Unless you were raised in an obscure religious sect that frowns upon modern medicine you’ve probably experienced its life-saving benefits at some time or other.
I know I might not be here today had it not been for surgeons smashing bones into place or doctor prescribing antibiotics. I’m grateful for the gift of conventional medicine and glad I never asked a naturopath to cut me open on the operating table.
However, medical interventions, with all their glory, often come at a cost: the dreaded side effects. From dizzy spells to death; from brittle bones to prolific bleeding, there’s no doubt that doctors pills can give you brand new ills.
So what do you do if you’ve reached the limits of a particular med? When the side effects are too great, too risky and just not worth it?
Yesterday I interviewed a retired finance director over at LindsdayLobe.com about his experience treating chronic illness with a little known medical intervention developed in Russia, the Buteyko Method. After years of compromised health, a permanent blocked nose and steroid meds that were too dangerous to use on a continuous basis, Lindsay decided to look outside of convention and to explore an alternative treatment.
Not only did this intervention reduce his symptoms, it had other surprising side effects like tranquility and an increased sense of well being.
Proffessor Buteyko, founder of the Buteyko Method for breathing difficulties.
1. What is the Buteyko Method and what lead you to exploring this treatment option?
The Buteyko Method is a breathing technique developed by Dr Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko, for the treatment of Asthma and other respiratory conditions. It’s is based on the idea that numerous medical conditions, including asthma, are caused by chronically increased respiratory rate or over breathing.
Buteyko aims at normalizing the breathing rate and depth to restore the correct balance of CO2, within the lungs for those with prior deficient levels. The process takes time as one has to reverse a previous lifetime of unhealthy breathing practices and Buteyko also includes tips on adopting more healthy lifestyle choices.
When I first experienced Asthma attacks some 30 years ago my first reaction of course was to seek help from my GP and inevitably I relied on Ventolin and Pulmicort as the traditional approach to treatment which alleviates the symptoms but don’t offer a cure.
Later on as I developed severe nasal polyps (which I had surgically removed on 2 occasions) on specialist advice I reverted to using prednisolone which worked very well and as an added side benefit reduced the incidence of Asthma since it is a steroid. The problem however is this drug as a steroid has a number of severe side effects such as stomach ulcers and calcium deficiency leading to osteoporosis.
Hence I was interested in the possibility the Buteyko heath and breathing course might ensure a way forward to naturally increase steroid production to the extent it was no longer necessary for me to take the prednisolone and potentially ventolin.
2. What are the benefits so far? Have you reduced your medications and improved your overall health?
As a naturally sceptical type of person I was not convinced there would be ensuing benefits but so far the results have been very encouraging. I have encountered worthwhile gains and cut down on my medication as well as some enhanced side benefits such, reduced resting pulse rate and a greater sense of overall calm. Doing the exercises twice daily (when I should be doing them 5 times a day) the following benefits are already applicable:
- No asthma attacks
- Needing substantially less sleep, waking up with far less or scarcely any nose or throat mucus and feeling rested rather than tired- even after only just a few hours’ sleep.
- Slower resting pulse and having more energy.
- No sinusitis, reduced sneezing and far less coughing.
- Walking briskly with far less breath given I now only breath through my nose.
- A general more peaceful feeling of control over emotions which is hard to define but I would liken it to the mind feeling more relaxed or rested – a greater sense of tranquility and wellbeing.
3. Can you tell me a little bit about the course and what’s involved in learning the method?
The exercises simply involve practicing taking in less air and breathing out more slowly, whilst experiencing a very mild feeling of discomfort. What is best described as a very subtle or gentle feeling like you want just a tad more air. A mild hunger for more air. After a while your brain gets used to that feeling and you start to feel more comfortable.
But I hasten to add nothing is meant to have a forced outcome or for you to feel very uncomfortable. Some people say they like to imagine the tide going out slowly. You take in less air in (tide coming in with less strength) but breath out for a bit longer (tide is going out with more strength then it comes in ) until such time as it becomes a pleasant natural rhythm which eliminate over breathing.
It is not to be confused with deep breathing.
But the technique also involves gently breathing in through the diaphragm to feel it expand just a little and then to breathe out for longer by relaxing the diaphragm.
After each set you measure your “control pause” which may increase but after waiting a few minutes after each 5 minute set. You keep a record it and chart your progress.
What you will find is your control pause duration will gradually increase over time as you revert to a more natural rhythm assuming you were over- breathing previously.
4. What is the control pause?
The control pause has been proven clinically to indicate the retention level of carbon dioxide, since bad breathing leaves you with an insufficient residue for optimum results.
If you want to test yourself to see if such a course might be of benefit try this out: Start out by being comfortably seated and breathing naturally, but not after just eating a meal or exercising.
Hold your breath after what is for you a normal expulsion. Starting out (for those who may be over breathing) you may only feel comfortable for say the first 10 – 15 seconds or thereabouts. However if it is longer than that and say it lasts for 20/25 seconds you get still reap benefits since a good reading is 40/50.
Remember you only hold on until such time as you feel a mild level of discomfort and the distinct need to take in a breath. The intervening period of time from when you stop breathing (after expulsion )and start again is your control pause. Completely different to simply holding your breath in after breathing in where you can hold on for much longer periods.
Take your pulse before and immediately after to ensure you have not “forced” the issue, as it should be about the same.
I started out only feeling reasonably comfortable holding my breath after exhaling for only about 15-18 seconds naturally. This has since increased to around 30 and at times a bit more after the exercises to reach over 40. To reiterate a good reading is 40/50.
5. So if it’s an effective treatment why isn’t it more widely used in treating asthma and related allergies?
Drug companies are unlikely to fund research into alternative natural cures so the technique is still not widely used despite exhibiting promising results from the limited research undertaken.
The anecdotal evidence is strong and can apply to anyone suffering allergies or breathing difficulties, even mildly so as evidenced by markedly improving the outcomes for a Buddhist Monk. According to this reference he started out with control pause of 25, but on completion of the course and undertaking the exercises it added significantly to his overall well being and the quality of his life.
I also know of several people as chronic Asthma sufferers who claim it has made a life changing difference. Even so there is no suggestion one should go off any medication at the first sign of any dramatic improvement but rather over time gradually reduce dosages once optimum results have been sustained.
Should any of this be of interest I suggest you Google Buteyko heath and breathing and visit an accredited practitioner in your area.
Clinical Trials are few but here are some:
· We conclude that the BBT may be effective in improving the quality of life and reducing the intake of inhaled reliever medication in patients with asthma. These results warrant further investigation.
· Six months after completion of the interventions, a large majority of subjects in each group displayed control of their asthma with the additional benefit of reduction in inhaled corticosteroid use in the Buteyko group. The Buteyko technique, an established and widely recognised intervention, or an intensive programme delivered by a chest physiotherapist appear to provide additional benefit for adult patients with asthma who are being treated with inhaled corticosteroid.
· Buteyko’s theory relating to carbon dioxide levels and airway calibre is an attractive one, and has some basis in evidence from experimental studies. However, it is not known whether altering breathing patterns can raise carbon dioxide levels significantly, and there is currently insufficient evidence to confirm that this is the mechanism behind any effect that BBT may exert. Further research is necessary to establish unequivocally whether BBT is effective, and if so, how it may work.
However, outcomes that were reported from individual trials do show that breathing retraining may have a role in the treatment and management of asthma. Further large-scale trials using breathing retraining techniques in asthma are required to address this important issue.
6. So where do I sign up?
If you’re in Melbourne Australia I recommend Buteyko Health & Breathing otherwise google Buteyko to find your local practitioner.
The Truth about Mental Health blog is an affiliate of Dr Kelly Brogan, Holistic Woman’s Health Psychiatrist. Check out her 44 day online course that explores holistic interventions like diet, meditation, exercise and mindset.