With the carbon tax approaching and the continuous presence of carbon emissions in the media we can’t help but see the word ‘carbon’ as ‘bad’ or ‘toxic’.  It got me thinking about carbon dioxide within the body.  It is often perceived as being ‘toxic’ for the human body, but how true is this? Carbon dioxide (Co2) is essential to successful gas exchange as it enables the release of oxygen into the blood stream which nourishes our organs and keeps us alive and well.

When we inhale, we breathe oxygen rich air into the lungs, where gas exchange takes place.   This gas exchange occurs through diffusion; where the oxygen is absorbed through the thin walls of the alveoli, into the capillaries where it attaches to the red blood cells. Following on from the transfusion of oxygen into the bloodstream, the oxygenated blood is distributed to every cell of the body.  With the exhalation the system is reversed; carbon dioxide moves from the body’s cells, via the bloodstream, back to the lungs where it is exhaled.  From here, the red blood cells are re-oxygenated with the inhalation and the cycle continues on.

Without suitable carbon dioxide levels within the body haemoglobin molecules hold onto oxygen and it is not distributed efficiently to the organs and tissues of the body.  When we exhale it is not to rid our body of the so called ‘toxic’ gas but rather to regulate its level within the body so that this process can occur successfully. Therefore, when there is a decrease in carbon dioxide there is also a decrease in the absorption of oxygen within the body, this can lead to someone experiencing hyperventilation.  As a result of hyperventilation, the individual will experience less blood flow to the heart, lungs, brain and periphery. This leads to an increased heart rate and an overstimulated sympathetic nervous system.  Only once the C02 levels are regulated then the individual will return to a feeling of balance in the body.

Through the practice of yoga, we begin to increase our awareness of our body and its reactions to the external world.   By using specific techniques of pranayama (breath work) we are able to regulate the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide within the body. This can make us better equipped to deal with stressful situations that trigger a sympathetic nervous response, and can reduce the chances of hyperventilation. In conclusion, the gas we so often describe as being ‘toxic’ is not all that bad.  Although toxic in large amounts, it is essential to our survival.  Too much of anything can become ‘toxic’.  We all strive for balance and equilibrium in every area of life.

Written by Erika Newberry

Erika is a Hatha Yoga teacher at Kundalini House.  She teaches on Monday at 12:15pm and Thursdays at 7:45pm.

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