Episode 2. Why Asthmatics Need Breath Training
As an asthmatic you may have never considered yourself as suffering from over-breathing, especially as you have often found yourself short of breath and needing to breathe more. This is the paradox that many people don't understand; that an asthmatic seems to suffer from shortness of breath and needs to breathe more but the cause of their asthma is the fact they are breathing too much. The reason for this is we all need to breathe around five litres per minute at rest, and our breathing is controlled by the level of carbon dioxide in our lungs that ideally should be between 5% and 6%. We produce all the carbon dioxide ourselves, in fact far more than we need, so breathing is the way we control this. If the carbon dioxide level is too high breathing is increased automatically to expel the surplus, if too low, breathing is reduced to conserve it.
So why does carbon dioxide matter? Professor Buteyko called carbon dioxide the hormone par excellence as it has a profound effect on all of the body’s functioning. When carbon dioxide levels fall too low smooth-muscle wrapped around airways, blood vessels and other hollow organs begins to contract. This is the sensation every asthmatic feels when an attack is imminent, airways narrow & constrict and make it hard to breathe. Most asthmatics also breathe through the mouth rather than through their nose and this causes extra irritation of airways which leads to increase production of mucus. Most asthmatics have more mucus producing cells in their airways and lungs. Breathing through the nose filters out dust and irritants and so mouth breathing leads to more irritation of the airways. Also when we breathe too much there is an increase of histamine production that makes us more sensitive to pollen and other allergens. Most asthmatics do not breathe through their nose but through their mouth. The nose is for breathing, and the mouth is for eating and talking. When we breathe through the nose dust and irritants are filtered out, the air is warmed if it is cold, the air is moisturized if too dry and most bacteria are killed off while passing through the nose so protecting us from infections of the chest.
When carbon dioxide levels are low the blood carrying the oxygen to all the cells in the body doesn't releases oxygen readily and holds onto it. This creates a sensation of a shortage of breath that makes us try to breathe even more, but as we breathe more we expel even more carbon dioxide and the problem gets worse.
So perhaps you see why breath training is essential for asthma sufferers.
**Let's check whether you are really breathing too much now. **
We're going to measure what Professor Buteyko called the “Control Pause” (CP).
The control pause is the maximum comfortable breath hold after exhaling while at rest. It gives a fair measure of how well your body is oxygenated. If you are breathing normally and have good oxygenation, you will be able to hold your breath for 45 to 60 seconds without any effort. If you are very poorly oxygenated you may need to take a breath almost immediately or manage only a few seconds before you have to take another breath in.
So let's try it now.
Make sure you're sitting comfortably and relaxed and that you haven't just eaten as this will affect the result, wait at least an hour after eating before checking your control pause.
Keep your mouth shut and breathe in through your nose a normal breath, breathe out through your nose and then hold your nose. Checked the time on your second hand of a watch or start a timer. Hold your breath until you feel the need to take another breath in, release your nose and breathe in.
Note how many seconds you were able to hold your breath.
This was your control pause. The next episode will discuss how well your breathing is and what the control pause means.
You can purchase my book that accompanies this podcast for revision and recording your exercises entitled "Better Breathing Means Better Health" HERE
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