CONTINUING THE PHILOSOPHY OF REGINALD O. KAPP

9.53 The Buteyko Method of Slower Breathing for Better Health

by John Kapp                                         5.9.10
johnkapp@btinternet.com           01273 417997


Contents

1 Abstract
2 Recommendation
3 History of the Buteyko method
4 The science behind the method
5 Could overbreathing be the root cause of long term conditions?
6 Overbreathing reduces (not increases) the oxygen in the cells
7 The disease cycle
8 The Buteyko Method – less is more
9 My reactions to the Buteyko exercise
10 The results of doing the course and the exercise
11 The control pause to measure our breathing fitness
12 How to attain and maintain good health
13 Conclusion– Buteyko method should be provided on the NHS
14 References

Appendix: Proforma practice record for Buteyko exercise

1 Abstract
In the 1960’s Buteyko discovered that overbreathing and hyperventilation, as most people do, washes out carbon dioxide in our blood, resulting in oxygen starvation in our cells, including brain cells, and sickness of all kinds. He developed a method of slow breathing which enables anyone who learns it to cure themselves of any health condition. The essence of the method is to watch our breathing, breath only through our nose, and breath less. This enables our cells to receive the oxygen they need to be healthy and function well.

2 Recommendation

To improve public health, and increase national productivity, the Buteyko method of slow breathing should be integrated into conventional medical practice, the Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course, teacher training for use in schools and colleges, commerce and industry.

3 History of the Buteyko method
Konstantin Buteko was born in Ukraine in 1923. He suffered from a breathing disorder from which people tend to die early. His first job as a scientist was to measure the breathing of people dying, which gave him the knowledge he needed to cure himself of his condition. In 1950 he was put in charge of a scientific research team investigating breathing disorders. He was able to test whether the method that worked on himself also worked on other patients. He found that it did, and that everybody (100%) of those who practiced it became permanently cured of whatever condition they suffered.

He published his results in 1960, expecting that his colleagues and those in authority over him would be pleased. On the contrary, they felt threatened that with his method everybody would cure themselves, and put them out of business. The minister set him up to meet the challenge of curing 80%, (36) out of 46 ‘incurable’ patients. In 1968 all 46 (100%) were in fact cured, but instead of being acclaimed, he and his team were sacked and his laboratory disbanded. However the work he started continued, and eventually spread to the west. Buteko was poisoned and died in 2003 at the age of 80.

Sasha Stameski (who cured his own leukaemia with the method) and Christopher Drake (1) brought the method to Europe in the 1990s, and are now promoting it throughout the world. The method is best known as a remedy for asthma (now suffered by 1 in 10 children in UK) but anyone with any health condition can benefit from the method. To date Christopher has treated 14,000 patients with a huge variety and severity of conditions with remarkably good results.

The theory is simple to learn, but people need help and support to maintain the practice, which is difficult because it is unpleasant. Christopher Drake has trained practitioners (such as Martha Roe) (2) to run 1 week courses of 5 consecutive days of 2 hours per day. During the course she trains participants how to do the 20 minute exercise. For homework we are supposed to do the exercise three times per day (on waking, before lunch, before bed.) The body reacts immeditatly with clearing (healing) reactions, which can make us feel sick. We may need advice over the phone to cope with these. During these sessions, Martha gets through to Christopher by Skype and he gives personal advice to participants.

4 The science behind the method
The physical energy that our body needs to function and move is created by the burning of carbohydrates (sugar) with oxygen in our muscles, to form carbon dioxide and water. The air we breathe contains about 77% nitrogen, 23% oxygen and 0.3% carbon dioxide. Our in-breath brings oxygen into our lungs, which is absorbed into our blood. Our out breath removes carbon dioxide and water vapour.

For optimal health, the partial pressure of carbon dioxide should remain constant at in our blood at 40 mm of mercury (40 mbar) This is about 200 times higher than it is in the air. This is the value at which our metabolism and physiology works best. Overbreathing and hyperventilation is breathing through our mouth as panting, or ‘panic’ breathing fast into our chest. This ‘washes out’ the carbon dioxide, reducing it to a partial pressure of about half the optimal, of around 20 mm of mercury. Our metabolism and physiology is seriously impaired, and this causes health problems if it is done habitually for long periods.

When we are busily active, fetching, carrying and working, (as everyone did in the old days before labour saving devices) we generate plenty of carbon dioxide to maintain this optimum level. However, when we are at rest we are not burning much sugar or producing much carbon dioxide. To maintain the optimum level, we only need to breathe 4 litres of air per minute. As our lung capacity is about 4 litres, our optimal rate of breathing at rest is 1 full breath per minute.

Yogis spend years practicing breathing, and some can achieve that slow rate of 1 breath per minute at rest. When we are walking, or normally actively busy on our feet, our rate of breathing about 14 breaths per minute, and we take a new breath cycle every 4 seconds. Out of habit, we tend to continue to breathe at this rate when we rest. Although these are shallow breaths, most of us are probably overbreathing, which means more than we need, and washing out the carbon dioxide pressure to below 40 mm of mercury.

If we are hyperventilating habitually with panting or panic breathing through our mouth, (as many people are) we probably washing out the carbon dioxide pressure to around 20 mm of mercury, half the optimum value, which starves our cells, including our brain cells, of oxygen. For example, imbeciles and morons tend to breathe through permanently gaping mouths, resulting in their brain cells being permanently starved of oxygen, inhibiting the development of their intelligence.

5 Could overbreathing be the root cause of long term conditions?
A third of the adult population - 17 million in UK have been diagnosed as having a ‘long term condition.’ such as arthritis and bad back (9 million) depression (6 million) diabetes (2 million) Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS 2 million) high blood pressure (hypertension 2 million) (There is some double counting as some have more than 1 condition)

As many people again have unpleasant symptoms which are medically unexplained, so undiagnosed, which frustrates patients and clinicians alike. They are estimated to cost the NHS around £9 billion per annum. In the USA Barsky estimated that the cost of medically unexplained and functional illness is $256 billion pa.

A conference at the Royal Society of Medicine ‘Into this breathing world’ on 6.10.08 (3) addressed this problem. The lead speaker was British GP Dr David Beales (4) who reckons that 2 out of every 3 patients he sees is overbreathing. Like Buteyko, he gets spectacular results by making his patients aware of what they are doing wrong. He believes that the chronic sickness in around half the population could be caused by overbreathing.

The number of people with long term conditions is rising all the time, despite the doubling of the amount of public money spent on the NHS in real terms since 1997. I believe that the cause of this increase is that more people are now overbreathing, as they are more stressed than they were in 1997 by the war on terror. Stress causes adrenaline reactions, which induce panic reactions, such as panting through our mouths, to be ready for fight or flight.

People have probably always done this, but in the old days we got away with it without serious health problems because we only did it for short periods. Strenuous activity was required at other times of the day, because there was always water to fetch and wood to collect. Nowadays only manual workers and housewives have the active lifestyles for which our bodies were designed.

Overbreathing damages our health if we do habitually for long periods. An increasing number of people today do just this, having sedentary jobs, and taking too little exercise.

6 Overbreathing reduces (not increases) the oxygen in the cells
The oxygen molecules in our lungs attach to haemoglobin in our red blood cells, and are transported round our arterial system to every cell in our body so that they can function. However, in what is known as the ‘Bohr effect’, the oxygen molecules cannot transfer from the haemoglobin to the cells unless the partial pressure of carbon dioxide is around 40 millimetres of mercury (40 mbar) Overbreathing washes out the carbon dioxide so the cells do not receive enough oxygen for normal functional activity or good health.

If our cells are under-oxygenated, we feel as if we are firing on less that 4 cylinders, so we lack energy, and feel ‘tired all the time’ (TATT) These are the typical symptoms of ME and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) This under-oxygenation also prejudices the functioning of every system in our body, including the following:
• our lungs (causing wheeziness and asthma)
• our arterial system (causing high blood pressure, strokes, heart disease)
• our digestion, (causing Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Crone’s disease diabetes)
• the acidity of our body (causing osteoporosis)
• our immune system, (causing colds, flu, cancer)
• our blood supply to our brain (causing headaches, mental health problems, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Alzeimers)
• our reproduction system (causing infertility)
• the blood supply to our joints (causing the inflammatory reaction and pain of arthritis and rheumatism)

7 The disease cycle
The mystics advocated watching the breath, (such as Patanjali, calling it ‘pranayama’ in the yoga sutras, 5,000 years ago, and the Buddha, calling it ‘vipassana’, 2,500 years ago) The breath is the bridge between the mind and the body, through which we can control our body through our mind.

The disease cycle starts with the emotions. Carl Jung said: Touch an emotional complex and the breathing changes…….Each breath has an emotional signature. Stress does this. Dr David Beales describes the breath as the leader of the limbic system orchestra, from which the organs of the body take their cue. Good breathing creates good body chemistry, and bad breathing creates bad body chemistry and dis-ease.

Dis-ease starts with perceived threats to our security - stress. As a survival mechanism against rare physical danger (such as meeting a predator) our emotional brain and sympathetic nervous system is programmed with 200,000 year old software to react immediately with the adrenaline reaction of fight/flight.

To prepare the body for the strenuous action required, our breathing automatically changes to fast and shallow panting into the top of our chest through our mouth, - overbreathing. We are designed to discharge this adrenaline with fighting or running. When the stressor has gone, it takes our breathing and nervous system at least 10 minutes to recover.

However, today’s stressors are typically parking fines, tax demands, messages on mobile phones from boss, partner, news bulletins, and tannoyed announcements such as: ‘Do not leave luggage unattended’. We do not take the violent action needed to discharge the adrenaline. These stressors are not rare. In many peoples’ lives they follow each other almost continuously, without sufficient recovery time to calm down afterwards. We are therefore in the panic reaction of fight or flight almost all the time, so overbreathing through our mouth becomes habitual.

Our body does not have a chance to recover between stressors, which leads to a vicious spiral - the worse we breathe, the worse our health becomes, so the worse we breathe, and so on….. Medication, although it relieves symptoms, makes matters worse in the long run by removing our incentive to reduce our stress by changing our lifestyle, and adding chemical stressors which have to be eliminated in our liver and kidneys, which eventually may not be able to cope.

Low carbon dioxide levels (20 mm of mercury) in the blood causes respiratory alkalosis (pH above 7.45 cf normal 7.4) and hypocapnia. This results in contraction of the smooth muscles around air tubes (bronchae) and small blood vessels, (capilliaries) leading to asthma in the lungs, and hypertension (high blood pressure) in the arterial system. Eventually this leads to heart attacks and strokes. These tend to occur mostly in the early morning, between 3 and 5 am, after we have been asleep and panic breathing through our mouths for many hours without being aware of it.

Hypocapnia also leads to renal compensation in the kidneys, releasing bicarbonates in an attempt to restore the body’s ph to normal acidity (7.35-7.4). This interferes with calcium deposition, producing osteoporosis in our bones, said to be suffered by 1:3 elderly women and 1:8 elderly men.

We all naturally think that the more we breathe the more oxygen we get, but Buteyko (and mystics before him) discovered that the opposite is the case. The Buteyko method is counter intuitive to common sense, and works by the paradox ‘less is more’. Our cells get more oxygen and function better if we breathe less.

8 The Buteyko Method – less is more
The general rules are simple:
a) Breath only through our nose, never through our mouth.
If we are habitual mouth breathers, (as many of us are) we need to tape (I use elastoplast) our mouth closed when we sleep, so that we never inadvertently pant through our mouth. Many people automatically pant through the mouth while exerting themselves physically (such as jogging, cycling) Ask a friend or partner to check and remind us if we do. We may need to limit our physical exertion to what we can do when only breathing through our nose.

b) Minimise our volume of breathing.
At rest our optimal volume of breathing should be about one lungful per minute. Practice watching our breath at all times (meditation classes teach this) and minimise it. Do a Buteyko breathing course, which teaches the method in 5 sessions of 2.5 hours, with extramural support, and do the following exercise.

c) The Buteyko exercise to reprogrammed our respiratory
This exercise was designed by Buteyko for hyperventilators and chronic overbreathers. It takes 20 minutes, and should be done 4 times per day, on rising, before lunch, before tea, before bed, according to the following formula, shown on table 1

TABLE 1 BUTEYKO EXERCISE FORMULA

Time, mins

 

VSB

Break

0

Pulse, CP

3 mins

1 min

5

M1 = CP + N

3 mins

1 min

10

M2 = CP + 2N

3 mins

1 min

15

M3 = CP + 4N or absolute max.

3 mins

1 min

20

CP, pulse

 

 

Abbreviations Code:
CP = control pause. After a minute’s normal breathing, we breath out and hold our nose, until we get the first impulse to breathe, which may be a strong wish to inhale (sucking) or a spasm in the diaphragm.
VSB = Very Shallow Breathing, focussing on nostrils, so that we are suffering mild air hunger.
MP1 = maximum pause 1, holding our nose against the clock for the time given
MP2 = maximum pause 2, holding our nose against the clock for the time given
MP3 = maximum pause3, holding our nose against the clock for the time given, or more, until we cannot bear to hold it any longer.
N = CP/4 (approximately a quarter of the control pause)
Break = normal breathing for 1 minute to allow our nervous system to recover.

We take our pulse before and after the exercise to check the functioning of our nervous system. This is to avoid stressing it too much, indicated by a racing pulse, which means that we should reduce it.

d) Very Shallow Breathing - Buteyko's ‘5 Fingers’ as a reminder
1.Watch the breathing
2.Reduce the breathing
3.Find the air hunger
4.Maintain the air hunger 5. Relax the belly (diaphragm)

The ‘very shallow breathing’ (VSB) exercise trains our nervous system not to panic and spasm unnecessarily soon. We do this by voluntarily inducing a little ‘air hunger’, which is the mild wish to breath more. We may have (often unconscious) memories of panicking because we were ducked under water in swimming pools as children, and perhaps past life memories of being suffocated, hanged, or drowned. These memories tend to provoke a panic reaction in our nervous system, with increasingly violent spasms. The respiratory reflex is the strongest reflex in the body. We become ‘brain dead’ if our brain cells are deprived of oxygen for 10 minutes, so our survival depend on it.

e) Masochism, self-torture
The exercise is very unpleasant, because we are inducing a feeling of suffocation, which is masochism. However, the self-torture is only for about half a minute, during which time we reassure ourselves that we can restore our breathing to normal whenever we want. The resulting feeling of wellbeing and permanently better health makes it worthwhile to persevere. For good health we should incorporate the practice of very shallow breathing into our daily life, at any time of the day, such as waiting in a queue, on a bus, in a meeting.

f) Maintenance
I confess to dreading the exercise because it was so unpleasant. However, having achieved a control pause of 40 I have found that I can maintain it with without the masochistic MP3, by just doing very shallow breathing (VSB) every day, which is not unpleasant.

9 My reactions to the Buteyko exercise
This exercise was scientifically designed by Buteyko after working with thousands of people over many decades. It gives the optimum conditions to safely improve our breathing by reprogramming our respiratory system. We get rapid results, as most people doubling in the length of their control pause by the end of the week, and feel better in their body.

The 3 ‘maximum’ pauses are carefully calibrated to be about 25%, 50% and 100% more than our control pause. We should stretch our nervous system gently, and not overwhelm it. Overdoing the maximums at first is counter-productive, as it can create a panic reaction. Until we are confident that we can stay in control of ourselves, we should stick to the time for MP3 given by the formula. Then we should aim to get it up to 2 minutes.

The feelings arising in me during the maximum pauses are as follows. After the first impulse to breath (at the control pause) the feeling of suffocation gets increasingly worse. The respiratory reflex causes the breathing muscles, (particularly the diaphragm) to go into spasm, like ‘butterflies in the stomach’. These get increasingly strong and unpleasant, until they become so highly distressing that I cannot hold my nose any longer. I have wet myself in this attempt, so now remember to empty my bladder before doing the exercise.

I always get a hot flush, and want to remove clothing to cool down. This is because the blood vessels dilate. I have met people with cold hands and feet, and wonder whether they could cure themselves of this with very shallow breathing (VSB)

On releasing our nose and breathing in again, we all tend to pant, and it is helpful to measure our recovery time after release. This tends to get quicker with practice. Seeing these improvements gives us confidence that we are reprogramming our nervous system, so that the new reduced breathing becomes habitual, and therefore permanent, and so are the health benefits.

10 The results of doing the course and the exercise
Most of us (there were 12) in my course doubled our control and maximum pauses by the end of the week. At the low end were those who went from a control pause of 7 to 15. At the high end, another man and I went from 20 to 40. Many of those at the low end needed the help of the course tutor on the phone to cope with their clearing (healing) reactions, which caused them to feel sick or ill. The benefit of doing this masochistic Buteyko mentioned is to get improvements in our general health, which included the following:

a) More energy, because our cells are getting more oxygen. This was the experience of nearly all of us.

b) Better elimination. such as more regular and easier bowel movements. Our urine sometimes darkens in colour, indicating the elimination of toxins. This was my experience.

c) Loss of appetite, and corresponding spontaneous loss of weight, as our body no longer needs so much fat in which to store the toxins which have been eliminated. (I lost 10 lbs in 2 weeks without dieting, but have put 5 lbs back on since)

After a month of regular practice, 2 of us achieved control pauses of 35-50 seconds and maximum MP£ pauses of 100-120 seconds (2 minutes) This should not be regarded as anything exceptional, because with intensive training divers can hold their breath for 5 minutes, By doing the Buteyko method we are not trying to break any records, nor taking ourselves anywhere near extreme or dangerous limits. Much of society’s problems stem from having becoming too pain-averse, too precious with ourselves, and too ready to take medication, which tend to make matter worse if we take it for more than a day or two.

11 The control pause to measure our breathing fitness
Table 2 calibrates our breathing fitness with typical scores for control pause (CP - to the first impulse to breath) and to the third maximum pause (MP3 - when we cannot hold our nose any longer):

TABLE 2 CORRELATION BETWEEN OVERBREATHERS, CONTROL PAUSE AND MAXIMUM PAUSE

Condition

Control pause
CP in seconds

3rd Maximum pause
MP3 in seconds

Chronic hyperventilators

5

10

Chronic overbreathers

10

20

Normal overbreathers

20

40

Moderate breathing fitness

30

60

Good breathing fitness

40

80

Very good breating fitness

50

100

Excellent breathing fitness

60

120

We can progress in health by increasing our control and maximum pauses by doing the Buteyko exercise, as described above.

12 How to attain and maintain good health
I was taught as a child to stop a fight by telling the protagonists to ‘take 3 deep breaths’. The Buteyko method takes that idea further to tell us to live our lives always taking three deep breaths through our nose, and to slow them down – slow breathing. For good health this should be combined with slow eating of slow food without distractions of reading, radio, TV, talking, for better digestion. When we feel in a bad mood, the first action is to stop panting and slow down our breathing. This has an instant beneficial effect on our feeling of wellbeing, so should be integrated into our way of life.

For optimum health, the Buteyko approach to breathing should be incorporated into everything we do in life, particularly our exercise and meditation practice. Table 3 can be used as a guide. Slow, meditative walking can be done to the tick of a clock, or to our heart beat. Normal walking at 120 paces to the minute can be timed to a marching song, like Colonel Bogey, which we sing to ourself under our breath. The main point is to breath deep into our belly with our diaphragm, which the strongest muscle in our body.

TABLE 3 OPTIMUM BREATHING RATES WHEN EXERCISING

Breaths per minute

Breath cycle time in seconds

Remarks

1

60

Biological necessity when at rest (yogis may be able to achieve this after years of practice)

2

30

Aim for this when at rest and in sitting meditation

3

20

 

4

15

Aim for this when walking very slowly (1 step per second) and in walking meditation

5

12

 

6

10

 

10

6

Aim for this when walking (2 paces per second) downhill

15

4

Aim for this when walking on the level

20

3

 

30

2

Aim for this when walking uphill

60

1

Aim for this when walking up a long flight of stairs and doing peaking aerobic exercise

13 Conclusion– Buteyko method should be provided on the NHS
The 17 million with long term conditions, and those with medically unexplained symptoms for whom their tests are normal, could all improve their health if they knew about the Buteyko method, so it should become part of orthodox, mainstream medical science. It should be taught at medical school to doctors, who would pass the theory on to their patients, and refer those with the lowest control pause to do a Buteyko course free on the NHS. It should also be taught to teachers, to pass it on to their pupils to improve their health and performance. The Buteyko approach should be integrated into the Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course (5) This teaches the meditative practice of watching the breath, which should be done with the intent of slowing it down to get more oxygen to the cells.

These measures could solve the present crisis in the NHS, and improve the health of the nation, and ultimately save perhaps half of the total cost of the NHS. It could also dramatically reduce the numbers and cost of workers off sick and on benefit, and the needless suffering of millions of us.

14 References
1 Christopher Drake’s website www.learnbuteyko.co.uk
2 Martha Roe, who leads Buteyko method groups in Sussex, contact her at 01273 479917 Martha@learnbuteyko.com
3 See conference report ‘Into this Breathing World’ 6.10.08 (paper 9.33 of www.reginaldkapp.org)
4 Dr David Beales has developed a ‘capnotrainer’ device and method of measuring the carbon dioxide in the outgoing breath and showing it on a laptop computer, so that the patient can monitor their progress. He can be contacted on dbeales@heartsandminds.fsnet.co.uk
5 Paper ‘Transforming Mental Health by the Mass-Provision of the MBCT course’ by John Kapp, paper 9.54 of www.reginaldkapp.org

Appendix       Proforma practice record for Buteyko exercise

Day.................... Date...................

Time

Item

Time secs

Recovery Time secs

Comments

 

pulse

 

 

 

 

CP

 

 

 

 

MP1

 

 

 

 

MP2

 

 

 

 

MP3

 

 

 

 

CP

 

 

 

 

pulse

 

 

 

Day.................... Date...................

Time

Item

Time secs

Recovery Time secs

Comments

 

pulse

 

 

 

 

CP

 

 

 

 

MP1

 

 

 

 

MP2

 

 

 

 

MP3

 

 

 

 

CP

 

 

 

 

pulse

 

 

 

Day.................... Date...................

Time

Item

Time secs

Recovery Time secs

Comments

 

pulse

 

 

 

 

CP

 

 

 

 

MP1

 

 

 

 

MP2

 

 

 

 

MP3

 

 

 

 

CP

 

 

 

 

pulse

 

 

 

Day.................... Date...................

Time

Item

Time secs

Recovery Time secs

Comments

 

pulse

 

 

 

 

CP

 

 

 

 

MP1

 

 

 

 

MP2

 

 

 

 

MP3

 

 

 

 

CP

 

 

 

 

pulse

 

 

 

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