Bring Up Breathing—How We Get This Precious Oxygen in Our Blood

These last few days, I kept reading about the importance of staying active. Magazines and newspapers keep warning us over and over again about the danger of living a sedentary life. To avoid that constant threat, we are often not required to do much intense physical activity; we only need to move. When done regularly, yoga is one of those exercises that allow your body to remain at work. Still, its benefits extend far beyond its evident efficacy in keeping us toned. Yoga requires that its followers bring their consciousness back to their breathing. By inhaling and exhaling mindfully, they can check in and adjust their breathing rhythm if need be. When done purposefully and adequately, yoga can allow us to maximize oxygen absorption. However, this process is not so transparent for all of us, so let’s dive in even further.

Elly Fairytale|
Alexandr Podvalny|

Breathing happens and, most of the time, we do not even realize it. It is one of the few mechanisms performed both consciously and unconsciously. Thus we often are driven to ignore that it is even there in the first place. Breathing is always present, always waiting to surface back into our consciousness. Possessing two different methods of regulation is a clear indication that both hold necessary functions for our survival. However, before we can attempt to explain them, we must first describe the fundamentals of breathing.

Breathing, also called ventilation, is a process that enables the exchange of carbon dioxide, produced by our metabolism, with oxygen readily available in the air. Although our atmosphere is composed mainly of nitrogen (78%), there is still a vast amount of oxygen (21%). To allow the transfer of this oxygen to our blood, we must first inhale. When I breathe, I often let air in through my mouth since my nose is frequently blocked. Even though both these orifices are good options to draw in air, some say that breathing through the nose is preferable. It seems that the nose with its filtration power can serve as the first line of defence against encountered pathogens.

Then, the oxygen makes its way to the lungs, where its transfer to the blood will occur via passive diffusion. Passive diffusion only means that the gas will move towards the lowest concentration sites without any help. In other words, the oxygen will move from our lungs to the blood. Not dissimilar to swimming in a river following the same direction as the current. The carbon dioxide will simultaneously be ejected from the blood into our lungs once again by passive diffusion.

Baskin Creative Studios|

Our respiratory system has a fascinating structure that is reminiscent of an upside-down tree. Starting with the larynx (or the voice box) that forms the foot of the tree, the trachea would then be its trunk. The branches would be the bronchi and the leaves, the alveoli. However, there is one last structure that this analogy does not encompass, the pharynx. This organ serves to deliver food to the oesophagus and air to the larynx. The larynx will prevent food from entering the lungs. A little bit like a second nose, the trachea will purify, warm up and humidify the air before it reaches the lungs.

Mikhail Nilov|

The air will then get directed to the bronchi playing similar roles as mentioned for both the nose and the trachea. Moreover, its principal function is to guide the air to the alveoli. In the alveoli is where the gas exchange by passive diffusion will happen. Together, all these elements form a simplified image of the respiratory system. If we want to go deeper into the subject, we must talk about the ciliated cells scattered all around the nasal cavity (inside the nose), the trachea and the bronchi. Those ciliated cells, along with the mucus, are the ones that are responsible for filtering, warming up and humidifying the air. They accomplish this feat by directing the mucus, produced by some specialized tissue of the nasal cavity, towards the stomach. Once in the stomach, it is digested by gastric acid along with any potential pathogens.

Maria Orlova|

So if you ever wondered what was responsible for causing our runny nose during cold weather, the answer would be our ciliated cells. The chilling temperature slows down the speed at which the ciliated cells are working, thus causing a surplus of mucus in our nasal cavity. This event is then even further amplified by the water in the air we exhale. This gasified water tends to condensate in our nostrils at low temperatures forming water droplets.

The oxygen absorbed through the lungs will go to the red blood cells that were once carrying carbon dioxides. The exchange is a very lucrative business as it allows us to remove nearly 70% of our waste products while collecting a phenomenal amount of oxygen. All things considered, the efficacy of this system depends very strongly on internal cues. Physiological messengers, like hormones, or signals can alter the speed and the volume of our breathing. This modulation is the one to blame for the huffing and puffing we do after climbing up a steep hill. I just went for a nice walk this afternoon, and I have unfortunately come to realize that my cardiovascular system is no longer as efficient as it once was. Anyhow, my walk, or any physical activities for the matter, recruits muscles. To activate those muscles produces a lot of waste, like carbon dioxide for one.

When carbon dioxide accumulates in our body, it creates acid. Chemoreceptors then perceive this change alerting our respiratory system to work harder. We need to expel this gas while recruiting more oxygen, as we require oxygen for energy (ATP) production. But physical activities are not the only elements that can alter your breathing; anxiety can do that too. This effect is the result of stress hormones, catecholamines and corticosteroids. The former will produce more rapid breathing to adapt to the sudden requirement for energy supply. The latter will do the opposite; slow down the breathing while also making it more shallow.


So when I catch myself stuck in a sudden wave of anxiety, I try to remember to breathe deeply (also called diaphragmatic breathing). Doing this exercise allows our breathing to come back to its regular rhythm by compressing the diaphragm. Squeezing the diaphragm leads to the activation of the parasympathetic system, causing an effect of general relaxation. The diaphragm is a muscle confined under the lungs and is also the one engaged in our sporadic hiccups. The hiccups are a product of the diaphragm contracting out of rhythm. The closing of the larynx and the vocal cords follow each spasm, which can cause the sounds we may hear. The most plausible role of the hiccups is to create a sharp intake of air in the lungs in between two breaths. This extra effort draws in more air than regular breathing.

Lucas Pezeta|

There are two main strategies to stop the course of hiccups. Either putting cold items in your mouth (like gargling cold water or sucking on an ice cube) or increasing the level of carbon dioxide inhaled (breathing from a bag or holding our breath). I prefer taking a deep breath and holding it in. It works every time. What more about breathing can I say? Breathing in itself might be easy, but controlling it is another thing. If you don’t pay enough attention to it, it will positively fall into its default mechanism of autonomous functioning, and you might not like the outcome. As a word of advice, a regular breathing check-in cannot hurt, and you should probably do it as often as you can afford.

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Biophilia—What makes us particularly attracted to nature

No one can dismiss the amazing feeling we get after spending some time in nature. We instantly feel relaxed and reinvigorated. Some might attribute this effect to time spent far away from work, and even though they could be correct, it is not the whole picture. Biophilia is a relatively new concept that brought the…

Bring Up Blood—How our oxygen gets carried throughout our body

Good evening my dearest followers, Please, take a moment to enjoy this excerpt for my newest post (Bring Up Blood). We could most certainly not live without blood. It is absolutely essential for the survival of our most distant limbs and organs. Even though almost all of our respiration is thanks to our respiratory organs,…


Bring Up Smell- How We Perceive Odours

We are now well into Spring, and walking outside is totally blissful. The temperature is comfortable, but more importantly, the scent in the air is somehow exhilarating. I then stop walking and take a moment to breathe in all the odours that surround me. I am fortunate enough not to be afflicted by any pollen allergies, so I go all out. I can smell flowers, freshly mown grass, dirt, laundry and more. Not only is the smell keeping me connected to the present, but it is also igniting an interior feeling of deep connection to my surroundings. This connection is bringing me its share of joy and tranquility. I know that as long as I’ll be standing right here, everything will remain perfect.

Karolina Grabowska|

Our sense of smell, or olfaction, is (as far as we know) our oldest sense, right along with taste. It is such a remarkably developed sense that we are able to detect a tremendous number of odours. Despite what a study from 1927 suggested, humans have the potential to smell much more than 10,000 distinct odorants. Over one billion of them, to be exact, as reported by a 2014 study. Still, this incredible figure is considerably meagre compared to the ability displayed by dogs. Our domesticated canines are surpassing our smelling power by as much as 44 fold (44x), with 220 million olfactory receptor cells in their nasal cavity compared with 5–6 million for us, mere humans.

Elizandra Dos Santos Silva|

In comparison to the senses presented in two earlier posts (see Bring Up Hearing, Bring Up Sight), smell possesses a rather simple organ, the nose. This cavity has receptors spread over all of its epithelium. These receptors are cranial neurons that are astonishingly capable of renewing themselves every 30–60 days. Neurons are typically incapable of such feats. The nasal cavity encompasses a wide diversity of cells. It includes no less than six morphologically and biochemically distinct cell types. One especially relevant cell type for smell is the ciliated cells. Their sensory cilia are facing the inside of the nasal cavity. Their role is to catch the odorant molecules. Once activated, they send their signal to the olfactory cortex in the main olfactory bulb (there are two). The second olfactory bulb, called the vomeronasal organ (VNO), is not as important as the main. It serves to detect pheromones. In humans, we can find our VNO in the anteroinferior third of the nasal septum. The VNO also signals to the main olfactory bulb.

To be fair, all odours, scents, and pheromones are volatile compounds. However, pheromones have something that odours and scents do not have. Pheromones are chemical substances secreted by one individual and absorbed (or received) by another individual of the same species. The pheromones, once someone else picks them up, can act as hormones in their body. They have the ability to alter behaviour and physiology for survival and reproduction purposes. There are many kinds of pheromones, each carrying different signalling objectives. The signal emitted could be used to signal danger, food ingestion safety, food location and more, which can promote survival. As for reproduction, they can signal for potential and fertile mates and help with offspring recognition.

Photo by Katerina Holmes on

When it comes to choosing sexual partners, Smell seems to be a significant component for determining their attractiveness. Indeed, some studies have demonstrated that family members seem to have a scent perceived as “less attractive” compared with the scent of strangers. It is actually quite understandable as inbreeding correlates to an increased susceptibility to a wide range of disorders. Limiting inbreeding through regulating smell perception may seem like a reasonable solution to deter us from it. However, smell perception may not serve the unique purpose of limiting inbreeding. It also helps to recognize who’s family and who’s not. And we are able to do this very early on in life. Newborns are capable of identifying their mothers after being exposed for at least one hour.

Artem Beliaikin|

The sense of smell is not as stable as the other senses; it varies greatly depending on conditions. In general, women have more robust, or more attuned, olfactory abilities compared to men. Although, this might not be true. Recent researchers have now started questioning this “common knowledge” and its validity. They have revealed that the difference noticed between the sexes is actually really small and possibly caused by anatomical differences. Now omitting the weakly possible sex differences, there are still other factors influencing olfactory variation. Circadian rhythm seems to be a strong influence; early morning appears to be accompanied by the weakest sensitivity to smell. Scientists are suggesting that its highest point is at night, right before going to bed. At last, an important factor seems to be the availability of moisture in our nasal cavity. The more, the merrier it seems. With this idea in mind, researchers are now advancing that smell is at its best during summer and spring. Workout sessions also seem to work wonders when it comes to increasing olfactory power.

It’s all well and good to know how our olfaction changes, but why should we care about it enough to protect it? The reason is utterly simple; it makes us feel great. Although, this is possible only if we perceive the scents as pleasant. From all the senses, olfaction is the one that shares the most links to memory and emotional brain regions. There is a belief in the activation of olfactory neurons to have the capacity to activate the brain reward system, which is a system also involved in addictive behaviours. Smell, as well as taste, is considered to have developed this strong connection as a way to avoid ingesting potentially harmful substances or running straight towards danger. By reinforcing survival behaviour through rewards, we are now not only able to safely feed ourselves, but we can also enjoy the process. Actually, if you didn’t already know, smell has a lot to do with taste as it provides 80% of the signalling necessary to perceive flavours. Another curious thing about smell resides in how our body responds to its signals. For most senses, when signals reach the brain, there will first be its identification, and only then would it be followed by a reaction. Olfaction works the other way around, reaction (emotional) first and then identification after.


When smell was introduced to you as having a lot to do with pleasure, some of you might have been quite skeptical. However, we did not produce that theory out of thin air and without anything to back it up. It turns out that people with olfactory dysfunctions tend to struggle more with malnutrition, apathy, depression and lower quality of life than the general population. This statement potentially indicates that a disrupted perception of scents leads to an overall decrease in hedonia (pleasure, enjoyment and comfort). These olfactory dysfunctions can be a reduced sense of smell (Hyposmia), a total lack of olfaction (Anosmia), a change in its perception (Parosmia, things that usually smell pleasant might now smell bad) or a perception of a smell that is actually not present (Phantosmia, olfactory hallucination). These dysfunctions could be present at birth or occur at any moment in our life. The general advice is to avoid excessive exposure to malodours (bad smells) as it can lead to the onset of a dysfunction.

At last, we are part of the mammalian family, and as such, we can infer that the ownership of a nose is not exclusive to only us but also to the rest of the family. If you also thought as much, then you wouldn’t be completely wrong. Most mammals have or had a nose, and still, not all of them use it as their primary olfactory organs. Toothed whales still have a nose but can’t smell anymore. Baleen whales, however, have kept the usage of their nose as an olfactory tool. Albeit we don’t know about the precise purpose of keeping them as they strongly rely on echolocation to find food. Other animals likewise can smell, but they might not smell the same way we do. Snakes, for example, smell mainly through their VNO located at the roof of their mouth, even though they also have a nose capable of sensing odours. They grab the molecules of scents with their tongue and insert them into the VNO for identification. As for fish, they do smell through an olfactory organ located in their nasal sac, where water, filled with chemical signals, is flowing in. As water comes in, it makes contact with the lamellae possessing olfactory receptor neurons which can provide the fish with the necessary information. Considerably more animals have olfaction than those that do not, which only encourages us to consider its importance towards our survival. Would you not agree?

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Tattoo—How it can be possible to mark our skin permanently

Not all appearance alterations are created equal; some may be more short-lived and others more permanent. If you think of tattoos, they mostly belong to the second category. So thinking carefully about certain aspects of the tattoo becomes imperative. Things like the symbolism or the artistry behind your new piece shouldn’t be random. Choosing a…

Bring Up Grad School—What Is the Reality Behind Higher Education

For people who want to pursue studies after completing high school, university studies may look very attractive. So, undergraduate studies may lead to graduate studies. However, undergraduate studies are not the same as graduate studies. The latter is not only more complicated, but it is also very different. First of all, contrary to your undergrad,…