The Eastern philosophies of medicine all have breathing techniques as part of their health maintenance programmes. Evidence from all over the world shows that breathing techniques adjust the biochemistry of the body by influencing the amount of oxygen we take in and carbon dioxide that we breathe out. No part of the body functions without oxygen, and all active cells produce carbon dioxide that needs to be eliminated.
For many centuries it has been established that breathing techniques will aid meditation and relaxation as well as enhance athletic performance and activity.
There is no specific method of breathing that is best suited for all individuals because we are all unique, but basic rules hold steady.
We somehow manage to train ourselves out of good breathing as we age. Infants and children follow simple patterns.
They breathe more frequently when they are active and reduce their respiratory rate at rest.
When active, the depth of breathing increases; when asleep, the respiration is shallow.
They exhale for a fraction longer than they inhale and when at rest they allow a moment before repeating the cycle.
Children breathe ‘into their navel’.
Western society seems obsessed with being slim, or appearing so, and much effort is spent by people as they age by holding in the abdomen. This causes stress which affects the flexibility of the diaphram – the large muscles that span the area below the lungs and which separate the chest from the abdomen. This leads to shallower breathing and less oxygenation into the lower and deeper aspects of the lung. Paradoxically, learning to breath abdominally tightens the abdominal muscles and flattens the stomach.
At the time of writing, a major debate is taking place concerning the use of breathing techniques in asthma and many other conditions. It has been thought for millennia that breathing techniques from yoga, Qi Gong and other exercise/relaxation techniques are the most beneficial for asthmatics. In many cases this is true. Recently there has been some contention brought forward by Western awareness of a Russian technique. Konstantin P Buteyko, a Russian medical scientist and practitioner, claims that the deep breathing techniques are compromising the brain and body’s understanding of its own carbon dioxide levels that control many biochemical pathways in the body, including those that maintain normal airflow through the lungs. At the time of writing I understand that The Lancet, a most prestigious medical journal, is considering publishing an international trial supporting the breathing techniques of Dr Buteyko. The personal experience of some of my colleagues suggests that his is a technique worth learning if you are an asthmatic. This technique is not widely available yet, but search around.
Ensure adequate rest and sleep when the body can govern its own respiratory pattern.
Concentrate through the day on breathing abdominally. Place the hands over an area below the navel and breathe such that you move the hands at least one inch (2cm) forward.
Spend time concentrating on opening the chest by stretching the top of the head upwards and pulling the shoulder back slightly.
Avoid polluting the lungs with cigarettes, unnecessary perfumes and noxious fumes. If you are a city dweller, ensure as many trips into the countryside as possible.
Learn a breathing technique from a meditation teacher. Deep breathing is not necessarily good breathing and a basic rule of thumb is to inhale for 3sec and passively (without forcing) exhale for 4sec. Allow lsec before repeating the cycle. Practising even this technique a few times a day will help to retrain the body.
Any conditions such as asthma and bronchitis that interfere with breathing may benefit from the Buteyko method.
Consider learning techniques of Qi Gong, yoga and Tai Chi or a martial art, which will automatically teach you better breathing techniques.
Consider using low oxygen therapy for any condition that affects breathing .