Breathing. We’ve done it from the moment of birth. It gives us life. But breathing does more than provide oxygen for our lungs. It can ground us, heal us, restore us, rebalance us. Breathing is the most underutilized tool in our health care toolbox, and understanding how to integrate focused breathing into your daily life can be powerful.
What if I told you that everything you think you know about breathing is wrong?
As an accredited Buteyko breathing practitioner, I have learned how to alter and manipulate our breathing to connect, alleviate and transform. Ukrainian Dr. Konstantin Buteyko developed this method in 1957.
What is the difference between nose and mouth breathing?
The normal mode of human breathing is in and out through the nose. The nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses produce a gas called nitric oxide. As we draw in each breath through the nose, that breath carries nitric oxide into the lungs. There it performs a number of important roles, including the sterilization of incoming air, the opening of the airways, and improved gas exchange from the lungs to the blood known as “ventilation-perfusion.”
To activate the diaphragm, it is necessary to breathe only through the nose. Mouth breathing causes greater activation of the accessory scalene and sternocleidomastoid muscles in the neck. Mouth breathing is an inefficient way to breathe and reduces oxygen uptake into the blood and delivery to the cells, activates the stress response due to faster breathing, and disturbs sleep.
How does mouth breathing affect children?
Approximately 50 percent of studied children persistently breathe through their mouth. A myriad of evidence shows that children who habitually mouth breathe experience lower quality life, lower quality sleep, higher risk of learning and speech difficulties, and poor growth of the jaw and face. A growing child should have their lips together with their tongue resting on the roof of the mouth. With the tongue in the correct resting posture, the jaws develop into a wide U shape, helping to ensure a wider facial structure, straight teeth, and good airways. If the child is breathing through his or her mouth, the tongue rests midway or on the floor of the mouth, resulting in reduced development of the face and airways and sometimes in crooked teeth.
What is the essence of the Buteyko breathing method?
Similar to all breathing techniques, the Buteyko method involves calming down the nervous system and relaxing muscular tension. However, the Buteyko method improves upon common breathing techniques to help patients normalize low CO2 levels in their lungs to alleviate health conditions like asthma and bronchospasms, obstructive sleep apnea, allergies, panic attacks, snoring, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and insomnia. This type of deep, effective nasal breathing opens up your airways to promote lung health, boost the immune system and support metabolic processes.
What should I be aware of when I practice Buteyko breathing?
Before practicing Buteyko breathing, you should be aware of a few key things. You can remember this using PAST:
Firstly, before you begin, ensure you have the correct posture. As you will be doing diaphragmatic breathing, having poor posture will compress your diaphragm, increase muscular tension and increase your breathing volume – the opposite of what we intend to achieve! Ultimately, poor posture interferes with your ability to get slow, deep breaths. Correct posture involves sitting up straight with both feet under your chair in the “horse rider” position at the edge of your chair with your back straight and knees lower than your hips.
Once your posture is adjusted, your next task is to become aware and mindful of your breathing. This involves connecting to your breath, listening to it, feeling it. Your breath is your life force, but we so often disconnect from it, making us feel distracted, stressed and imbalanced. When you become aware of your breath, you notice patterns in how you breathe: do you take quick, shallow breaths? Do you mouth breathe? Do you take large inhalations that move your whole body? Noticing your breathing habits is the first step in understanding how you can adjust them to receive the most benefits from practicing the Buteyko breathing technique.
To increase blood flow and oxygen delivery to the tissues, breathing should slow down so that less air enters the body. A key sign that you are successfully slowing down your breathing is that you will experience air hunger. Air hunger is a sensation of not having enough air, which increases blood flow and body temperature, promoting total body relaxation. Buteyko practitioners refer to this breathing style as the “LSD” style – low, slow and deep.
Tolerable Air Hunger
When you breathe slow and low, you will feel relaxed yet suffocating, as if you would like to take a deep breath of air. The air hunger sensation increases blood flow and body temperature, promoting total body relaxation.
Want to give it a go?
If your interest is spiked and you want to give it a go, here are some basic exercises you can do. Monitor how you feel and any changes in your breathing.
1. Control Pause – Comfortable Breath Hold Time
The control pause involves holding your breath after exhalation. To measure the extent of your relative breathing volume, use a simple breath hold test. The control pause will provide you measurable daily feedback on your symptoms and, more importantly, your progress. It measures the length of time you can comfortably hold your breath, which will improve the more you practice.
2. Nasal Breath
With your lips together, breathe through your nose. Inhale for four seconds, exhale for six seconds. This slows down your nervous system and replenishes oxygen in the body.
3. Decongest the Nose
Normalize and calm your breathing. Take a small breath (two seconds) in through your nose, if possible, and a small breath out (three seconds). If you can’t take a breath in through your nose, take a tiny breath in through the corner of your mouth. Pinch your nose and hold your breath. Keep your mouth closed. Gently nod your head or sway your body until you feel that you cannot hold your breath any longer. (Hold your nose until you feel a relatively strong need for air). When you need to breathe in, let go of your nose and inhale and exhale gently through it with your mouth closed. Continue to do this exercise until you can breathe through your nose fully.
4. Hands on Chest and Tummy
Place one hand on your chest and one hand above your navel. Follow your breath, becoming aware of your breathing. Feel the air coming into your nostrils, the air at the back of your throat, your stomach move in and out, and your chest move up and down. Apply gentle pressure with your hands against your chest and stomach. Create a slight resistance to your breathing.
5. Small Breath Holds – for Stress, Anxiety, Cough or Wheezing
This exercise is useful to stop panic and anxiety attacks and ease the feeling of stress. It will produce results similar to the old brown paper bag routine but is a lot safer, as it allows you to maintain your oxygen levels. The objective of this exercise is to keep your breathing calm. Breathe in, breathe out. Then hold your breath for two to ﬁve seconds. Do not attempt to hold your breath for longer than this, as this will only increase your breathing and possibly aggravate your symptoms. Your maximum breath hold should be no greater than half your maximum control pause at that time. For example, if your CP is four seconds, then do a small breath hold for only two seconds. After each breath hold, breathe normally for 10 to 15 seconds. Continue to do a small breath hold followed by normal breathing for 10 to 15 seconds until your symptoms have passed.
If you would like to learn more about Buteyko breathing, I would love to work with you! As an accredited Buteyko breathing practitioner, I can help you transform your health through your breath. Whether you are experiencing anxiety, stress or asthma, I can help you improve your health just by altering the way you breathe.
Article written by Anne Menik. Follow Essential Anne at www.essentialanne.com for more on looking, loving, and living healthier. Learn more about her story on our blog, or reach out to her at email@example.com or on social media by clicking here.