A BREATHING DISCOVERY
At the end of the last century Austrian physiologists Breyer and Gering made a sensational discovery - man is the only biological specimen on earth who had not developed a correct way of breathing. All other beings know how to breathe, but not humans. Just observe those around you carefully and you will find that people breathe differently. Some breathe deeply, others superficially, some faster, others slower, with pauses and some without.
Russian Medical Scientist Professor Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko has devoted over 40 years of research into breathing and in the process discovered that only one in ten people breathe correctly. Natural or normal breathing results in a very specific accumulated gas mixture that our organism requires to function properly.
The Myth behind deep breathing
Traditional wisdom tells us that deep breathing is the best as it is thought to provide the most oxygen. We inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide and the conclusion that is drawn is that oxygen is good for us and carbon dioxide is harmful. When Professor Buteyko was first analysing his patients he discovered that those who were sick breathed much more than those who were healthy; that is, their tidal volume, depth and frequency was greater. Could it be that "breathing deeply" is in fact contributing to ill health?
The Bohr Effect
It is common knowledge that eating too much food does not mean good nutrition and this principle applies to breathing. Breathing too much air does not mean good breathing, nor does it even mean that extra oxygen is delivered to the tissues, because the amount of oxygen carried by the blood largely depends on haemoglobin content and the availability of oxygen rather than the depth of breathing.
In the early 20th century Danish scientist Christian Bohr discovered that carbon dioxide pressure affects the ability of haemoglobin to carry oxygen. This is called the Bohr Effect.
If breathing is increased to the level where too much carbon dioxide is exhaled, it compels the blood to become more alkaline than normal, and haemoglobin becomes ‘stickier’, retaining oxygen instead of releasing it. This creates a vicious circle, because less oxygen reaching tissues means that less carbon dioxide is being produced.
Strange as it may seem, oxygen deficiency is not caused by lack of oxygen but by the lack of carbon dioxide! If we breathe too much we get less oxygen.
Over-breathing or hyperventilation
When we over breathe or hyperventilate, we lose valuable carbon dioxide. According to Professor Buteyko, "hidden hyperventilation" often goes undiagnosed. When a person is acutely hyperventilating, it's obvious and the implications to the organism are disastrous. Hidden hyperventilation often goes unnoticed. Asthmatics over breathe three or more times the recommended amount. Long term "hidden hyperventilation" is the hinge upon which Buteyko's discovery and method is based.
So how should we breathe?
Many people think they breathe shallowly but in fact they breathe very deeply. Many people who suffer with asthma, allergies, bronchitis, emphysema and breathlessness will tell you they can't breathe enough, when in fact they are breathing three or more times the normal volume of air. Professor Buteyko developed a test that can measure your depth of breathing and subsequent retention of carbon dioxide, resultant oxygenation and health.
What about the air we breathe?
We are all aware of the dangers of pollution and the declining quality of our air. Many blame asthma and other breathing disorders on pollution and the environment, yet asthma strikes in the county as well as in the cities and some people who work in very polluted environments never suffer with asthma or emphysema. Could there be another problem with the air we breathe?
Our Changing Environment
The problem faced by the evolving human organism has been the depletion of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere from the tens of percent of ancient eras to the current level (1982) of 0.03%. Human evolution has dealt with this dilemma by creating an autonomous internal air environment within the alveolar spaces of the lungs. These alveoli ideally contain around 6.5% of carbon dioxide, quite a contrast to the surrounding air. The gaseous mix in the womb is also an interesting indicator of the ideal human environment - here there exists between 7/8% carbon dioxide.