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In this section, discover how breathing influences the different systems and functions of the body.


Learn more about how breathing affects the body and the body's systems.


The body's systems

We have a number of different systems and functions and every single one is influenced and affected by our breathing. The ones we mostly refer to or most commonly known of are


  • Respiratory system (breathing)

  • The nervous system (regulation of mood)

  • Cardiovascular system (blood pressure and heart rate variability)

  • Circulatory system (movement and energy)

  • Digestive system (digestion)

  • Immune/lymphatic system (detoxification)

  • Endocrine and exocrine system (hormone regulator)

  • Musculoskeletal system (movement)

  • Reproductive system


How we breathe will have an impact on the efficiency, production and balance of all our systems.


pH levels in the body

pH level is the acid-base balance and refers to the balance between acid and alkaline in the body. A major stressor to our health is an imbalance of our pH levels.


A healthy person will have slightly alkaline blood, at a pH of 7.3-7.4. The body has to keep certain fluids, such as blood, consistently at a slightly alkaline state in order to maintain health, even a minor fluctuation can affect the functioning of organs.


The lungs and kidneys play a key role in this process, with the lungs controlling the body’s pH balance by releasing carbon dioxide, a slightly acidic compound, which helps regulate your body’s pH balance by reducing acidity. The amount of carbon dioxide you exhale is a function of how deeply you inhale or exhale.

What influences our pH balance

The blood pH balance can be influenced by a number of things but one of the main contributing causes we see impacting the body's acid-base balance is when we are not breathing efficiently.


When you over breathe, you decrease the levels and breathe off too much carbon dioxide which results in Hypocapnia, also known as respiratory alkalosis.


Normal breathing frequency, at rest, is about 8-12 breaths per minute. Many of us breathe a lot more, often 15-22 breaths per minute. This over-breathing means that we are experiencing a low-grade form of hyperventilation, which upsets the oxygen and CO2 balance, and we end up with too much oxygen in our body, and at the same time, we exhale too much carbon dioxide. 

We need to maintain a certain level of carbon dioxide within our blood, like oxygen, as it is critical for many functions in the body.


Hypocapnia brings a variety of symptoms that may seriously impact health and performance, such as


  • Brain fog and poor memory

  • Anxiety and stress

  • Chronic pain and inflammation

  • Low self-esteem and fatigue

pH balance


Better functional breathing habits

By understanding and becoming aware of our breathing mechanics and respiratory system, we can move to better functional breathing habits and techniques, that positively influence the pH of our blood.


Techniques used will include nasal breathing, slower pace of breathing, extended exhales and breath suspension. Any form of breathwork that includes breath suspensions should be built up slowly and safely, especially if you are new are breathwork and have a history of poor breathing mechanics.


Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Tolerance

For many years, people have been conditioned to believe that carbon dioxide is bad for the body, and they focus mainly on bringing oxygen in. Hopefully, you are starting to understand that this is not always required and that there are actually many benefits to gain from increasing our CO2 tolerance, or sensitivity to it.

Is Carbon Dioxide bad for me?

Having a large amount of CO2 in the body is of course dangerous. However, having a level of carbon dioxide is essential for us. Unfortunately, poor breathing habits means our tolerance to CO2 is low, which is impacting our physical and mental health.

Carbon Dioxide is just waste and does nothing to help my body!

Not true. There are many reasons we need CO2 in our body, one of the effects of carbon dioxide is vasodilation, which is the widening of the blood vessels. This dilation allows for improved blood flow through the body. Obviously, good blood flow is good for the body!

What is CO2 Tolerance?

CO2 tolerance is based on your ability to handle the temporary imbalance of CO2 and oxygen when you have breathed out and CO2 levels are higher. Your tolerance is measured by your body’s response to the CO2 levels in the blood, the higher your tolerance is, the longer you’ll be able to suspend breathing in more oxygen.


Exploring CO2 tolerance can tell a lot about a person's physiological and psychological situation.

Why breath holding

When you hold your breath there is a build-up of CO2 in the blood that alerts the brain for you to breathe. Chemoreceptors send a signal to the medulla for a breath to be taken. People who find it difficult to comfortably hold their breath for a short period of time will have a low tolerance to CO2, and it is a good indication of the possible presence of dysfunctional breathing, such as chest breathing or over-breathing, among other reasons.


People who live with constant stress or anxiety, tend to have a low CO2 tolerance, as do people who experience panic attacks – many people believe that panic attacks are due to a lack of oxygen, where it is actually the opposite, it is due to a CO2 deficiency.

CO2 tolerance


Positively impact your health and wellbeing

Increasing your CO2 tolerance can have a profound positive impact on your overall health and wellbeing, and can move you away from the physical and mental symptoms you may have been experiencing. It can


  • Help reduce anxiety and maintain a sense of calm during everyday life.

  • Help improve sports performance and endurance

  • Support healthy blood flow, heart rate and PH levels

  • Reduce feelings of depression

  • Increase energy

  • Reduce inflammation


Improving your tolerance to CO2 with breathing techniques and breath suspension exercises is something that you should move into gently, and with guidance. The Social Breathwork includes certain breathing techniques to support improving CO2 tolerance.


A CO2 tolerance check is completed in The Reboot Program when we explore your breathing habit in more detail


Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

While heart rate refers to the number of times your heart beats per minute, HRV refers to the time gaps or intervals between each heartbeat. Heart rate variability is key to improving your body’s response to stress and health in general.


The heart may feel like a steadily beating drum, however, there are tiny changes in the lengths of intervals of beats, and people with more variation between each heartbeat tend to have better physical and emotional health.

Why and how does this happen?

There are a number of factors that can impact the frequency of your HRV – age, gender, fitness levels, health, diet and environment. But one of the main factors, especially with today's fast-paced way of living, is our nervous system. This plays a big part in your HRV frequency.

The time between heartbeats can change due to the nervous system’s response. The sympathetic branch increases and speeds up your heart rate when you breathe in, while the parasympathetic slows it down as you breathe out.


With a balanced nervous system our hearts are constantly getting mixed commands to either increase the heart rate from the sympathetic nervous system and commands to decrease heart rate from the parasympathetic nervous system, these messages cause the resulting heart rate to be in a constant state of fluctuation.


Now, if the nervous system is not balanced, and one branch is sending stronger inputs to the heart than the other, this means HRV is low. There are a number of factors that can tip the sympathetic/parasympathetic balance and reduce HRV. These include things like pain, stress, anxiety, illness and fatigue.

Why is HRV important?

HRV positively correlates with whole-body health. A high variable heart rate is a sign of flexibility of the heart, and of the capacity of the autonomic nervous system to adapt to changes in the demands we face every day – we are able to get a good idea if we are not in a balanced state.

Low HRV scores are linked to a higher risk of heart disease, depression, diabetes and high blood pressure. Meanwhile, high HRV numbers are associated with better cognitive function, improved health and good vagal tone.


HRV can be checked by having an electrocardiogram (ECG), however, with advancements in technology there are a number of ways you can check and track your own HRV.

heart rate variability


Positively impact your health and wellbeing

There are specific breathing techniques that can help improve and increase HRV. Techniques focused on paced breathing, nasal breathing, breathing mechanics and regulating your nervous system will all support increasing your HRV.


The Social Breathwork has carefully selected foundational breathing techniques in its programmes that work towards improving HRV.


When you stop and really think about it, our body, and how it functions, is truly remarkable and our breathing is the conductor to how well we want to live. So, take a moment and just breathe... nice and slow, in thorugh the nose into the belly and be grateful for this amazing opportunity to help ourselves with every breath we take.


Hopefully, we have been able to show you why there really is much more to breathing than just brining oxygen in to the body to live. The way in which we breathe is the key to living well and healthy, not just to survive.

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In section 4 learn more about breathing patterns and how these can influence how you feel.

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