Gill South: How to breathe easy

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Gill South takes a deep breath in the name of good health.

Breathing through the nose is encouraged because breathing through the mouth means taking cold, dry, unfiltered germ laden air directly into the lungs. Photo / Thinkstock
Breathing through the nose is encouraged because breathing through the mouth means taking cold, dry, unfiltered germ laden air directly into the lungs. Photo / Thinkstock

It's a good thing I have all these things wrong with me or these columns would be a great big bore, wouldn't they? "No, you're fine, please stop wasting my time, madam, good day to you," the experts would say and I'd be left with no story.

Fortunately, Glenn White, practitioner at the Buteyko Breathing Clinic in Ponsonby, quickly notices I am over-breathing or hyperventilating in my first consultation with him. I'm not having to breathe into a paper bag or anything, I'm just breathing faster than the norm.

The Buteyko breathing method is a strategy to retrain dysfunctional breathing based on the belief that many diseases result from an abnormal breathing pattern. The Buteyko theory is based on the understanding that over-breathing disturbs the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our lungs. Professor Konstantin Buteyko, a Russian physician, developed his method in the 1940s when he discovered that hyperventilation was the primary cause of conditions such as asthma.

Glenn checks a number of my vitals including my pulse. Those who know me, will scream with laughter when they hear I have the resting pulse of an athlete. I am very chuffed. The Buteyko expert seems politely perplexed by this, tests me again and it's a bit higher but I'm still sticking to the athlete story.

Meanwhile Glenn has sneakily been timing my breathing and tells me, while ideally I should be breathing at around 8 to 10 breaths a minute, I come in at a weighty 26. Over-breathing will reduce the oxygenation of vital organs and can starve the brain of oxygen, says Glenn. Oh that explains so much.

Glenn has never had an asthma sufferer come to him who didn't breathe abnormally, he says. I tend to breathe through the mouth rather than the nose. Mouth breathers are taking cold, dry, unfiltered and germ laden air directly into the lungs. This lowers the immune system leaving me more susceptible to colds and flu. Yawning (I'm a big yawner - ooh I can feel one coming on now), is a sign of dysfunctional breathing. Glenn says I've got to swallow the yawns and also suppress any coughs. I immediately want to both cough and yawn and sneak a couple out while Glenn leaves the room to get me a glass of water.

Babies and animals breathe naturally through their noses, Glenn tells me. I'm going to visualise myself as a racehorse and breathe through my nostrils. We humans have forgotten how to breathe correctly, probably because of our stressful lifestyles. Our breathing really began to deteriorate from the 80s onwards, Glenn believes.

I'm interested in Glenn's personal story - he was a geologist in SE Asia, working in the gold mining industry and his asthma was so bad that he used to get helicoptered out for treatment. After 42 years of asthma, he got over it in a week using the Buteyko technique when living in Britain. He became a practitioner in 2001.

I am signing up for a Buteyko breathing re-training programme to see if I can get my breathing under control. It will involve individualised breathing exercises and some lifestyle and dietary guidelines to help restore a natural breathing pattern. If it works it will not only help my asthma, it might also help my hayfever and my dermatitis.

I go off to my gym for some exercise after a weekend of sloth - Glenn tells me to remember to breathe through my nose and if I feel tempted to breathe through the mouth to slow down. There could be an upside to this!

Next week:

My children are cramping my style by being home sick, so I can't go out and play. How can I keep these darlings healthy over winter for all our sakes?

- NZ Herald

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