“The perfect man breathes as if he is not breathing”- Lao Tzu (circa 400BC)
When was the last time you saw a very healthy individual walking who was breathing heavily trying to catch their breath? How about the last time you saw someone who was very sick or with chronic conditions breathing heavily after even minor physical effort? I draw attention to these questions to plant the following curiosity in your mind: Is there a correlation between the volume of our respiration and our general health and well being?
Let me first mention I’m not entirely against deep breathing, as used appropriately, it can be a good tool for altering consciousness and physiology when applied correctly. This can be seen in the case of the Wim Hof Method, and other breathing techniques that have demonstrated positive results. It would be wise though the check your “control pause” (below) and proceed with deeper breathing protocols when you are in a good state of health and have no pre-existing conditions which could be aggravated.
Most of the time people tell us that the way to better health is to breath deeper. But in reality, is this really the case?
In this article, I will take you on a journey of the remarkable discoveries of a Soviet physician named Konstantin Buteyko and how they are literally changing the way we understand health and respiration. If you are compelled after reading this to dive into the science and methodology of Buteyko, there will be further reading resources at the end of the page you can check out as well as a great video which I highly recommend.
The Birth Of The Buteyko Breathing Method
Konstantin Buteyko was involved with the Russian military doing high level medical research involved in the military, space, and sports programs. Some of the things he specialized in included high altitude environments, physiological measurements, the cardiovascular system, developing diagnostic equipment and respiration.
When World War II ended, Konstantin Buteyko decided to further his study in medicine and understanding the human body, a choice-point decision that has made history in a small way.
During his medical training he was conducting an observational study on patients breathing rates in relation to the progression of their illnesses. What he found was that there was a profound correlation between the heaviness and volume of the patients respiration and their decline in health. In every single case.
From this discovery he developed overtime what was called the Buteyko Method which was later approved for widespread use by the Russian medical system and has since spread to many other countries around the world with astonishingly positive results.
A Highly Accurate “Body-Oxygen” Test
During his time in medical training, Konstantin created a very accurate way to determine someones general state of health by testing patients with what he called “the body-oxygen test”. The resulting length of time you get from the test is called the “CP” or Control Pause. The test works as follows:
Warning: some people with conditions such as high blood pressure or panic attacks may experience a worsening of symptoms while attempting the body-oxygen test. These individuals should take care not to hold their breath longer than is comfortable.
Sit quietly for a few minutes with an empty stomach, at a comfortable temperature until you are relaxed. Breathe normally and do a relaxed regular inhale and exhale through your nose (don’t try to take a big in breath as most usually do before breath holding). After this exhale plug your nose and time how long you can go before you get the slightest desire to breathe. There should be no stress and when you resume breathing, it should be regular and if you have to take a larger than normal inhale afterwards, that is a sign you held your breath too long and the test will lose it’s accuracy. It’s very important to do this test correctly so your results won’t be skewed.
The results can be anywhere from 5 seconds all the way up to 60 seconds or greater. If you do this test right it will give you a very accurate reading of your state of health. In much more rare instances, people can have a blunted co2 sensitivity which affects the accuracy of the test.
As noted in countless observations, when your CP is low, you will need more sleep, have more health conditions and diseases, have less energy, and have a higher pulse and heavier breathing even while at rest.
At the higher end of the CP time measurements, individuals demonstrate a high level of athletic endurance, need only a few hours of sleep, are free from almost all diseases and health conditions, and have a lower pulse and breathing rate at rest.
Konstantin found that some advanced yogi’s had a Control Pause time of over 2 minutes and noted that people on the far higher end of the scale showed highly developed intuition, while being in a state of flow, and a strong ability to regenerate and heal their body tissues!
As a general rule, when the Control Pause is higher, our oxygen uptake is greater and our metabolism is strong. All body functions are in complete homeostasis.
The body-oxygen test is truly revolutionary and is perhaps one of the greatest health discoveries ever made.
If you are familiar with the Buteyko Method, you are most likely aware that it can be used to successfully treat many chronic diseases and conditions, but not only is it good for treatment, the Buteyko principles can be used to gauge your level of health and increase your vitality and athletic endurance and longevity!
But Doesn’t Deep Breathing Give Us More Oxygen?
“Pranayama [ the main breathing exercise of yoga ] is the cessation of inspiratory and expiratory movements” The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali (4th-2nd Century BC)
If you ask people in the realms of health coaching, yoga, and fitness, most would say that it is important to breath deep to get more oxygen into our body. Let’s take a look at this assumption.
We would imagine that when we take a deep breath, we inhale more oxygen and then exhale more co2, thereby increasing our level of o2 in the body, right?
It turns out, it’s not quite so simple.
When we breath deeply and more, especially through the mouth, we lose essential carbon dioxide. But wait.. Didn’t we learn from many yoga and breathing instructors that we want to get rid of carbon dioxide and that it is a waste gas?
Carbon dioxide actually has some very important functions, without it, we wouldn’t be alive. Carbon dioxide is a smooth muscle relaxant, and a strong vasodilator. In other words, it relaxes our muscles, and opens up our blood vessels to help with circulation. If our carbon dioxide levels in our blood drop, than hemoglobin becomes sticky and oxygen doesn’t get delivered to our tissues as easily, but when the co2 level in our blood is normal, oxygen can get into our tissues and vital organs better. Basically low co2 leads to low o2 (hypoxia).
Along with that co2 is a nerve calming substance. When our co2 levels are too low, our nerves are overly excitable, leading to many nervous conditions.
It appears that the true teachings of yoga have been distorted from their original power and meaning when taught by many modern practitioners. If you look back into old Sanskrit yogic literature, never it is written that deep breathing will lead to greater health, rather you will see that breathing reduction and controlled breathing is emphasized.
If you want to dig deeper into this thread have a look at: Hatha Yoga Pradipika (15th Century), The Gheranda Samhita (15th-17th Century), The Yoga Sutra of Patanjai (4th-2nd Century BC), [Bernard T, Hatha Yoga, The Report of a Personal Experience, Columbia University Press, NY, 1944], [Professor SS Goswami, Hatha Yoga: An Advanced Method of Physical Education and Concentration; London : L.N. Fowler, 1959]
Some Other Factors For Creating Better Vitality And Body Oxygenation
When looking back not far into the early nineteen hundreds, we can see that the general population had much better times for Control Pause measurements. This all makes sense when looking at the lifestyle of these generations. Some variables in your life you can tweak to increase your body oxygenation levels are:
- Nasal breathing 24/7 including during exercise
- Increasing your exercise
- Only eating when hungry as overeating creates hyperventilation
- Reducing overheating and sleeping in a room that is cool and has good ventilation
- Eliminating food allergens, processed food and beginning to detoxify your body
- Reducing stress
- Improving your posture
- Increasing intake of essential nutrients and minerals (especially magnesium)
- Practicing reduced breathing exercises (ideally with caution and guidance, especially if you have any health conditions)
- Being electrically grounded either through earthing sheets and mats or walking barefoot
There is quite a lot of literature to read about Buteyko, so if you want to learn more about the method and it’s science, there are many resources. A good place to start would be http://www.normalbreathing.com/