In parts 1 and 2 of this series, I focused on diet and exercise. Part 3 is a potpourri of best practices to support longevity and good health. I originally planned to send them all at once but the post ran long so think of this as part 3a.Breathing
A friend of mine recently went on a 10-day intensive meditation retreat. On day 5 I figured he could use a laugh. I sent him this text,
“Breathe in..breathe out…breathe in…breathe out, forget this and you’ll have bigger problems than enlightenment to worry about.”
We are, of course, breathing all the time. Breathing is normally controlled by our autonomous nervous system. It is a bodily function so important that we have a specialized part of our brain stem, called the respiratory control center, dedicated to managing breath.
The respiratory control center links to a complex network of chemical receptors in the heart and blood vessels that continuously monitors the oxygen level, CO2 levels, and acidity of our blood. Based on feedback from these chemical receptors, the respiratory control center adjusts the speed and depth of breathing. All of this happens outside of our conscious control.
However, unlike other autonomous functions like digestion, we also have the ability to consciously override the autonomous control system. We can control our breath.
I first became interested in breath control through meditation. I discovered that in a deeply meditative state my breath spontaneously slows to almost a stop.
I wondered if I could reverse the process and consciously control my breath to more quickly enter a meditative state.
I found out later that I'd stumbled my way into a controversial breathing technique called Buteyko Breathing.
In short, Buteyko Breathing advocates breathing exclusively through the nose, breathing into the diaphragm and breathing much more slowly. The science on Buteyko breathing is inconclusive. Proponents believe that Buteyko breathing is beneficial for a broad range of heath concerns including asthma, cardio-respiratory health, immune system and sleep quality.
The jury is still out on Buteyko breathing but the controversy seems to be more about why it works rather than if it works. With such a fundamental function as breathing, that profoundly affects our body chemistry, it makes sense to me that how we breathe is important to overall health.
I also know our body’s feedback mechanisms often get out of whack and require intervention to get back on track.
So, unless I see some science that says it’s bad for me, I will continue Buteyko Breathing as a regular part of my routine. Fortunately, it’s pretty painless to incorporate into my day. It requires just a quick 2-3 minute break sitting at my desk, a break I need anyway to give my eyes a rest from the computer screen. So, win-win.
Here's a link to a short youtube video with a basic Buteyko Breathing Excercise:
Buteyko Breathing Exercises Video Link