Science of Breathing

Breathing at the cellular level.

The cell is the building block of life. It is composed of three main parts, the nucleus, the cytoplasm and the membrane. The latter separates the inside of the cell from the outside. It absorbs nutrients from the surrounding environment, and it expels waste once the inside metabolizes the nutrients. In other words it inhales nutrients and it exhales waste. Any malfunction on the level of this exchange can lead to either starvation or toxicity of the cell, and therefore death. The fact that all living beings intake nutrients and expel waste provides us with the importance of understanding breath. This basic activity is common among all forms of life. From single-celled plants to human body which is composed of about 100 trillion cells.
The yogic practice, pranayama, emphasizes the power of breath. It describes it as two apposing forces PRANA, which nourishes and APANA which ejects.
cellThe mechanism of breathing.

To understand breathing, it is important to understand two physical properties of air; the weight and the behavior of its molecules.
– Air has a weight that is measured to be 14.7 lbs (760 mmHg) for every inch square at sea level.
– The air molecules travel from an area of high pressure (more weight) to an area of low pressure (less weight).

If you want to experiment the first property, here is a tip: build a glass column that is one inch square in cross-section from sea level all the way to the planet earth’s atmosphere. Weigh the air trapped inside the column on a scale, it will equal 14.7 lbs. The results may slightly vary depending on altitude. So if you were to experiment in a place like Colorado, the pressure would decrease due to altitude. 

There is also pressure inside our lungs that is complimentary to the outside atmospheric pressure. It is called the intrapulmonary pressure and it also weighs 14.7 lbs (760 mmHg). When the two pressures (atmospheric and intrapulmonary) are equal, air molecules don’t travel and therefore breathing doesn’t take place. When the intrapulmonary pressure is lower, the air molecules from the outside enter the lungs. When the intrapulmonary pressure increases, the air molecules exit the lungs. So we continuously increase and decrease the intrapulmonary pressure to allow air molecules to enter or exit our body. This is known as inhalation and exhalation.

How do we control (drop or increase) the pressure inside the lungs?

Breathing seems effortless and almost automatic, yet there is an intricate mechanism to it. I will explain this mechanism in the next post. Namaste



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