Tuesday, February 21

Buteyko heath and breathing

I first enrolled in a Buteyko heath and breathing course a few months ago with the aim of reducing or eliminating my prednisolone medication which I take to avoid nasal polops and Asthma. My aim was to reduce my existing Asthma attacks and or eliminate the use of Ventolin. As a naturally sceptical type of person I was not convinced there would be ensuing benefits but so far the early results are encouraging.

What is Buteyko
Buteyko is based entirely on heathy breathing exercises and breathing habits which will naturally increase the levels of carbon dioxide retained for increased production of steroid levels in the body so that allergic reactions are eliminated once balance is restored. The course is also for Sleep Apnoea, Snoring, Anxiety and Sinus problems. Hence its aim is to restore heathy breathing and ensure practices are adopted such as always breathing through the nose and sleeping on the left side and avoiding “mouth breathing”.
Such measures will underpin healthier breathing which also extend to exercising where one needs to breathe through the nose and not the mouth wherever possible but except of course when swimming.  

To date I have encountered modest yet very worthwhile gains and cut down on my medication as well as some enhanced side benefits such as a reduced resting pulse rate. Doing the exercises twice daily (when I should be doing them 5 times a day) the following benefits are already applicable:

No asthma attacks
Needing substantially less sleep, waking up with far less or scarcely any nose or throat mucus and feeling rested rather than tired- even after only just a few hours’ sleep. 
Slower resting pulse and having more energy.
No sinusitis, reduced sneezing and far less coughing.
Walking briskly with far less breath given I now only breath through my nose. A general more peaceful feeling of control over emotions which is hard to define but I would liken it to the mind feeling more relaxed or rested.  

So what is involved?
The exercises simply involve practicing taking in less air and breathing out more slowly, whilst experiencing a very mild feeling of discomfort. What is best described as a very subtle or gentle feeling like you want just a tad more air. A mild hunger for more air. After a while your brain gets used to that feeling and you start to feel more comfortable. But I hasten to add nothing is meant to have a forced outcome or for you to feel very uncomfortable. Some people say they like to imagine the tide going out slowly. You take in less air in (tide coming in with less strength) but breath out for a bit longer (tide is going out with more strength then it comes in ) until such time as it becomes a pleasant natural rhythm which eliminate over breathing.
It is not to be confused with deep breathing. 
But the technique also involves gently breathing in through the diaphragm to feel it expand just a little and then to breathe out for longer by relaxing the diaphragm. 
After each set you measure your “control pause” which may increase but after waiting a few minutes after each 5 minute set. You keep a record it and chart your progress.
What you will find is your control pause duration will gradually increase over time as you revert to a more natural rhythm assuming you were over- breathing previously.    
What is the Control Pause? 
The control pause has been proven clinically to indicate the retention level of carbon dioxide, since bad breathing leaves you with an insufficient residue for optimum results. 
If you what to test yourself to see if such a course might be of benefit try this out: Start out by being comfortably seated and breathing naturally, but not after just eating a meal or exercising.
Hold your breath after what is for you a normal expulsion. Starting out (for those who may be over breathing)  you may only feel comfortable for say the first 10 – 15 seconds or thereabouts. However if it is longer than that and say it lasts for 20/25 seconds you get still reap benefits since a good reading is 40/50.   
Remember you only hold on until such time as you feel a mild level of discomfort and the distinct need to take in a breath.
The intervening period of time from when you stop breathing (after expulsion )and start again is your control pause. 
Completely different to simply holding your breath in after breathing in where you can hold on for much longer periods.  
Take your pulse before and immediately after to ensure you have not “forced” the issue, as it should be about the same.
I started out only feeling reasonably comfortable holding my breath after exhaling for only about 15-18 seconds naturally. This has since increased to around 30 and at times a bit more after the exercises to reach over 40. To reiterate a good reading is 40/50. 
I sleep each night mostly now on my left side and originally to get myself into good habits I taped my mouth to prevent breathing through my mouth. This might initially “freak out” a habitual “mouth breather” as I was (which is a very bad habit) but I got to quite like the idea.
Since then I no longer sleep with my mouth taped because I have reverted to nose breathing through an unblocked nose. 
Sleeping on your back and breathing through the mouth are habits that increase the propensity to over –breathe. The nose of course is specifically designed to filter air and one has far less propensity to take in too much by way of over-breathing.
The breathing exercises, along with better living and eating practices seem to be giving me a feeling of being more relaxed in the mind and able to concentrate far easier.

So if the treatment is so effective why isn’t it more widely used in treating Asthma and related allergies?
When I first experienced Asthma attacks some 30 years ago my first reaction of course was to seek help from my GP and inevitably I relied on Ventolin and Pulmicort as the traditional approach to treatment which alleviates the symptoms but don’t offer a cure. 
Later on as I developed severe nasal polops (which I had surgically removed on 2 occasions) on specialist advice I reverted to using prednisolone which worked very well and as an added side benefit reduced the incidence of Asthma since it is a steroid. The problem however is this drug as a steroid has a number of severe side effects such as stomach ulcers and calcium deficiency leading to osteoporosis.
Hence I was interested in the possibility the Buteyko heath and breathing course might ensure a way forward to naturally increase  steroid production to the extent it was no longer necessary for me to take the prednisolone and it also eliminated periodic Asthma attacks.   

But drug companies are unlikely to fund research into alternative natural cures so the technique is still not widely used despite exhibiting promising results from the limited research undertaken.
The anecdotal evidence is strong and can apply to anyone suffering allergies or breathing difficulties, even mildy so as evidenced by markedly improving the outcomes for a Buddhist Monk. According to this reference he started out with control pause of 25, but on completion of the course and undertaking the exercises it added significantly to his overall well being and the quality of his life.   
I also know of several people as chronic Asthma sufferers who claim it has made a life changing difference. Even so there is no suggestion one should go off any medication at the first sign of any dramatic improvement but rather over time gradually reduce dosages once   optimum results have been sustained.
Should any of this be of interest I suggest you Google Buteyko heath and breathing and visit an accredited practitioner in your area.   

Clinical Trials are few but here are some:
·       We conclude that the BBT may be effective in improving the quality of life and reducing the intake of inhaled reliever medication in patients with asthma. These results warrant further investigation.
·       Six months after completion of the interventions, a large majority of subjects in each group displayed control of their asthma with the additional benefit of reduction in inhaled corticosteroid use in the Buteyko group. The Buteyko technique, an established and widely recognised intervention, or an intensive programme delivered by a chest physiotherapist appear to provide additional benefit for adult patients with asthma who are being treated with inhaled corticosteroid.
·       Buteyko's theory relating to carbon dioxide levels and airway calibre is an attractive one, and has some basis in evidence from experimental studies. However, it is not known whether altering breathing patterns can raise carbon dioxide levels significantly, and there is currently insufficient evidence to confirm that this is the mechanism behind any effect that BBT may exert. Further research is necessary to establish unequivocally whether BBT is effective, and if so, how it may work.
  However, outcomes that were reported from individual trials do show that breathing retraining may have a role in the treatment and management of asthma. Further large-scale trials using breathing retraining techniques in asthma are required to address this important issue.


♥ N o v a said...

Very interesting. I have a close friend who has sleep apnea, and he requires the use of a CPAP machine in order to sleep and properly breathe at night. He doesn't have asthma, though, but it sounds like buteyko might be helpful for him.

Certain medicinal herbs also cure asthma. Another friend of mine had suffered from severe asthma since he was a child, and after one meeting with an Eastern herbalist who gave him a cocktail of herbal teas, was "cured." He no longer suffers from asthma attacks and no longer carries an inhaler (which he previously carried around with him everywhere).

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Nova,


Over time there is the distinct possibility your close friend would not need the machine at all and could conceivably get the best nights rest they could ever imagine,once the control pause heads up to the 40 seconds mark.

The reason for sleep apnea is because of over breathing and the dilution of carbon dioxide which paradoxically triggers a reaction to stop breathing so that the imbalance can be restored.
But the person wakes up in a panic and starts gasping for air so the vicious cycle continues. Very hard to tell someone who is gasping for breath they are over breathing. That is why a suggested response to hyperventilation is
to breathe through pursed lips, or into a paper bag which increases the amount of carbon dioxide back into your lungs, or to breath through upped hands, or to cover your mouth and try alternate nostril breathing. Another method is to gradually hold your breath for increased intervals so that that balance can be restored.

The point being a lot of this seems counter intuitive but over time the condition can be overturned by the adoption of simple natural better breathing techniques. Deep breathing oddly enough i snot helpful and can be counter productive.

Best wishes

susan said...

Having practiced the Shamatha breathing technique during meditation for a number of years I can certainly testify to the benefits, both physical and psychic, of paying attention to our breath. It's quite remarkable that most of us go through life without any thought that we could breathe in a more holistic fashion. Over the years I've also spent some time doing Pranayama breathing as well, but since I practice without instruction (or oversight) it seemed wise in consideration of my age to not get too intensely involved in processes that are said to be unsafe for novices. (I'm unlikely to live long enough to be anything other than a novice Buddhist.)

Anyway, I was fascinated to read your well written description of Buteyko breathing and to learn you've already profitted by using the technique. Goodness knows as a chorister and as a generally active man you don't need to have your life compromised by breathing difficulties.

While I have no problems breathing I think I will take your advice and begin practicing Buteyko (I've looked up their website) this very day.

All the best

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan,
Bearing in mind your prior beneficial meditative / breathing experiences I think the exercises may well add another significant enhancement. As the Buddhist Monk commented it was his hope that in sharing his experience with Buteyko, others may recognize not only the method’s profound healing capacity for physical illness, but also its powerful impact on the mind and spiritual growth.
Best wishes