Most of us are totally unaware of our breathing. That is probably a good thing as we take approximately 20,000 breaths per day! Because breathing is auto-regulated, when we start to develop breathing disorders, it would be like doing an exercise in the gym incorrectly at 20,000 repetitions per day! Stress, anxiety and emotions all stimulate our breathing rate. At Back to Function, we have become increasingly more interested in helping our people breathe better and this has led us to the Buteyko Method.
Created by Russian physician Dr. Konstantin Buteyko, the Buteyko Method is the most effective drug-free approach to the management of many breathing-related health problems. The Buteyko Method states that diseases such as asthma, allergies, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, immune problems, sleep apnea, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, stress and pain disorders are the body’s responses to hyperventilation (over-breathing). The Buteyko Method is a series of lectures on breathing which enables people to understand the concept of normal breathing.
Good breathing is like good nutrition. Breathing meets the body’s needs and provides optimal conditions for health, but that doesn’t mean that the more you breathe the better off you are. Just like the key to good nutrition is not eating more, and in fact, it has been demonstrated that one of the more powerful healing tools in nutrition is to actually restrict the diet and eat less. With this understanding, you might need to breathe less and of a better quality to more appropriately match your body’s energy usage and improve your overall health.
To understand breathing’s role in your overall health, you must consider the actual functions of breathing. The 3 major functions of breathing are:
- To provide oxygen (O2) for the production of energy.
- To help keep the correct pH levels in the body.
- To maintain enough carbon dioxide (CO2) for bodily functions.
Note that breathing functions number 2 & 3 above are dependent on the balance between O2 and CO2. Overbreathing can leave us depleted of O2, causing a feeling of breathlessness and unable to take a deep breath. If an imbalance occurs between the levels of O2 and CO2, many of the functions of our body become disturbed.
The better your breathing, the less breaths per minute you need to take. Twelve breaths per minute would be the upper limit of how many breaths you should need in a resting state. When doing focused, relaxed breathing, you should be able to reduce your breaths per minute to four. Go ahead and test how many breaths you take in 1 minute. If you took more than 12, then you might be in the overbreathing group.
Good breathing uses the diaphragm rather than the chest. Diaphragm breathing allows slower and fuller breaths. People with efficient breathing always breathe through their nose. Mouth breathing tends to make you overbreathe. People who overbreathe tend to be oversensitive to CO2. People with exceptional endurance usually have a very low breathing response to CO2. As a result, they do not overbreathe when exerting themselves and their ability to release O2 from their red blood cells is enhanced.
Testing Your CO2 Levels
You can test your tolerance levels to CO2 by measuring the length of time you can comfortably hold your breath. At Back to Function we call this the Breath Hold Test.
Breath Hold Test
- Sit comfortably and take a light breath in and then exhale all your air.
- Seal your lips and plug your nose and hold you breath while timing the effort.
- When you feel the urge to breathe discontinue the test and record your time in seconds.
In people with normal CO2 levels, they can comfortably hold their breath for 40 seconds or more. With breathing training, you can increase your Breath Hold Test score. To bring your CO2 levels back to normal, you have to train the unconscious mechanisms in your nervous system that create the breathing response to CO2. You can do this by focusing on your breathing, meditation, physical exercise with nose breathing and through specific Buteyko breathing exercises. The doctors at BTF can help you establish a program to improve your breathing.
If your breathing is less than optimal, your health will suffer. The effects of incorrect breathing are felt by a whole range of systems- immune, circulatory, endocrine, nervous, as well as your energy system. As a result, improving your breathing can improve a whole range of symptoms and conditions.
Weight loss bonus: Many people who correct their breathing find that they lose excess weight. This is because fat is only burned in the aerobic metabolic pathways. As these pathways are switched on with more efficient breathing, people who were previously unable to lose fat find that is often goes away without even reducing their food intake.
Postural Restoration Institute Advanced Integration, December 3-6, 2015