“The perfect person breathes as if they do not breathe at all...” From Chinese text
What if everything you thought you knew about your health for most of your life was wrong? What if even the things your medical doctor is still telling you today is wrong? Things like: Eating fat will make you fat (wrong), eating salt is unhealthy (wrong) and taking a deep breath will increase the oxygen levels in your blood (very wrong)...Read on about this last one.
“Breathe through your nose, and breathe less...”. Dr. Konstantin Buteyko
The first and last thing we do in life is take a breath. We can last weeks without eating, days without drinking water, but only moments without taking a breath. We think about going on a diet if we eat too much, but most of us never think about reducing the amount of oxygen we take in to increase red blood cells made by the Spleen. It seems, like many things, counter-intuitive.
It’s a mystery, this exchange of gases. During the 1950’s, Russian doctor Konstantin Buteyko, discovered the enormous benefit of increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) in the blood by slowing and calming his breath during an asthma attack that almost killed him. As he struggled for air, he noticed that taking slow, gentle, shallow breaths, instead of gulping air to try and open his airways allowed his symptoms to subside. It was a miracle, and as he continued to practice small, calm, gentle breaths on a regular basis, the asthma that he was plagued with resolved. Being the brilliant doctor he was, he began studying why this could be so that he could share this simple technique with the millions of people suffering with asthma. From this incident, the Buteyko Breathing Technique was born. Since researching the subject for this blog, I have read many such stories of people resolving asthma, allergies and sleep apnea by breathing less - not more - and I have been teaching it to my patients and the students coming to my Yoga classes.
Asthma means “To pant...”
If you suffer from asthma, or know someone who does, you know that open mouth breathing is common, with the misguided idea that this will bring more oxygen into the lungs. Over-breathing, or hyperventilation, is related to Asthma and many other conditions. Things like: Anxiety, hypertension, sleep disorders, panic attacks, allergies, gut problems, breathlessness, over-talking and depression all may have hyperventilation in common.
Meet Your Diaphragm-The Most Important Breathing Muscle
Not long ago, I worked with a patient whose father is now 103 years old. One of his grandchildren calls him the Ever-Ready Bunny because he never slows down. When he meets you, he tells you to punch him in the gut, and when you do, you find a diaphragm as solid as a rock. Why? His entire life was spent playing and teaching the French horn, for which he is famous in the French horn world.
To play a wind instrument like that for hours each day for about seventy years, and be good at it, you must use the diaphragm. It is my view that, although the rest of his habits are atrocious (poor diet, sedentary), he breathes with his diaphragm and that is what has kept him alive for so long. Using just the diaphragm, and not the secondary muscles in the neck and chest that most people with respiratory issues use, he has enhanced the oxygen from his lower lungs without wasting carbon dioxide. Think about how you, or someone you know breathes and check out these signs of abnormal breathing:
Breathing from upper chest
Panting (only for dogs)
Frequent deep breaths
Taking a mouth breath before talking
Breathe Light to Breathe Right
The diaphragm is a thin, elegant muscle that divides the upper torso from the gut. You may have heard that the best way to breathe is using the diaphragm, as all great singers and musicians do, and this is true. In normal breathing, as you inhale through the nose, the diaphragm contracts, drops down into the abdomen allowing for the lower lungs to release oxygen. The lungs closest to the gut are larger than the ones closer to the head, so that when you inhale, the belly expands allowing for more oxygen to be released. When we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and the belly drops down to its regular shape.
To encourage diaphragmatic breathing, do the following:
Place one hand on your chest and the other just above your navel;
Breathe through your nose and gently follow the expansion of your belly with your bottom hand, using gentle pressure;
Make sure the upper hand on your chest is not moving.
Shut Your Mouth and Save Your Life
When we breathe softly through the nose, instead of gulping air through our mouths, the air hunger we may feel is a build-up of carbon dioxide (CO2). We have come to think of carbon dioxide as evil, something we “get rid of” after taking a deep breath. Yet, CO2 is the chief hormone of the body; it determines how much oxygen is released into the tissues and cells and plays a role in the regulation of pH levels in the blood. It’s role in the elimination of Hypertension is significant. When we breathe in O2 and exhale CO2, another gas called Nitric Oxide (NO) is released. Nitric Oxide is an important vasodilator, extremely beneficial for controlling blood pressure. NO is also available in certain foods, like beets, and forms a reservoir in the nose where it has many different functions. When we have plenty of CO2, our blood vessels relax and increase in diameter, controlling blood pressure and thereby increasing energy production. CO2 also creates a more stable blood sugar level and a stronger immune system.
“Straight teeth do not create a good looking face; a good looking face creates straight teeth...”
Weston A. Price, DDS
Weston A. Price, who lived over 100 years ago, is one of my heros. He left his dental practice in the Midwest after seeing case after case of crooked teeth and cavities and decided to travel around the world to scope out indigenous cultures. What he found was stunning, culminating in his classic book, “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration”, still in print today. In the fourteen different cultures he investigated around the world, he found the same things: When they ate the foods relating to their culture and environment, they all had beautiful, wide faces with perfect teeth that all fit. Native mothers with infants gently pressed their babies’ lips together to insure nasal breathing. Price found them to be healthy, rarely sick and robust.
It was only when they changed to Western diets, eating white breads and junk foods that their skulls became narrow, creating sunken cheekbones, smaller nasal cavities and crooked teeth. Over time, as they changed their diets, they became mouth breathers.
What To Do
Below you will find a few books to check out listing simple Buteyko Breathing exercises. There are many more books and videos on the subject. What you can do now is:
Keep your mouth closed while breathing, day and night, breathing only through your nose;
Tape your mouth at night to insure that you won’t snore and open your mouth;
Practice diaphragmatic breathing;
Read and learn:
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Weston A. Price
Breathe to Heal, Sasha Yakovleva
The Oxygen Advantage, Patrick McKeowan
Buteyko Meets Dr. Mew: Buteyko Method for Children and Teenagers, Patrick McKeowan
I’m here to help!