The Role of Carbon Dioxide in the body
It's rather counter-intuitive, but breathing heavily actually decreases the availability of oxygen from the blood, causing oxygen starvation in the tissues.
This is because the carbon dioxide dissolved in the blood in the form of carbonic acid regulates the acidity, which must be maintained within a very narrow range to efficiently release oxygen to the tissues where it is required (The Bohr Effect, which we will cover later). Heavy breathing throws off this critical balance.
Buteyko theory predicts that too low a level of carbon dioxide in the blood starves the tissues of oxygen, resulting chronic diseases which can be improved or eliminated when the breathing abnormality is corrected.
The Buteyko Breathing Method aims to correct this by changing our breathing habits, so that we breathe less, not only while doing the exercises, but throughout the day and night. This takes time and effort but the results can be very worthwhile.
Key Principles of Buteyko Breathing
- 1Breathe only through the nose, not the mouth.
- 2Breathe low in the abdomen not high in the chest.
- 3Breathe as little as possible to support the current activity level.
- 4Condition and strengthen the muscles of the diaphragm with special exercises.
Why do we Overbreathe?
We breathe more heavily than our ancestors for several reasons tied to the modern lifestyle:
- 1We eat more, weigh more and eat more fat, animal foods and processed foods.
- 2We generally do much less aerobic exercise.
- 3We are subjected to constant stress of one sort or another.
- 4We have been told from childhood to take a deep breath - it's good for you!
How common are problems from Overbreathing?
It's hard to get an accurate estimate but these are some facts that I've gathered:
- Of all patients admitted to the Cleveland Clinic (all patients, not just those with breathing issues), 25% were diagnosed with Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
- The British National Health Service (NHS) estimated that 8% of the total population suffer from Asthma
- The NHS also estimated that 10% suffer from Dysfunctional Breathing/Hyperventilation Syndrome (DB/HVS, the current clinical term for overbreathing).
Bearing in mind that the percentages above are for clinically diagnosed cases, we can say that a far higher percentage of the population, maybe half, suffer from sub-clinical DB/HVS - a level that does not require hospitalization or formal medical treatment, but can impact the quality of life.
On top of this the incidence of DB/HVS increases with age, so the probability of an older person overbreathing is very high. The Buteyko Breathing Test and Nijmegen Questionnaire are designed to identify these cases.