Breathe the Life Back In! Buteyko!

By now, you will all know we have a ‘Food as Medicine’ Philosophy. There’s no truer statement, and while a nourishing diet and rocking gut health underpin every aspect of wellbeing, no one intervention is a panacea! Often the struggles we have with getting well are affected by juggling so many balls and piecing all the puzzle pieces together.

One of the very big puzzle pieces is how you breathe.

In this blog, I am going to debunk some myths about breathing, and hope to motivate you to breathe less on a regular basis!

Sound confusing or silly?

It’s not!

Let’s start at the start.

Breathing…we do it every minute of every day. It matters that we do it properly!

In order to have a respiratory system that works for you, cardiovascular health, a balanced nervous system, proper digestion, and protection against chronic disease, you will want to be paying attention to your breathing. Yes, the way you breathe influences these domains of health and so many more.

In modern society, with our exposure to chronic stressors, blue light, toxins and chemicals, gut infections, processed foods, and just a crazily-paced society, one of the first things we do is respond by developing aberrant breathing patterns. From an anthropological perspective this is how we used to exist:

  • 90% of our time in a state of parasympathetic dominant relaxation
  • Shallow breathing with small air volumes
  • Nose breathing
  • Intense short periods of high volume, deep, fast breathing

Compare this to the modern western world where we are now:

  • Large percentages of time in sympathetic dominant drive, with excessive stressors, physical and emotional
  • High breathing volume on a daily basis
  • High prevalence of mouth breathing
  • Rare periods of low volume relaxed breathing

Why is This Important?

You may wonder why that even matters, and I would love to expand on this for you now.

In a nutshell, our body is designed to have a balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen. When the balance is correct, our blood vessels are relaxed, our digestive organs are working properly, our ileocecal valve and esophageal sphincters are toned and working well, our sinus and respiratory tract are smooth and non inflamed, we have enhanced function of our immune system and so so much more! What has happened, and has been studied intensively since the 1940’s is the effect of over breathing on our body. Here’s a rundown:

Constantine Buteyko was a Russian medical doctor with uncontrolled hypertension, he was nonresponsive to the best modern medicine had to offer and went out in search of a solution on his own. His research led him to observe a consistent abnormal breathing pattern, associated with over breathing, in all of his hypertensive patients. This is where the rabbit hole opened up and Dr Buteyko jumped in. Was over-breathing the cause or the effect?

His observations revealed many health conditions associated with over-breathing including asthma. Fast forward to the last 1980’s and Buteyko was officially announced to be the most effective, and drug free treatment for asthma. 

Further research on breathing revealed that people with chronic health conditions breathe more than 2-3 times the volume of well people and some amazing facts about the effects of blood gases on your body. Here is a snippet for you:

Carbon Dioxide: Not a waste Gas, but a key gas in your overall wellbeing.

Over breathing causes the excess removal of carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon dioxide has so many important functions:

  • It is responsible for delivery of oxygen to your tissues, lower CO2 means less oxygen to the cells in your body (Bohr effect)
  • It is responsible for relaxing blood vessels, this means better blood pressure control 
  • It relaxes smooth muscle in the whole body including your lungs (dilates airways), bowel, gallbladder and oesophagus
  • Tones sphincters such as the oesophageal sphincter
  • Activates of the relaxation system in your body (the parasympathetic nervous system), this is key for repair, rebuilding, and healing including proper sleep, fertility and digestion

So you can see the importance of keeping a lid on excess breathing. Over time, as you chronically over breathe, your brain accepts a new, lower set point of CO2, and the rules are changed, now you find yourself over breathing because your brain is working to a lower level - you will literally breathe out more until your CO2 is at the level your brain is setting for your body.

This is something you can fix, without drugs, without recurring treatment, and in your own home. I think that is perhaps what I love most about the Buteyko Breathing Technique, it empowers you with the knowledge to take control of your respiratory, and whole body health.

Assess whether you are an over breather.

Over breathing almost always happens in the presence of mouth breathing. Our nose naturally limits the amount of air volume we can move in and out each minute - not so with your mouth.

Here are some top signs and symptoms that you are over breathing or mouth breathing:

  • Sighing
  • Yawning
  • Mouth breathing
  • Taking large breaths prior to talking
  • Upper chest movement while breathing
  • Sniffing
  • Breath-holding
  • Audible breathing
  • Effortful breathing
  • Waking with a dry mouth

Normal breathing volume is said to be 4-6L of air per minute at rest and over breathers can consume in excess of 10L of air per minute at rest. This can dramatically shift your oxygen and carbon dioxide levels and cause disease.

And finally, what causes dysfunctional breathing and over-breathing? All of the modern world stressors mentioned above including:

  • Processed foods 
  • Lack of exercise
  • Excessive talking
  • Stress - physical and emotional
  • The habit of taking big breaths (a modern belief that this is good)
  • Excess heat (high temp in your environment)
  • Asthma
  • Mouth breathing

Let's talk a little about stress...

When we experience stress, we have consistent alterations in our breathing. We breathe faster, sigh more, breathe with our upper chest, mouth breathe and take deeper breaths. 

Remember...this is bi-directional...

You can alter your breathing to alleviate stress, just as much as you can create a sense of stress with dysfunctional breathing. 

The Buteyko breathing techniques you will learn target stress reduction long term.

Working on your breath, reducing breathing volume, restoring nasal breathing can restore and repair your stressed life and has been shown to improve the following conditions:

  • Sleep apnea
  • Snoring
  • Gut Health
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Asthma
  • Sinus and allergic conditions such as rhinitis and post nasal drip
  • Hypertension
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue

There is a world of information out there on improving your health. This is of the key aspects of restoring your wellbeing through a core foundational function in your body! Breathing! 

If you would like to learn Buteyko, we run a 3 week online and coached training course to teach you all you need to know about how to breath. Simply click here.

Kylie is our Certified Buteyko Breathing Practitioner and will run you through the course. Kylie is extremely passionate about Buteyko and its role for overall health and wellbeing. She has personally seen the benefits from incorporating Buteyko Breathing methods in her everyday life!