to a shift in the oxygen dissociation characteristics of hemoglobin. The less the release of oxygen by Hb protein into the blood, the less the available oxygen for transport across cell membranes and into mitochondria (cellular power generators) to drive cellular energetics.

Third, lower concentrations of CO2 disrupt the acid-alkali balance in the body. Dysregulation of this balance increases free radical activity and thickens blood, ?changes that further decrease tissue oxygenation.

2. Reduction of Total Body Burden of Acids

Limbic Breathing is the simplest and most effective method for decreasing acidity in the body. Of course, it does not create any financial burden on any one. I developed objective evidence for acid-reducing benefits of Limbic Breathing with experiments conducted with biochemical, electrophysiological, and metabolic experiments. Collaborating with Madhava Subbarao, M.D., chief of anesthesiology at our hospital then, I had an arterial catheter inserted into my radial (wrist) artery. Blood samples were drawn several times over a period of one and a half hours. The results showed a near 75 % drop in the blood level of lactic acid and a near four-fold increase in the blood level of pyruvic acid. These changes were followed by a sustained drop in the partial pressure of oxygen over a two hour period. Lactic acid is produced by cells starved for oxygen. It is an excellent barometer for the tissues under duress.

An Olympic athlete knows he must stop after his peak performance. He knows his tissues will no longer support the demands of his head. At a biochemical level, his tissues accumulate lactic acid (and related end-products of metabolism) and demand a time-out. Clinically, this is referred to as oxygen debt. With rest, oxygen replenishes the depleted tissues and the oxygen debt is re-paid. The tissues thus recover their ability to respond to calls for repeat performance.

In 1967, The New England Journal of Medicine (277:1329) reported the results of research linking lactic acid to anxiety attacks and neurosis. The authors administered a lactic acid and salt solution intravenously both to a group of patients with anxiety neurosis and a control group. Lactic acid induced an anxiety attack in about half the patients with neurosis, and interestingly in 20% of the control subjects. They interrogated these normal control subjects and discovered that many had histories of previous problems. Salt solution used as a control did not cause significant anxiety in either group.

The core message: We can learn to reduce our blood lactic acid with Limbic Breathing. This is, in my judgement, the most precious first-aid kit that everyone can carry around at all times. One cannot misplace it. It is always there when you need it.

3. Normalized Free Radical Activity

Oxygen deficit directly increases free radical activity. Every element that causes excess acidity in body tissues increases free radical activity. Every element that increases the fluidity (viscosity) of blood, lymph, and other fluids of the body also increases free radical activity. For professional readers, I present detailed scientific explanations of these relationships in Darwin and Dysox Trilogy, the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth volumes of The Principles and Practice of Integrative Medicine.

4. Restoration of Viscosity of Blood, Lymph, and Other Body Fluids

Lack of oxygen in blood causes congealing of plasma and sludging of blood cells. Marked and persistent oxygen deficit leads to the development of microclot and microplaque formation in the circulating blood. All of these changes thicken the blood and impede the flow of blood in arteries and veins. Less blood means less oxygen. For an in-depth discussion of this crucial subject, I refer professional readers to my article entitled "AA Oxidopathy" published in 1997 in the Journal of Integrative Medicine (available at www.jintmed.com).

5. Reduction of Activity of the Sympathetic System

Emotional and lifestyle stressors disrupt the balance between the two arms of a major part of the nervous system called the autonomic nervous system: the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. Reduction of stress by various self-regulatory methods? autoregulation, in my terminology ? normalizes the functions of both arms of the autonomic nervous system. Furthermore, such changes can be expected to be more pronounced in subjects who suffer from a derangement of the autonomic system called dysautonomia. Any or all autonomic parameters ? including supine and upright heart rates, blood pressure values, and ratios between high-frequency and low-frequency signals ? may be affected. In one instance, I conducted a power spectral analysis of heart rate variability of a 42-year-old man who suffered from severe depression and fibromyalgia. He missed his exit from a highway, developed a reaction to automobile exhaust, and then became very annoyed at the barking of his dog. His supine heart rate was 117 beats per minute and jumped to 135 beats per minute as he stood up for the orthostatic challenge. He was advised to practice autoregulation with Limbic Breathing for fifteen minutes after which the power spectral analysis was repeated. There was a marked reduction in the sympathetic nervous system and improvement in other autonomic features. I refer the reader to my book Integrative Cardiology, the sixth volume of The Principles and Practice of Integrative Medicine Volume (2005) for full description of this and many other case studies of individuals with problems of the autonomic nervous system, such as sympathetic or parasympathetic dominance. In this volume, I offer a detailed description of the clinical value of power spectral analysis of heart rate variability.

6. Normalization of Neurotransmitter Functions

The functions of neurotransmitters—notably dopamine, serotonin, melatonin, and acetylcholine—are positively influenced by Limbic Breathing. Such neurotransmitters, in turn, restore oxygen homeostasis in diverse ways.

7. Prevention of Involuntary Muscle Tightness

Tightened muscles impede blood flow through them by mechanical compression. Abdominal cramps triggered by viral infections and adverse food reactions are caused by spasm of muscles in the stomach and bowel. These are commonly known examples of what undue muscle tightness can do. What is not often recognized that anxiety, anger, hostility, and depression also cause generalized muscle tightness that diminishes blood flow throughout the body. In my experience, no other measure can more effectively prevent unnecessary and involuntary muscle contraction?wasted energy in muscles?than slow Limbic Breathing.

Three Essentials of Limbic Breathing

There are three essential components of Limbic Breathing, two mechanical and one energetic:

1. diaphragmatic breathing;

2. Prolongation of expiration after a momentary pause following inspirations; and

3. A component that "breathes energy" into specific parts of the body. begins with simple autogenic suggestions of energetic tissue expansion and ends with heightened awareness of tissue energy and profound physiological benefits. As for the first element, diaphragmatic breathing, simply stated, is a natural mode of breathing controlled by the movement of diaphragm, the muscular sheet that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. The diaphragm muscle contracts to push down the abdominal viscera and expand the chest cavity, with a resultant rush of air into the lungs to fill the expanded space in that cavity. The mechanical aspects of the second element of prolonged breathing are illustrated in my 2-DVD video entitled "Healing: Energetic and Spiritual". The third energetic component is an experiential element with clearly demonstrable electrophysiologic effects.

Pause Between Inhalation and Exhalation

During the development of the method of limbic breathing, I recognized that for most of my patients a momentary pause between inspiration and expiration was useful in learning the basic steps. So, I incorporated a momentary pause (one or two seconds) between the two phases of respiration. Some years later, when I studied ancient as well as some modern texts on therapeutic breathing, I found clear differences between various methods. For example, the traditional Indian pranayama emphasizes a pause between inhalation and exhalation. In the Rebirthing method, by contrast, there is considerable emphasis on connecting breathe-in and breathe-out phases of breathing. Intrigued by those belief systems, I tested the two methods. I was not able to validate any clinical benefits of one method over the other. So, I stayed with the method using a momentary pause, which seemed to facilitate initial training.

The Palm Method for Initial Training in Limbic Breathing

Most adults "chest-breathe"?opposite of the natural abdominal bleeding?as a matter of poor habit. When I teach limbic breathing, my patients have no difficulty in understanding the basic mechanics of limbic diaphragmatic breathing. Then I demonstrate to them the simple steps of limbic breathing by focusing on the forward motion of my abdominal wall when I breathe in and the slow and sustained roll back of my abdomen with expiration. My shoulders and chest wall do not move during either the breathe-in or the breathe-out phase of my ventilation. They observe me closely. Then I ask them to simply copy the movements of my abdominal wall without moving their chest muscles and shoulders. More often than not, they do exactly the opposite of what I demonstrate to them. They immediately take a deep and forceful breath, lifting their chest wall and shoulders, and pulling in their abdominal wall. I point out the mistake in that and demonstrate the correct method again. They try again and repeat their earlier mistake. Again, I describe in simple words the right method and give them another demonstration of the limbic breath-in process. They try again, repeat and recognize the mistake and look puzzled. I repeat my demonstration. They try again, repeat the mistake, and become frustrated. Such is the habit of their chest muscles! It amuses me to see that confusion and frustration on their faces month after month (with different individuals) as they recognize their mistakes but cannot seem to make the necessary correction on their own. Such is the hold of cortical breathing on them!

To help my patients overcome the initial confusion and frustration with limbic breathing, during the early years of my teaching autoregulation, I developed a simple method which I designated as the "Palm Method" (Palm-On-the-Abdomen Method) for initial training. The Palm Method has the following four steps:

* First, I instruct my patient to sit on the edge of the chair, rest the left hand on the left knee and to gently place the right palm over the lower abdomen. Left-handed individuals can reverse that order if desired.

* Second, I ask my patients to push the palm resting on the lower abdomen as far out as the can, unmindful of any movement of the shoulders, rib cage, or abdomen.

* Third, when the palm over the abdomen is pushed out as far as possible, I ask the patient to hold the breath for a second or two.

* Fourth, I ask the patient to slowly, and in a step wise fashion, allow the palm on the lower abdomen to move back in.

Clinical Benefits of Limbic Breathing

Limbic Breathing is valuable in the management of all acute, subacute, and chronic health disorders. Below, is a partial list of disorders in which I have documented dramatic benefits of Limbic Breathing:

• Anxiety, stress states, mood disorders, and depression,

• Anger and hostility states

• Headache, including the so-called migraine disorder,

• Leg cramps and the so-called restless leg syndrome,

• sleep apnea and hyperventilation syndrome,

• Heart palpitations, skipped heart beats, and atrial fibrillation,

• Irritable bowel syndrome,

• Crohn's colitis, ulcerative colitis, and colonic diverticulosis,

• asthma and emphysema,

• Endometriosis, PMS, and menopausal syndrome,

• Interstitial cystitis,

• Chronic prostatitis,

• Chronic neck and back pain, and

• Miscellaneous pain syndromes.

In Healing Miracles and the Bite of the Gray Dog (1997) and What Do Lions Know About Stress? (1996) I furnish a large number of illustrative case studies documenting patterns of healing with Limbic Breathing in all of the above conditions, as well as in many others.

In closing, cellular energy production essentially occurs in mitochondria. Excess acidity, incremental free radical activity, and thickening of the body fluids-acting singly or in concert-impair mitochondrial function. Limbic Breathing addresses all three threats to the mitochondrial function and so improves cellular energy generation.

To paraphrase a biblical advice (James 1:19), everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to breathe become angry-and breathe slowly.

 

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