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Baba Ramdev is wrong: Kapalbahti & Pranayama won’t bring more Oxygen to the Body

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One of the enduring myths in yoga circles is the notion that the proper execution of breathing techniques (Kapalbahti and other forms of Pranayama), can flood the body and brain with revitalizing amounts of oxygen. As an example, Indian TV Guru Baba Ramdev recently made such a claim in a BBC program (jump to minute 2:20 below):

To understand why such claims are misplaced1, consider the following summary from William Broad:

… The atmosphere of our planet is 21% oxygen, That’s a lot. In comparison, the levels of carbon dioxide are 500 times smaller. The human body exploits this ocean by means of hemoglobin — the remarkable protein inside our red blood cells that soaks up oxygen like a sponge and carries it from the lungs to the tissues. Typically, the refreshed hemoglobin of a resting person is nearly saturated with oxygen, holding virtually as much as it possibly can. The usual figure for the level of absorption is 97%.

For yoga the glut of oxygen in the air and the saturation of hemoglobin in the lungs mean that fast or slow breathing does little to change the levels that enter the bloodstream — as Gune found at his ashram and as I found in the University of Wisconsin. The vital gas is available in large quantities no matter what.

The body’s consumption of oxygen does go up and down. But science demonstrates that it does so in response to changes in muscle activity, metabolism, and heart rate — not breathing styles. As we saw in the last chapter, cardiovascular fitness can raise peak oxygen consumption2.

(1) When the lungs are diseased or impaired, “slow breathing may aid oxygenation”. See here.

(2) A 2010 paper (The health benefits of yoga and exercise: a review of comparison studies, pdf version here), found that “… yoga interventions appeared to be equal or superior to exercise in nearly every outcome measured except those involving physical fitness. The studies comparing the effects of yoga and exercise seem to indicate that, in both healthy and
diseased populations, yoga may be as effective as or better than exercise at improving a variety of health-related
outcome measures.”

Written by virtualsatsang

February 18, 2012 at 11:32 pm

Posted in Yoga

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