There are many and varied breathing therapies, plenty of which I have tried, particularly when I was really suffering from my asthma. However, I can honestly say that Buteyko is the only one that has ever produced lasting results for me.
There is evidence to support the credibility of Buteyko. From scientiﬁc trials and reported verbal evidence to the testimonials of literally thousands of people worldwide, no breathing therapy has matched the results of a proper application of the Buteyko Method. Indeed none has achieved the demonstrable and permanent success levels that Buteyko has achieved.
Some breathing exercises consist of blowing air as hard as you can through a straw to move marbles or blowing up balloons in order to increase lung capacity. Other exercises involve taking very big deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. These are all taught with good intentions, but they are, in my opinion, likely to exacerbate your asthma rather than help it.
Forceful exhaling causes too much carbon dioxide to be carried out with each breath. A forced breath out results in the subsequent inhalation being large. This loss of carbon dioxide will cause spasm of smooth muscle, increased mucus and can lead to an asthma attack. An estimated 80 per cent of asthma sufferers will experience an attack from big breathing within two minutes. It is logical therefore to conclude that breathing exercises involving big breathing will produce the same symptoms in a relatively short period of time. Instead of increasing lung capacity, these exercises will lead to increased mucus and spasms causing airway obstruction.
Another misguided practice involves the forceful removal of mucus with coughing exercises or tapping of the back. Mucus is part of the body’s defence mechanism against loss of carbon dioxide. Forcibly removing mucus results in increased breathing causing a loss of carbon dioxide. This will create more mucus. To remove mucus, practice reduced breathing exercises as outlined earlier. In addition, one could drink a glass of warm water with a 1⁄4 teaspoon of sea salt dissolved in it, although some people ﬁnd this too severe.
The mucus will be released as the airways open and will be brushed upwards to the pharynx by cilia, which are ﬁne hair-like structures lining our airways. The mucus can then be harmlessly swallowed. If the mucus is green or yellow, it may be infected so it is better to spit it out. Note that yellow or green mucus is not always indicative of an infection. Mucus can be coloured by the presence of a large concentra- tion of cells involved in inﬂammation such as eosinophils. Unfortunately, this may be interpreted as an infection and so antibiotics will be prescribed.4 The overuse of antibiotics produces multi-resistant strains of bacteria resulting in common infections not responding to antibiotic treatment at all. By reducing breathing, the body has no need to create additional mucus as part of its defence mechanism, and mucus already created will be removed naturally by airway dilation. During the ﬁrst couple of weeks of breath retraining, you will notice a considerable movement of mucus from the lower airways. This is part of the cleansing reaction
Many people ask about the role of yoga in addressing asthma problems. Yoga involves body posture and controlled breath- ing with deep breaths, and pauses which are effectively breath holds. People in the East would spend a large part of their day meditating in isolation, with no talking and on restricted diets, which would result in increased CO2. Having spent many years practising, a yogi may have a control pause of as much as 180 seconds. For those with asthma the therapeutic beneﬁts derived from yoga are a result of the reduced volume of breathing. While the inhalation is deeper, the number of breaths per minute may be as low as one or two. When practised correctly, breathing volume will reduce, sometimes dramatically.
My view is that, unless there is reduced breathing, there is very little therapeutic value to be gained for an asthmatic, although the relaxation will in itself reduce breathing and this is beneﬁcial. If you are practising yoga, do not breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth as it will cause big breathing and dehydration.
A practice of some Eastern yogi is to seal both of their nostrils with beeswax in which is embedded a horse hair. They remove the horse hair leaving a tiny hole through which they breathe. As the volume of air inhaled will be reduced, carbon dioxide increases in the lungs. Plugging of the nose has also been practised by some students of Buteyko. A small piece of tissue is inserted into each nostril. This serves to reduce the amount of air passing through and therefore will increase carbon dioxide.
I have spoken with a number of people who claimed that they developed asthma solely from the breathing exercises that they were taught during yoga in Ireland. Unfortunately many of the exercises have become distorted along the way – possibly in an effort to facilitate Western lifestyles. The true intention of the exercises can in these circumstances be lost, and practices that may be harmful can be introduced. I suspect that this is what has happened in these cases.
Yoga is a complex subject. Many people practise it and feel that they get considerable health and peace of mind beneﬁts as a result. I can only look at it from the point of view of whether or not it is likely to be of beneﬁt to someone with an asthma problem who is trying to address an incornrect breathing pattern. If it helps people to relax, and it also helps them to reduce their breathing, then there may well be a role for it. The measure of success will be if it helps them to get their asthma under control.
Breathing exercises aimed at reversing hyperventilation have worked for me where nothing else ever has. I believe in it, and I want to help others to achieve what I have managed to achieve – permanent control of my asthma with no reliance on medication.