While meditating tonight, I was reminded of a hypothesis I started a few months back.
I learned in yoga that the heart slows down when you exhale slower, because carbon dioxide begins to build up in the blood.
This made sense to me because I was the overachiever jock who wanted not only to make varsity in every sport, but to have the lowest resting heart rate on the team. I found out I could manipulate a lower pulse rate by not breathing in while the doc was measuring. 40 bpm, win!
But in yoga, retaining or slowing the out-breath is done to calm the body, and therefore also the mind.
Earlier today I mailed a meditation pamphlet to a new friend who wants to learn, and later today I perused the website of a monk whose aim is to help the world heal through love, accomplished through meditation and chanting (bhakti).
So meditating has been on my mind.
The opposite of breath control, pranayama, might be hyperventillation. Somewhat paradoxically, people who hyperventillate are not breathing out, only mostly breathing in. That is why a paper bag is given to someone hyperventillating–so that they will breathe in their carbon dioxide instead of so much oxygen, causing their heart to slow back down.
I suppose this is a “benefit” of many drugs on the market as well, the most popular being the downer drug alcohol.
I believe that one overlooked fact is that the breath is retained quite long when a person is chanting or singing. I think this may be one reason why many people derive mental health benefits from these activities. In a way, chanting does connect you to your heart: it slows it down.
My mother sang constantly during my childhood. I found it rather stressful and annoying actually–it seemed she did it without regard for anyone else’s pleasure. But looking back I suppose it must have helped her deal with the stress of raising three kids without much support and under constant threats of hunger and violence.
I wonder if a lower heart rate has been positively associated with more right brain activity, or more feelings of oneness or peace–I would not be surprised.
In a sympathetic nervous system response, pulse goes up to supply oxygen to muscles for fast activity. Its purpose is to protect #1 at all costs.
It should not be a stretch to imagine then, that a lower O2:CO2 ratio might lend more to receptivity of one’s environment rather than reaction to it. The parasympathetic nervous response is one of “rest and digest.”
I am working on the connection as to why many professional singers and meditation gurus are so plump, I do think it is CO2-level-related, just as the bodies of pregnant mothers become more acidic. Accelerated tooth decay being one outcome of a lower pH.
I would think most people in our rushed, dangerous, solitary modern world would be spending more time taking in too much oxygen, and not breathing out long and slow enough. Chanting and singing can help with this, as can focused breathwork. Drugs are recommended only as a last resort for their negative side effects.