One of the more popular “fad” diets that has popped up in the last decade is the pH diet, or acid/alkaline diet. The idea behind it is that the human body needs to operate at a very specific pH and that many of the foods that make up the modern diet lower that value and, as a result, the blood becomes more acidic. Not quite to the levels of the xenomorphs from the fictional Alien universe, but enough to cause an overall negative impact on general physical health, organ function, and mental state (including issues like fatigue, anxiety, and depression).
However there is another factor that can effect blood pH. It is not as easy to visualize and track as one’s food intake, but it can be managed with far less effort for most people. As many of us learned from the vary earliest days of science classes, we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. At least in theory, this two amounts should be equal, but in many cases, they are not.
Most people often end up inhaling far more than they exhale and as a result, there is a buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood stream. The stitch you can get in your side when running is a direct result of this. What most people don’t realize is that this buildup of carbon dioxide also increase blood acidity, so it too can have an effect, especially on mental states. Our brains have the ability to constantly monitor the status of many aspects of our body and the amount of carbon dioxide in our bloodstream is just one of them. Because of the way evolution has shaped us, many times when our brain encounters unusual amounts of a substance, it triggers a physiological reaction to those substances. So in this case, a high level of carbon dioxide would indicate to the brain that something has gone wrong and for some reason we need oxygen.
In a stress-free environment, we would naturally deal with this imbalance by taking deep breaths and resting until it passes. Unfortunately, that is rarely the situation in today’s modern world and so we instead end up breathing in a more shallow, rapid manner. While this does increase the amount of oxygen in our system and can bring us back into balance in the short term, there is still the matter of all that carbon dioxide that is trapped in our system. Our body can try to deal with this through increasing sweating or urination, but many times, there is also an amount of dehydration involved, making this process less efficient than it could be. If the diet is also contributing to this imbalance, then there is often a backlog of sorts, where the body is still flushing unwanted substances out from previous meals and experiences before it can even come close to dealing with the acidity currently afflicting it.
While there have been technological innovations, such as CPAP machines, tanked oxygen, and breathing strips, that can aid people in getting greater oxygenation (especially those who have compromised respiratory systems), very few of these actually aid with exhalation and the flushing of the used air from our lungs.
That’s where meditation and other mindful breathing practices come in. Many of these practice styles stress the exhalation as much as the inhalation. Or to put it another way, they stress pushing out the bad as much as bringing in the good. This can have an enormous impact on blood pH and the associated symptoms that go with it.
Now many of you might say that meditation is too hard as you can’t quiet your brain down or that you can’t do yoga or tai chi because of physical issues. So let’s look at this another way – much like how someone who may not be able to do an average yoga routine is still able to stretch, someone who may not have the mental discipline to achieve the stillness of mind they associate with meditation can still breath.
And breathing is most definitely the key, especially exhalation. Try it for five breaths – take as deep an inhalation as you can through your nose, breathing in as much as you can until you feel like your chest and abdomen are as expanded as they can be. Hold it for a beat. Now blow all that air out through your mouth. Now keep blowing that air out, contracting your abdominal muscles until your lungs literally cannot push out anymore air. Hold a beat. Now inhale again, the same as before. Repeat these steps five times.
Notice how much more calm you feel? It’s that simple, and there is a cumulative effect as the body starts to carry more oxygen and less carbon dioxide. So imagine the benefits of breathing like that, intentionally and without distraction, every day for 30 minutes. Within a short period of time, you should notice greater calmness, less fatigue, and a greater ability to deal with the stresses of life that do come. And when things get really stressful? Just remember that old bit of advice and take 10 deep breaths, and if you do them as described above, you’ll see why this particular bit of advice has been around for so long.