Air hunger is often linked to anxiety, which is something to be addressed in it's own right, but here I discuss how focusing on the wrong sensations can exacerbate it.
An edited transcript can be found below the video.
Let's discuss air hunger, it's a topic that's come up a few times of late for me in my private teaching, and a couple of people left comments on a previous breathing video I did saying that how they experienced air hunger. I'll link to that video anyway because you'll find that useful. the breath exercise within it basically that was long out breaths are useful, so you do a nice long out breath, pause, and then release. You don't actively breathe in, you just release the tension it takes to hold the air out and let the in-breath come, and that's just a nice way to get the rib cage moving, and calm down your nervous system. That's something long out breaths do, they kick in your parasympathetic nervous system.
An observation I've made around air hunger, and this is a behavioral thing that we could see broadly fits in to the Alexander idea of end-gaining, trying to achieve an end result while not being mindful of how you achieve it; what I noticed is there are some sensations people tend to focus on in their breathing which they use to sense that they are breathing. The problem with it is it's a bit of a mirage and it's it's not the real thing, it's not what's actually causing you to breath. Those senses are the sensation of air passing through your nose, that sensation of cold air, a touch sensation if you like, but also the sound so you get, this very obvious gulping and grasping for air, trying to get air, and when you hear that sound and feel that sensation it kind of scratches an itch.
The thing with it is it's an end result, it's not the thing itself, that sensation is a byproduct, not the thing you actually want, and if you're distracted from the thing you want you may not be getting the confidence you're looking for that you're getting air.
So what causes air to come in and out and create those sensations? Well, it's basically movement. Movement of the rib cage is generating that, so what you want to be aware of is that you have free movement, if you've got free movement in the rib cage it doesn't matter what's happening with the nose. What happens is as you breathe out the rib cage comes in and the diaphragm releases up, so there's less volume. Because there's less volume in the lungs, to equalize the pressure, air comes out to equalize the pressure with the external air. And as you breathe in the rib cage moves out and the diaphragm moves down, creating greater volume, so it would be a lower pressure, but it isn't because we equalize the pressure by air moving back in.
So basically your movement generates movement of the air in and out. Now, the thing is, as long as your trachea isn't closed, the air in your lungs is directly connected to the air outside, so there's the same air in your lungs as outside. It's like a fish in water, you know the water goes through its gills, it's part of its environment. We're immersed in air, we're immersed in our environment, and we kind of envelop our environment, we bring the environment of the air inside us with the lungs, we envelop it, but it's directly connected. So feel like you're part of your environment, feel immersed in that air, and there's actually a lot more air in your lungs than you realize. It takes a while for the gaseous exchange to happen, obviously the air in your lungs does change its combination of gases, that's the point, we absorb oxygen and then we blow out the excess carbon dioxide, and then bring more air in, but it's always in flow, and it takes a while.
If you want to get a sense of how long that may take, what you can do is breathe out as far as you can and then pause indefinitely. When you breathe out as far as you can your lungs don't collapse, there's still space in there, and there's actually more than 50% of your full lung capacity still left in there. So there's loads of air in there and it takes a while for that air to be absorbed, the oxygen to be absorbed. Now there's a part of your brain that monitors your blood oxygen levels, and after a while it will monitor that's getting a bit low and you'll instinctively know that's long enough to be holding your breath out, and you relax and air will just get drawn back in again. But if you can get confident in doing that, realizing, actually I've held my breath out nearly 10 seconds here, I was fine. Alright, I wanted at the end of that 10 seconds for another breath to come, to release the holding out, but that's a long time, seconds 10 seconds, to be holding your air out.
So while you're breathing normally there's plenty of air in there, always look for the freedom of movement in your rib cage. When you're doing these breathing exercises have your hands on your rib cage to feel the movement of your rib cage, and if you can sense movement, air is happening and you're not looking for that sensation through the nose. Ignore that sensation, it's a byproduct, it's irrelevant to our needs for breathing, it just doesn't matter, and the more you can disassociate yourself with that sensation, I think, from talking to my clients recently, it has diminished the sensation of air hunger, of that slight panic.
So see if you can tune in to that movement, get more confidence that actually you're fine with the air you've got by doing the held out breaths, and associate breathing much less with sensation in the mouth or nose, and the sound you hear from it, and relate it instead to movement of the rib cage. And relate it to the fact that you're immersed in air all the time, there's nothing you can do about it, it's always there in us, it's flowing all the time. You're a "fish in water", that's a phrase I use a lot lately, mostly I started using it in terms of posture, but actually it's true of our breathing as well, and all functionality. I use that phrase to mean that our functionality has no basis unless it has an environment in which it operates. A fish has no practical functioning out of water, and we have no practical functioning without the air we're immersed in., and in relation to posture, the up-thrust of the ground underneath us. Give it a go, watch the previous video and let me know if it helps, experiment with it.