Asthma is epidemic. Since the 1980s, incidence of asthma has increased 60 percent. It is especially high in children. Explanations are as varied and multiple as the suspected causes. Clearly, humans are doing something differently to spur the increase. We know that asthma is far more common in America’s urban areas than rural, is linked to inflammation and the immune system, affects developed countries much more than underdeveloped, kills about a quarter-million yearly and costs the economy billions. But finding a specific cause has proven elusive. Tokyo has far more pollution than Wellington, New Zealand but the Kiwi asthma rate is much higher. The Isle of Skye has the world’s highest incidence of asthma yet has virtually no pollution, dust mites and is extremely rural.
Simply put, asthma is the constriction of the bronchial tubes leading to the lungs. Sufferers often describe an asthma attack feels like trying to breathe through a straw. An attack can be fatal. The standard medical intervention for chronic asthma is drugs, drugs and more drugs even though modern medicine admits ignorance of what causes asthma. It is not uncommon for an asthmatic to use several prescriptions. There is virtually no other approach taken by conventional American medicine, even though some of the drugs prescribed for asthma can actually cause an asthma attack. Fortunately, as with all medical conditions, there are alternatives. The Buteyko breathing method is one.
Breathe less to breathe better. Konstantin Buteyko was a medical doctor in Russia in the mid-Twentieth Century. Through happenstance and personal healing, he discovered that the practice of shallow breathing is more natural and beneficial to human wellness than deep breathing.
When we breathe incorrectly and too deeply, a state of chronic hyperventilation as Buteyko identified it, our physiological imbalance leads to a number of physical dysfunctions.
Buteyko first used his shallow-breathing technique on himself and saw immediate benefit. Having been diagnosed with morbid hypertension, he cured himself eventually by retraining his breathing. He turned his attention — and his technique — to patients in the pulmonary ward at the hospital where he practiced.
Buteyko taught his shallow-breathing method to asthma patients in his clinics in Russia and his theories bore out: over-oxygenating the lungs causes carbon dioxide imbalance and starts a cycle known as the Bohr Effect. When the oxygen/carbon dioxide balance in the body swings toward hyperventilation, the pH of the body changes and a lot of things go out of whack. The immune system becomes more vulnerable, inflammation rages, metabolic rate vacillates, blood vessels and bronchia constrict. None of those are good things and they are all associated with a multitude of diseases. However, using his method, Buteyko’s patients endured far fewer asthmatic episodes.
A study funded by the Australian Association of Asthma Foundations found that asthmatics practicing the Buteyko method for only six weeks decreased bronchodilator medicine by 90 percent. Other studies found similar results.
The vicious cycle. O2/CO2 imbalance can lead to acidosis, which triggers hyperventilation. Conversely, hyperventilation can lead to O2/CO2 imbalance. It’s a cycle of imbalance and dysfunction. One or more of the many causes has to be addressed in order to begin a path back to balance. Many behavior and lifestyle choices we make play into the equation.
Influences as seemingly disparate as junk food, sleep patterns and medications contribute to the imbalance. For example, processed foods most often contain ingredients that induce inflammation and tip the pH balance of the body toward the acidic. That means the body will crave more oxygen and deeper breaths ensue, completing the hyperventilation cycle. Besides water, raw fruits and vegetables impact breathing the least. Processed, high protein and gluten foods have the greatest adverse effect on breathing.
Proper breathing techniques have been part of healing arts for millennia. Pranayama teaches that proper breathing is at the core of any yoga practice. Meditation leads to slow and gentle breathing. Chinese medicine recognizes the role breath and breathing play in health and physiological balance. Without proper breathing, physical imbalance leads to disease. It’s plain and simple.
Isn’t breathing natural already? You’d think humans know how to breathe correctly, wouldn’t you? Well, left to our own devices and unaffected by the modern world around us, it might be natural. But our modern world is anything but natural. Industrial man is impacted by a host of stimulants, both mental and physical, that alter our behavioral patterns, including breath. And like the effect of junk food, behaviors can alter our breathing patterns, too.
Of all the behaviors that can alter acid balance and trigger the complex of symptoms and diseases it brings, the most persistent thing we do, about 12 to 16 times a minute, is breathe. Making sure our breathing is correct can then have the greatest impact.
The Buteyko Method teaches that above all, breathing should be through the nostrils and not the mouth. Nasal breathing warms and cleans the air and contributes nitrous oxide, natural relaxant. Next, lowering the volume of each breath is initiated. Mental relaxation is a third component. Find out more at breathingcenter.com.
Heartland Healing is a New Age polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Visit HeartlandHealing.com for more information.