A cause of fatigue, insomnia, asthma, anxiety and poor exercise tolerance. And both the cause and effect of feeling stressed!
Overbreathing is one of the biggest health issues no one talks about. Taking in excess air depletes valuable CO2, an important regulator of many functions in the body. Just the opposite of what we’ve been told, taking in too much air can be harmful. Taking in excess air through the mouth is even worse.
Overbreathing (over-oxygenating) was the fundamental question explored by Russian doctor Konstantin Buteyko from the 1950’s through the 1980’s. Working with 1000’s of asthmatics, Buteyko had amazing results by training people to manage their overbreathing.
Classic overbreathing is both obvious (“Breathe deeply! And repeat!”), and not so obvious — sighing, snoring, yawning, sniffling and gasping during exercise.
We also breathe more rapidly when highly focused or stressed. That stress response is meant to prepare us for flight or battle. (Bring on those *@$%# emails!)
But our chronically stressed modern minds can trigger rapid breathing all day, and even in our sleep.
So, what’s wrong with oxygen?
Oxygen and carbon dioxide balance like a see-saw. If one is high, the other is low. We want them balanced and managing each other.
Hemoglobin is the carrier of oxygen. CO2 instructs hemoglobin to release the oxygen into the bloodstream. If we take in excess oxygen, we deplete CO2 and oxygen is not released from the hemoglobin. It is bound and unavailable.
This cycle can continue 24 hours a day, flaring with stress or the onset of an asthma attack. It is one of the causes of an acid blood pH and has far-reaching implications in the body.
Buteyko Breathing Method
This mthod teaches us first to RELAX and calm the racing mind and tensed muscles, and secondly to SLOW AND REDUCE the breath. Taking periods of time for smaller, more shallow breaths, with a slight space in-between, can provide amazing results in minutes. Warmer hands, slower pulse, calm mind, and a general feeling of well-being.
You can sit as a meditation and consciously reduce the amount of air you breathe for a 15 minute session once or twice daily. Or, learn to focus on the breath, and choose to reduce your breathing anytime – while walking, working, dressing, etc. The goal is to experience a slight “air hunger” which builds our CO2 stores.
There are other easy breathing exercises in Buteyko books, online or in Buteyko courses.
One key to better oxygen release is: KEEP YOUR MOUTH CLOSED AT ALL TIMES. Mouth breathing, snoring and sighing disturbs the oxygen/carbon dioxide ratio, and impairs the release of nitric acid from the nose. (Read the blog post and listen to my podcast with Patrick McKeown for more on this). I tape my mouth at night with a 3M Micropore lightweight tape so I don’t breathe through my mouth.
Second key: LEARN TO CHECK IN AND OBSERVE YOUR BREATH FREQUENTLY.
Watch the breath. Follow the breath. Slow the breath… Pause between breaths, and/or take smaller breaths.
The result? You are “In The Now” and not thinking of past or future. It’s mindfullness that delivers real results to the physical and mental body.
My interview with world-reknowned Buteyko Coach Patrick McKeown discusses this in detail, and is a fascinating look at changing your body chemistry for the rest of your life. Listen here to our Interview.
I highly recommend McKeown’s books. Two of them come with a 20 minute guided breathing session on CD that I listen to on arising and as I fall asleep. I keep the remote control to my little stereo under a spare pillow in the bed. I can also listen if I wake up in the night, and it helps go back to sleep.
“Anxiety Free: Stop Worrying and Quieten Your Mind” has the CD and is available here. The other books on Asthma are on Amazon here. The “Sleep With Buteyko” book is here, and also has the CD. The books are written so that an older child can understand them too.
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