Have you ever held your breath and felt an overwhelming urge to take in air? In this month’s column, we’ll consider an interesting fact about the sensation referred to as “air hunger” and apply it to mind wandering and the discomfort or restlessness one might feel when practicing mindfulness. This discussion may make practicing mindfulness a little easier in the midst of mental chatter.

Air Hunger and Breathing

A common misconception about the urge to take a breath is that it is a result of the body’s need for oxygen. Whether submerged under water, playing a wind instrument, or merely holding one’s breath, it is the accumulation of carbon dioxide (CO2), a by-product of oxygen metabolism, that triggers the urge to take a breath. If you were to examine your blood-oxygen levels at such moments (and you can, with today’s wearable tech), you’d find that oxygen saturation in the blood is still riding high. If continued, oxygen levels would drop and health concerns would become real, but the urge-to-breathe warning sign triggered by the accumulation of CO2, errs on the side of caution.

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