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Breathing and circulation

In 1628 William Harvey announced his discovery of the circulation of blood. Until then, people believed that the heart pumped blood into the body and that it subsequently evaporated through the skin. This is actually a picture of how water circulates in the plant world! Trees take in water through their roots, which is then transported to the leaves, where it evaporates. The water eventually returns to the roots as rain. We could call this "cosmic circulation".

Primitive animals such as small sea polyps have a basic form of circulation that interacts with their environment.

Slugs and worms have self-contained circulation. They move their blood through muscle activity. Fish 'breathe' through their gills, so that oxygen is actively taken out of the environment rather than passively through diffusion via the skin.

Amphibians such as frogs need lungs in order to survive on land.

It is interesting that, the more an animal species evolves, the more aware it becomes of its surroundings. It develops eyes, ears and a sense of smell (see figure 1). Parallel with this increase in consciousness, carbon dioxide (CO 2)-rich venous blood becomes separated from arterial oxygen (O 2)-rich blood. So, the more the animal species evolves, the more the arterial and venous blood is separated in the circulatory system, and the more conscious it becomes.


The Heart

The human heart is a hollow muscle that consists of four compartments. It is the centre of circulation, and all the blood in the body passes through the heart. The heart is responsible for keeping arterial and venous blood separated. The left side is filled with oxygen-rich blood (arterial), which comes from the lungs. The right side is filled with carbon dioxide-rich blood (venous) which goes to the lungs.

When we take a closer look at the anatomy of the blood vessels going to and from the heart, we make an amazing discovery. These blood vessels form a double cross: an oxygen-rich cross and an oxygen-depleted cross (see figure 2). Many universal symbols such as a cross, a circle, a globe (the eye), a spiral (the cochlea in the ear) are also found in the body. Perhaps that is why we can so easily relate to these symbols.


Three Functional Systems

Another important discovery is that we need oxygen for consciousness. (This may seem perplexing at first, because oxygen helps to burn things up! So, at first glance, consciousness could be seen as a destructive (catabolic) process. In the chapter about potentized remedies, we will explain how this breakdown process can be seen as liberating.

The brain is our principal organ of consciousness, and is highly sensitive to a lack of oxygen. Several seconds of oxygen deprivation results in a loss of consciousness. In this respect, the brain contrasts sharply with our muscles. Like plants, they can sustain themselves for much longer without oxygen.

We can view the body in three distinct sections (see figure 3). The top section, the head, is mainly concerned with the nerve and sense system. The chest area, in the middle, is where the lungs and the heart perform their life -sustaining rhythms. The third section lies below the diaphragm and includes the limbs. This is the area of the body where most metabolic processes take place.


Nerve and sense system Conscious O2-rich
Rhythmic system Half-conscious mixed
Metabolic system Un-conscious CO2-rich

In the first section, the head, we are fully conscious. For example, we can see, taste and smell our food, and swallow when we want to. We appear to be in control of this area. In the second, rhythmic section we are only half-conscious. For example we can regulate our breathing, but not our heartbeat, although we can be aware of it. We are actually unconscious of what is going on in the third section, our abdomen. This is the area where the body builds itself up (or where anabolic processes take place). Digestion takes place here, and all the nutrients are transported to the liver and transformed. We'll look at this again in the chapter about the digestive tract.

Isn't it amazing that the whole process of evolution is repeated during the growth of a human embryo! A fertilised egg multiplies into a clump of cells. These cells do not have a circulatory system but an exchange with their surroundings, as in 'cosmic circulation'. Later, blood flows, even though the blood vessels and the heart are not yet formed. The movement of blood seems to form the blood vessels and, soon after wards, the heart itself is created by the movement of blood. The pulsating beat of the heart is only added later.

Of course, this makes us wonder whether the heart is really a pump after all. Perhaps it is partly true for the arterial side, where the heart pumps the blood out into the body. But it is mechanically impossible to explain venous return to the heart. Just how is this pressure maintained throughout the tiny blood vessels in the body? This part of the body is still a mystery!

Before birth, the heart does not separate venous from arterial blood. In the embryo, venous (CO 2-rich) and arterial blood (O 2-rich) is mixed, and consciousness is dimmed in the womb . The saturation of the blood with carbon dioxide during our life in the womb is needed for the incredible developmental growth that takes place here. Carbon dioxide, then, appears to be connected with the process of anabolism, or building up of new matter.

Recommended reading; Healing for Body, Soul and Spirit. An introduction to anthroposophical medicine. Dr Michael Evans and Iain Rodger ISBN 0-86315-306-2

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