And This Must Be What Earth Feels Like


100 • Cycles

Volume 10, Issue 01
February 23, 2024

The ancient yogis tried to cycle the air through their bodies as slowly as possible, intentionally lengthening the space between inhale and exhale. This practice of Pranayama mindfully manipulates the prana, the “breath” or “life force,” coursing through the body. The faster something cycles, the faster it will wear: a wheel, a gear, our joints, our prana. Slowing the breath then, it is believed, will increase longevity; but the ultimate goal is to achieve samadhi, a state of meditative consciousness undisturbed by desire or ego.

We inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide—an autonomic process that puts us in intimate symbiosis with our flora. And, miraculously, when we manipulate the cycle, removing our autonomy, the body’s ecosystems adapt. Hemoglobin in the blood ensures steady oxygenation regardless of breath pace, but carbon dioxide changes the blood’s chemistry: slowing the breath increases carbon dioxide, acidifying the blood like our oceans, dilating the brain’s blood vessels, and desensitizing the peripheral nervous system. Within certain parameters, this process is felt as a numbed body and alert mind: meditation. And if practiced enough, samadhi.

But even the yogis inhale. Eventually, the buildup of carbon dioxide requires release. Even their trained bodies that have adapted to this slow, elongated breath reach unsustainable levels of CO2. Even their hemoglobin can’t fight deoxygenation. The cycle is inevitable. The cycle spares no one. The cells that make up our bodies move with charge, creating energy that allows for all bodily functions: the essence of life. But when our body chemistry pushes beyond our limits and our cells cannot adapt, our heart, kidneys, and liver begin to degenerate. The carbon dioxide accumulates, changing our blood pH and migrating through the blood-brain barrier, causing brain damage. And then all the body’s natural cycles are disrupted; everything breaks down. And this, I imagine, must be what the earth feels like.

She is holding a prolonged exhale, squeezing, pressing, suffocating as she deoxygenates and her CO2 rises. Her temperature increases, her oceans acidify like our blood, and her natural cycles are disrupted; everything breaks down. Stability would be 280 to 350 ppm of atmospheric CO2; we have reached 423.6, on track to reach 550 by 2050. If these numbers are hard to conceive, try holding your exhale. We don’t need to understand the numbers to understand that all aerobic life forms are suffering—how could they not be? They can’t breathe. The earth has not had time to train and adapt. And even the yogis inhale.

So now can you comprehend? Now do you see that the trees are our lungs: branching, bronchioling, breathing oxygen and carbon dioxide? Can you understand the horror of a murky, polluted, acidified bloodstream like our earth’s waters? What is 1.5 or 2°C? Have you ever had a fever? Now can we finally inhale?

Legend says on the rare occasion that a yogi finally reaches samadhi, when they have mastered their prana so expertly that they no longer need to breathe at all, they burst into flames. The five elements everyone and everything is made from—earth, water, fire, air, ether—combust and return to the cycle of all things. This combustion is a thing of lore: few gurus have experienced it. But perhaps we, too, could achieve samadhi: our cycles finally undisturbed by desire or ego. Perhaps we, too, will burst into flames. Perhaps then our elements will cycle back for infinity.