yāvadvāyuḥ sthito dehe tāvajjīvanamuchyate |
maraṇaṃ tasya niṣhkrāntistato vāyuṃ nirodhayet ||

So long as the (breathing) air stays in the body, it is called life. Death consists in the passing out of the (breathing) air. It is, therefore, necessary to restrain the breath.

Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Some terms:

Bohr effect: haemoglobin’s oxygen binding capacity is inversely related to carbon dioxide concentrations, meaning that without CO2 oxygen cannot be released into tissues, as it cannot be released from the haemoglobin molecule.

Haldane effect: deoxygenation of the blood increases its capacity for carbon dioxide.

Mitochondria: cellular organelle, often considered the “energy factory” / “power plant” of the cell.

“What could be more important to understand than biological energy? Thought, growth, movement, every philosophical and practical issue involves the nature of biological energy.”

-Ray Peat.

It is often claimed in Hatha yoga that pranayama is capable of curing all diseases (though improper practice may cause disease), to a supposedly rational and sceptical westerner believing in such things as viral diseases, autoimmune diseases, and genetic diseases, this may seem an outrageous claim however there are reasons to believe that this claim is actually quite sound and entirely within the realms of scientific explanation, admittedly much of the science required to explain it draws on the work of scientists whose work has been marginalised by the corporate pseudoscience which has become the norm in today’s “civilisation”.

Many studies demonstrate an association between chronic hyperventilation / increased respiratory volumes and multiple diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, epilepsy (see the site http://www.normalbreathing.com). This hyperventilation increases the loss of carbon dioxide, which is far from being a waste product of respiration, the human organism in health maintains a carbon dioxide level of around 7%, atmospheric carbon dioxide is at 0.036-0.039%, an enormous difference.

One of the most easily identified mechanisms underlying these observations is inhibition of the Bohr effect, whereby haemoglobin’s oxygen binding capacity is inversely related to carbon dioxide concentrations, so high carbon dioxide concentrations produced as a result of efficient oxidative metabolism allows for oxygen release where it is needed, at least when the system is functioning in an organised manner. When someone hyperventilates they breathe out large amounts of carbon dioxide and inhibit the Bohr effect, paradoxically over breathing results in decreased cellular respiration, even though the blood may be carrying significant quantities of oxygen. This results in increased rates of glycolysis, an inefficient form of energy (ATP) production, resulting in the formation of lactic acid, this further exacerbates the situation as lactic acid appears to compete with carbon dioxide in the blood resulting in increased losses of carbon dioxide, whereas carbon dioxide inhibits lactate production, some of these effects are likely mediated through acid-base homeostasis (Cohen et al 1990). This is in many respects the respiratory pathology that Otto Warburg noted as the defining feature of cancer, aerobic glycolysis, the production of lactate in presence of oxygen.

This aerobic glycolysis is a fundamental respiratory defect, and occurs whenever the mitochondrial oxidation of pyruvate is inhibited, and there are multiple agents capable of inhibiting this efficient energy production, however they all appear to function in fairly common manner, that is they stimulate inflammation, or cellular swelling and oedema. These agents include estrogen, histamine, bacterial endotoxin, polyunsaturated fatty acids, serotonin, and lactate itself. Anaerobic glycolysis occurring as a result of intense physical exertion is adaptive with those actions of lactate that could be considered pathological in other circumstances acting to assist in the organism’s adaptation to the stress, for example lactate’s stimulation of angiogenesis (Hunt et al 2008) can be seen as a functional signal assisting in bring increased blood to an area undergoing adaptive growth, of course in other circumstances the signals involved, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), transforming growth factor beta (TGF beta), interleukin-1 (IL-1), and hypoxia-inducible factor (hif-1alpha) are all associated with such pathological conditions as cancer. However that represents a fundamentally out of control situation, in a state of health these signals of inflammation and dedifferentiation are inevitably calmed by the overall coherence of the organism and its environment, the fact that so many chronic inflammatory conditions have become so common today, should, if people were paying attention serve as a warning that our “civilization” is dangerously incoherent.

Ok, so how does this swelling inhibit mitochondrial respiration and what does this have to do with pranayama?

To explain that we are going to have to look at some alternate models of cell physiology. Models such as those proposed in Mae Wan Ho’s The Rainbow and the Worm (2008), Gerald Pollack’s Cells, Gels and the Engines of Life (2001), and yes, of course the work of Ray Peat. They present a view of physiology and the organism that is oddly enough Living, massively interconnected doing away with deranged ideas such as the interactions of enzymes and substrates through processes of random diffusion, and models of ion partitioning that require fatty bi-layer membranes with ever increasing membrane channels and pumps, powered by infinite ATP Androids dancing (robot style, obviously) on receptor heads. Estimates suggest, despite the efforts of funky androids, these imaginary pumps and channels simply cannot be provided with enough energy to function as they are claimed to based on current popular models. Instead of the bizarre infernally complex mechanistic “biological” models currently popular with interactions mediated through specific lock and key mechanisms, diseases often being seen as defects in very specific mechanisms. An alternative presents a model wherein intracellular (and extracellular) water is structured by its electronic interactions with proteins into gel-like liquid-crystalline arrays.

When the cell swells inappropriately this liquid crystalline matrix is disrupted, and communication and energy flow through the cell is also disrupted, mitochondria are left unable to function and the cell is left with no choice but to produce ATP (typically thought of as the energy molecule) via glycolysis. Within this model a commonality in disease origin is this disruption of structure and coherence and the concomitant inhibition of energy flow.

One area where the liquid crystalline nature of the living substance is readily apparent is the lens of the eye, where coherent structure is absolutely essential to its biological function, evidence for the interaction of coherence and metabolically efficient energy flow can be seen in studies demonstrating increased lactate in cataracts (areas of opacity within the lens), suggesting that interference in energy flow disrupts structure and / or disrupted structure inhibits energy flow resulting in the more primitive glycolytic metabolism, the disrupted structure decreases transparency, further cataracts are less common at higher altitudes suggesting the possible involvement of the Haldane effect and increased retention of carbon dioxide caused by the decreased oxygen at high altitude (Brandt et al 1982).

Ray Peat suggests that the effect carbon dioxide has on haemoglobin, the conformation change that allows for the release of oxygen into tissues is a general electronic effect, and that carbon dioxide is capable of acting similarly on other proteins, that in the words of Gilbert Ling carbon dioxide is a “cardinal adsorbent”, that is a substance exerting a powerful controlling influence on the protein conformation and the associated water structure, acting to structure water in the cell eliminating swelling and oedema, restoring order and coherence to the excited cell.

Evidence for carbon dioxide’s capacity to act in way that restores order and coherence to the cellular structure can be seen in its capacity to protect the brain from hypoxia (Vannucci et al. 1995), inhibit formation of ROS (Kogan et al. 1997), stabilise mast cells inhibiting histamine release (Strider et al. 2010), stabilising nerve cells (Krnjevic et al. 1965), its inhibition of lactate formation (Cohen et al. 1990). These attributes (especially the inhibition of ROS and lactate) suggest that carbon dioxide is acting to optimize energy production, preventing electron leakage during redox reactions, favoring efficient coherent mitochondrial oxidative metabolism. The use of carbonic anhydrase inhibitors in reducing tumor growth supports the importance of carbon dioxide as a fundamental regulator of metabolism (Supuran and Scozzafava 2000).

Carbon dioxide has many other physiological actions including, vasodilation (Foëx and Ryder 1979), given this it is obvious then that hyperventilation would lead to hypertension and other circulatory diseases, as well as playing a role in the aetiology of neurodegenerative diseases, both through its promotion of circulation, and optimizing mitochondrial function, both of which will be inhibited by hyperventilation. CO2 is also involved in broncodilation (van den Elshout et al. 1991), and muscle relaxation (Hoyle 1960). Carbon dioxide appears to play a role in bone mineralization, and whilst metabolic acidosis has some associations with bone loss, respiratory acidosis (high CO2) does not show the same associations and may be protective (Bushinsky et al. 1993). Perhaps this would explain the stories of yogis and internal martial artists having strong bones. Carbon dioxide seems to play a key role in the secretion of hydrochloric acid by the stomach (Davies 1951), this supports the assertion that pranayama increases ‘the digestive fire’. Carbon dioxide protects against lung injury both prophylactically and therapeutically (Laffey et al. 2003, Salmon and Hotchkiss 2007).

Yandell Henderson (1940) saw that:

“Carbon dioxide is the chief hormone of the entire body; it is the only one that is produced by every tissue and that probably acts on every organ.”

However I suspect even this is massively understating things, carbon dioxide is something truly miraculous, Henderson also called carbon dioxide “the breath of life”, this phrase represents a much clearer and more accurate understanding of CO2, and it’s importance to biology. For carbon dioxide to have so many effects on physiology it must be interacting with our physiology in a fundamental way, the suggestion that it is a “cardinal adsorbent” or perhaps a “kosmotrope” seems reasonable.

Given this central importance of CO2 in biology, as well as the increased respiratory rates reported in many chronic diseases it should be becoming apparent how pranayama may very well be a panacea.

If the cancer cell is used as a paradigmatic example of a cell in a disordered chaotic condition, wherein the swelling characteristic of this disorder is produced by its overly reduced state (having an excess of electrons, and hence being alkaline), carbon dioxide is capable of acting as a Lewis acid and withdrawing electrons from the excited proteins, the oxygen delivery facilitated by carbon dioxide further resolves this condition by restoring healthy oxidative metabolism.

Further evidence for the centrality of carbon dioxide as a fundamental mediator of the life force can be seen in its essentiality for organisms that can survive without oxygen, but who become incapable of multiplication when deprived of carbon dioxide (Rahn 1941), this suggests that carbon dioxide may be more fundamental to life than oxygen.

Ray Peat in the article Mitochondria and Mortality suggests that carbon dioxide acts in some way to call mitochondria into existence, suggesting the possibility that carbon dioxide through its alteration of the shape and electrical affinities of haemoglobin and other proteins, increases the stability of the mitiochondrial coacervate, causing it to recruit additional proteins from its environment and its own synthetic machinery to grow or multiply. To support this proposition Dr. Peat points to the effects of increased thyroid hormone and the effects of high altitude on increasing mitochondria, thyroid acting to increase metabolism and hence increasing carbon dioxide production and high altitude acting via the Haldane effect whereby deoxygenation of the blood increases its capacity for carbon dioxide.

If Ray is right and carbon dioxide does act to call mitochondria into existence then the implications for understanding the practice of pranayama are profound, whilst some hyperventilatory pranayamas exist (bhastrika and kapalabhati) in all the traditional texts of Hatha Yoga the emphasis is placed on hypoventilation:

yāvadvāyuḥ sthito dehe tāvajjīvanamuchyate |
maraṇaṃ tasya niṣhkrāntistato vāyuṃ nirodhayet ||

So long as the (breathing) air stays in the body, it is called life. Death consists in the passing out of the (breathing) air. It is, therefore, necessary to restrain the breath.

Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Then let the intelligent student close with his right thumb the pingala (the right nostril), inspire air through the Ida (the left nostril), and keep the air confined—suspend his breathing—as long as he can; and afterwards let him breathe out slowly, and not forcibly, through the right nostril.

Shiva Samhita

Many of the pranayamas used in hatha yoga share a common factor they work in some way to slow and reduce standard unconscious breathing, for example nadi shodanna, alternates the breathing between each nostril and whilst this may produce additional subtle effects it acts to reduce airway size so slowing the rate at which air can be inhaled and exhaled, the gentle contraction of the base of the throat used in Ujayi also serves to restrict airway size, breath retention in general will obviously reduce breathing.

This hypoventilation will induce a mild hypercapnic condition (increased Carbon dioxide), this increased carbon dioxide will improve oxygen delivery throughout the body, through the Bohr effect as well as through carbon dioxide’s vasodilatory effects, stabilise nerve cells, decrease inflammation through a number of mechanisms including stabilising mast cells inhibiting histamine and serotonin release. Further if Ray Peat is correct potentially increasing mitochondria and hence increasing the Generative Energy available to an individual, this increased metabolic energy is available both physically and mentally, with greater energy available an individual is capable of a higher level of function. This increase in mitochondrial activity is capable of increasing production of various protective steroid hormones including the foundational hormones that are also neuroactive, pregnenolone, progesterone and DHEA as all of these are produced within the mitochondria. High levels of these hormones are associated with the fluid resiliency of youth, optimising mitochondrial function through pranayama should keep their production high.

Warning, things are about to get Super-Kooky!!

There is reason to believe that when metabolism is truly optimum, and the whole organism is in state of deep harmonic coherence, it is capable of setting up mutually reinforcing positive feedback loops, for example increased retention of CO2 through pranayama increases blood flow and mitochondrial oxidative metabolism, increased mitochondrial metabolism means greater production of progesterone and pregnenolone which can improve thyroid function, thyroid increases CO2, increasing mitochondrial efficiency, blood flow and further stimulates production of pregnenolone, progesterone and DHEA, massively increasing Generative Energy available that spontaneously heals disease and increases the overall coherence and energy available for realisation of one’s dharma.

The possibility of such feedback loops suggests that we are capable of becoming (if we aren’t already to at least some extent) “over-unity” beings, and lends support to stories of yogis living hundreds or even thousands of years needing little or no food.

Further it is possible that carbon dioxide is the key agent involved in the ‘opening of the nadis’ that can be experienced during pranayama, these are streaming bio-plasmic currents running through the body, there are often said to be 72,000 of them, with three emphasized, Ida and Pingala, and most important Sushumna. Ray Peat talks about CO2 as “greasing” the energy pathways in the cell and mitochondria, I suspect given its affinity for forming carbamino groups it is capable of performing a similar function throughout the body, and that it is this, that when CO2 levels are high enough and the yogi has entered a state of kevala kumbhaka, opens the channels, of course this is speculation, and is a jump that I am making, I may be mistaken.

If things are so then even the seemingly extreme case of Chaurangi, who is said to have regenerated his hands and feet (they were chopped off by a wicked step mother) after 12 years of pranayama practice, appears within the realms of possibility. This no doubt sounds crazy to many as it is so far outside the realm of our typical experience, but many animals are capable of regenerating limbs, including, axolotls and salamanders, why should this be so for some and not others? LV Polezhaev (1972) a biologist who studied regeneration notes theories that regenerative failure was a result of weakening of morphogenetic fields, evidence can also be found suggesting significant bioelectrical current and field effects in influencing regeneration (Borgens et al. 1979). If CO2 acts as a “kosmotrope”, increasing coherent energy flow then it is inevitably also strengthening the energetic field phenomena that undoubtedly play a key role in life processes. The possibilities are totally awesome!

Thyroid plays an essential role in stimulating oxidative metabolism and hence increasing C02, thyroid is capable of increasing mitochondria, hypothyroidism is associated with decreased mitochondria and biochemical and structural differences in mitochondria (Jakovcic et al. 1978). Hypothyroidism results in physical and mental fatigue, compensatory increases in stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol.

In our present environment we have been exposed to numerous anti-metabolic agents that inhibit thyroid function, including estrogens (via pollution of water supplies from birth control pills as well as industrial xenoestrogens), fluoride, polyunsaturated fats (both omega 3 and 6, avoid them both), and radioactive pollution.

Thyroid appears to play a key role in differentiation, maturation and individuation, this may be due in part to the increase in CO2 levels that increased oxidative metabolism brings about, evidence for this can be seen in an experiment where tadpoles treated with T4 and T3 prematurely metamorphose into tiny frogs, whilst those that have been made hypothyroid simply become oversized tadpoles (Gudernatsch 1912).

ARTICLE SOURCED FROM: https://web.archive.org/web/20141006203757/http://pranarupa.wordpress.com:80/2012/12/07/pranayama-carbon-dioxide-mitochondria-coherent-energy-flow-regeneration-and-individuation/


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Special Mentions:

Art courtesy of Alex Grey: http://alexgrey.com/

Artour Rakhimov of http://www.normalbreathing.com

And of course the works of Ray Peat many of which can be found at: