Physical Health
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Overview and Key Principles (text)

Lesson 4 Chapter 2 Module 1

The Role of Carbon Dioxide in the body 

It's rather counter-intuitive, but breathing heavily actually decreases the amount of oxygen in 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.1.  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

  1. 1
    Breathe only through the nose, not the mouth.
  2. 2
    Breathe low in the abdomen not high in the chest.
  3. 3
    Breathe as little as possible to support the current activity level.
  4. 4
    Condition 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:

  1. 1
    We eat more, weigh more and eat more fat, animal foods and processed foods.
  2. 2
    We generally do much less aerobic exercise.
  3. 3
    We are subjected to constant stress of one sort or another.
  4. 4
    Condition and strengthen the muscles of the diaphragm with special exercises.
  5. 5
    We 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:

It's hard to get an accurate estimate but these are some facts that I've gathered:

  1. Of all patients admitted to the Cleveland Clinic (all patients, not just those with breathing issues), 25% were diagnosed with Dyspnea (shortness of breath)

  2. The British National Health Service (NHS) estimated that 8% of the total population suffer from Asthma

  3. 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.  

Notes and References

  1. The Bohr effect. This is covered in detail in 'The Three Gasses Involved in Respiration' lesson in Module 2.
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