Maslow’s Hierarchy: The Physiological Needs 1 – Air and Water

Posted on January 3, 2013


Da_Vinci_Vitruve_Luc_Viatour-1 In a previous post we looked at an overview of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how the needs generally motivate us. Now we’ll look more closely at each level. Maslow’s system is intended to be a path to self-actualization and each stage is fairly dependent on the one it’s founded on. So in my view, to get the most out of life we should make sure our needs are more than just merely satisfy at each level, we should aim to thrive at each level to get the maximum benefit possible (until the cost outweighs the benefit).

The mind and all the thoughts and behaviors it produces are products of the physical world and are governed by the laws of physics. You’re will can’t overcome them. The fact that our mind is a part of the physical world is fairly obvious when thinking about psychoactive drugs. With pharmaceuticals you can put someone to sleep, numb their pain, cause them to hallucinate or relax. A physical substance produces a profound change in our experience and behavior. This connection between the physical world and our mental experience is very under-appreciated. Understanding how the physical world affects our physiology and psychology can make us more capable of living a healthier and happier life.

The physiological needs are at the bottom of the pyramid. They may seem basic and often people skip right over them without too much thought, but it’s important to understand that everything you value in life is built upon your physical health. You’re physical constitution is directly responsible for your resistance to disease, capacity to function, and to be a happy and effective person. Would you want to build your house on rock or on sand?


Breathing is fundamental to life. Our body’s cells would die without it. We take in life-sustaining oxygen and expel waste carbon dioxide. We take about 20,000 breathes per day, every minute we take between 16 and 20 breathes inhaling about 7 to 8 liters of air.

Breathing is something we don’t think about very much and tend to take for granted. But ample research has shown that the quality of the air you breath and how you breath have huge impacts on your health and psychology.

Negative ions are odorless colorless charged particles of oxygen in the air. We typical experience them after a spring thunderstorm, walking along the beach, or near a waterfall. The air quality is very pleasant and relaxing. Positive ions can be found in smoke, bathrooms, and offices without much circulation, and are even produced before earthquakes (some theorize they help animals predict them and move to safer ground).

A study from Columbia University published in the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that various types of depression improve with negative ion therapy after 10 to 20 days of exposure. So negative ions are good and positive ions are bad. We can get more of the good by opening a window, going for a walk on the beach or near fresh water, having a negative ion generator or plenty of fresh houseplants. NASA is obviously concerned about air quality for it’s space missions and over 19 years compiled this list of the best houseplants that clean and filter the air.

How you breath is just as important as what you breath. Shallow breathing has been shown to affect cognitive function, mood and personality, and overall poor health. There is plenty of evidence that deep breathing and mediation leads to good health. I’ve covered this is more detail in 4 Reasons to Start Mediation and other breathing techniques.


Stilles_MineralwasserH2O is the often synonymous with life. Our bodies are 70% water so the majority of what we physically are is water. Thirst is not always a reliable indicator of your body’s actual hydration levels. Many people walk around mildly dehydrated without even noticing it. But as little as 2% dehydration is enough to have effects on thinking and behavior. Symptoms of mild dehydration include headache, changes in mood, slow movement and low energy, confusion. short-term memory, reasoning, and hand-eye coordination. People who are most vulnerable are the ill, children, elderly, and those doing physical labor and sports.

A study carried out by Dr. Harris Lieberman,  suggests that mild dehydration affects emotions and mood first and then cognition and that women are more sensitive to dehydration than men.

So what should we drink? The Harvard School of Public Health has guidelines for health drinking.

2.8 liters of fluids daily for an adult. About 50% should be pure water, 30% unsweetened tea of coffee, and the rest from milk and sweetened drinks and juices. Your body can use the water from any source, but to stay properly hydrated there must be enough water to absorb the nutrients. This is why we can’t drink seawater, the salt is too high relative to the water and our body rejects it. So sweetened drinks and drinks like milk can more dehydrating if they throw the water-nutrient levels out of balance. So it’s possible to drink plenty of fluids and still cause yourself to be more dehydrated.

Put it to practice:

  • Breath more negative ions for a positive mood
  • Take 6 deep breaths periodically through the day to help relax and focus
  • Stay hydrated to avoid cognitive confusion and to maintain a positive mood
  • Drink fewer sweetened drinks to your keep water and nutrient levels for hydration.

Maslow’s Hierarchy: The Physiological Needs 2 – Nutrition (eat your way to a better mood)