Occasionally it is a good exercise to try to condense a big idea into a few lines. We have E=mc2 (A. Einstein), “Structure governs function (A T Still- Osteopathy), “Eat a Whole Plant Diet” (Dr C Campbell), “The perfect man breathes as though he is not breathing” (Lao Tzu) so here is a slightly longer summary of the amazingly powerful Buteyko Method.
The Basics of Better Breathing & Better Health
1. The first step is learning the fact that most of us suffer some degree of CHHV or chronic hidden hyperventilation, over-breathing in simple terms.
2. Secondly CHHV makes us ill! Anything from low energy, poor sleep to serious health problems such as asthma, hypertension, sleep apnoea or panic attacks.
3. Most of us arrived at this state because of the many stressful events in our lives, emotional, physical, illnesses, chemical or whatever. Any stress triggers a primitive response called the “Fight or Flight Syndrome” that once protected us from sabre toothed tigers but today is not so useful and more often has an adverse effect on our health.
4. The Fight or Flight response produces over a thousand physiological changes in our bodies preparing us for emergency action, all but three of these responses we have little or no control over, histamine, adrenaline, corticosteroid production etc.
5. We can however take conscious control over three of them; our muscle tension, our breathing and our mental tension.
6. The neat thing is that once we start to take control over muscle tension, mental tension and our breathing all the others are reduced.
7. There is a very detailed physiological explanation for the benefits of better breathing that you can learn about later. Right now all you need to know is that CHHV causes us to lose carbon dioxide (carbon dioxide far from being the deadly gas many of us have been led to believe, it is the essential stuff of all living things, we would be dead without it! We need around 6% in our bodies to function well)
8. Carbon dioxide is so important to our life our breathing is governed by the level of carbon dioxide in our blood, and not oxygen. Receptors in the brain measure the level of carbon dioxide and adjust our breathing accordingly, if too much we are made to breathe more to “wash out” the excess, if too low we are made to breathe less to conserve it.
9. With CHHV our receptors have been set at too low a level of carbon dioxide and much of the breath training will be to correct this, returning them to normal.
10. Low carbon dioxide levels cause: a) Spasm of smooth muscle wrapped around all hollow organs in our body, blood vessels, airways, bladder, gut, etc. b) The blood’s ability to deliver oxygen to all our tissues is impaired and c) the pH, or acid/alkalinity of the body is changed affecting every chemical reaction in our bodies adversely.
11. There are many other effects associated with poor breathing but you can learn about them later.
12. So to correcting your breathing, if you need to! First you need a measure of your breathing. This is based on two very simple checks you do yourself, namely, the control pause and pulse measurements.
13. The control pause (CP) is a measure of your maximum COMFORTABLE breath hold in seconds after a normal exhalation while at rest. Effectively it measures how well your body is oxygenated, if you’re well oxygenated you don’t need another breath for a some time, if very poorly oxygenated you will want to take the next breath almost immediately.
14. The Pulse is measured on your wrist or neck by counting the number of beats in 15 seconds and multiplying by 4 to give number of beats per minute.
15. The table below gives a rough guide as to how good or bad your breathing is related to your CP, your pulse may add more information about this.
Control Pause CO2 Your Breathing State
45-60 seconds 5 – 6 % Excellent normal breathing.
35-45 seconds 4.5 – 5% Good but slight over-breathing
25-35 seconds 4 – 4.5% Moderate hyperventilation
20-25 seconds 3.5 – 4% High hyperventilation affecting your health
15-20 seconds 3 – 3.5% Serious hyperventilation
10-15 seconds 2.5 – 3% Severe hyperventilation
< 10 seconds < 2.5% Critically poor breathing
As you improve your breathing you will find your CP increases and your pulse
decreases for a while until your normal base level pulse rate is reached.
Disclaimer: Please note, breathing has a powerful effect on our entire body and therefore any exercises should be done with caution. If you have a history of any serious condition including, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, psychotic conditions, severe asthma, etc. you are advised to only do breath training with the support and supervision of your doctor health professional or Buteyko Educator. This also applies to anyone with a CP of under 15 seconds.
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