Have you ever noticed how everything healthy these days is “anti-oxidant” this and “anti-oxidant” that? Green tea, dark chocolate, vitamin E and vitamin C – just to name a few. Surely, its all the rage to be “anti” oxygen these days (indeed, there are currently 458 clinical trials open now for the study of anti-oxidants!).
But wait. Isn’t oxygen the stuff we BREATHE? Don’t we need it to live? How can we be so “anti” oxidant?
Herein lies a very sobering chemical fact of life. We need oxygen to breathe – while at the same time – the very same oxygen produces so-called reactive oxygen species (hydrogen peroxide, hypochlorous acid, and free radicals such as the hydroxyl radical and the superoxide anion) which cause damage to our lipids, proteins and even our genome. What gives us life – also takes away life – a little bit each time we breathe.
Such is the basis for the healthy foods and myriad dietary supplements that (promise to) counteract and biochemically scavenge the toxic reactive oxygen molecules in our bodies. But for the fact it would make me even fatter, I’d promptly say, “Bring on more dark chocolate!“.
But what if we could just forgo all those dietary supplements, and just USE LESS oxygen? Might that be another way to enhance longevity and health?
With this thought in mind, I enjoyed a research article entitled, “Oxygen Consumption and Respiration Following Two Yoga Relaxation Techniques” by Drs. Shirley Telles, Satish Kumar Reddy and H. R. Nagendra from the Vivekananda Kendra Yoga Research Foundation in Bangalore, India. The article was published in Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, Vol. 25, No. 4, 2000.
In their research article, the authors noted that – with practice – yoga can help an individual voluntarily lower their cardiac and metabolic levels. A number of previous studies show that advanced meditators and yoga practitioners can lower their heart rate and respirations to astonishingly low levels (more posts on this to come). The scientists in this study asked simply whether a relatively brief 22min routine of “cyclic meditation” (CM) consisting of yoga postures interspersed with periods of supine rest led to a greater reduction in oxygen consumption when compared to 22mins of supine rest (shavasana or SH). Their question is relevant to the life-giving/damaging effects of oxygen, because a lower metabolic rate means one is using less oxygen. According to the authors:
“We hypothesized that because cyclic meditation (CM) has repetitive cycles of ‘activating’ and ‘calming’ practices, based on the idea from the ancient texts, as discussed earlier, practicing CM would cause greater relaxation compared with supine rest in shavasan (SH).”
In the results and discussion of the data, they found (using a sample of 40 male adults) that the when they measured oxygen consumption at the beginning and at the end of the session, that the yoga postures/rest routine (CM) resulted in a 32% reduction in oxygen consumption (this is the amount of oxygen used when sitting still at the end of the session) while just laying in shavasana led to only a 10% reduction in the amount of oxygen used at the end of the session.
Wow! So even after moving through postures – which admittedly gets one’s heart pumping and elevates one’s breathing – I would be using less oxygen (when sitting at the end of the session), than if I had just decided to lay in a supine position. In this instance, I guess I may be using more oxygen overall during the session, but perhaps would be glad to improve the efficiency of my breathing – and intake of oxygen – in the long run (after many years of practice I’m sure). Maybe this is a physiological/biochemical basis for the longevity-promoting benefits of yoga?
How does the effect work? Does the act of moving in and out of postures engage the sympathetic nervous system (something not observed for shavasana)? Much to explore here. The authors point out that these effects on improving the efficiency of breathing and oxygen consumption may not be specific to yoga, but to any MODERATE exercise regimen, where exercise and some sort of mental focus is practiced (Tai Chi for example).
Move and pay attention to your breath. I will keep this in mind tonight in my beginners class. By the way, there are currently 93 clinical trials involving yoga!