I have some disagreements.
* It is not a good idea to deliberately take a breath. It should be involuntary. The more you manipulate your breathing, the more interfering tension habits you’ll develop that will reduce the quality of your breath. When you gasp for breath or deliberately try to inhale as much air as possible, you simultaneously tense up your body, you inculcate tension patterns, and you reduce your breath capacity.
People prefer to learn by adding on new habits rather than reducing bad habits.
* When this guy speaks, he tends to tip his head back, tightening and compressing his neck and back muscles, reducing his breath capacity.
Patrick McKeown, a Galway-based Buteyko practitioner who advocates mouth-taping during sleep, travels widely to speak at conferences. Prior to Covid-19 he was booked up 18 months in advance. “Five years ago, it was sleep,” he says. “Right now, breathing is hot.” McKeown believes a range of conditions including asthma are caused or exacerbated by modern human tendencies to mouth breath and over-breathe. Buteyko Method teachings have traditionally emphasised the idea that mouth breathing lowers carbon dioxide levels in the blood, which, in turn, causes asthma symptoms. McKeown distances himself from this, saying that while low CO2 plays a role, so too do the cooling and drying of the airways caused by, he says, mouth breathing, and that the resulting wheezing, coughing and breathlessness in some people can be eased by switching to nose and lighter breathing.
While Prof Thomas acknowledges that more nose-breathing might help some asthma patients, he says the Buteyko method’s emphasis on increased oxygen intake and low carbon dioxide levels in the blood is simplistic. “People with asthma don’t overbreathe, and we’ve measured CO2 levels in asthmatics before and after retraining and found no relationship whatsoever between severity of asthma and CO2 levels,” he says. “The claim that asthma is caused by hyperventilation and low carbon dioxide are scientifically untenable.”
Prof Thomas acknowledges that more nose-breathing might help some asthma patients, but rejects the emphasis on either increased oxygen intake or low carbon dioxide levels in the blood as simplistic. “People with asthma don’t over breathe, and we’ve measured CO2 levels in asthmatics before and after retraining and found no relationship whatsoever between severity of asthma and CO2 levels,” he says. “The claim that asthma is caused by hyperventilation and low carbon dioxide are scientifically untenable.”
…Extraordinary claims that breathing techniques can treat serious diseases and improve performance in various ways are based on preliminary findings, small studies and research that shows only associations. The claims on Wim Hof’s website, for example, that his method “is linked to reducing symptoms of” diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease are unsupported by high-quality research. Dolan’s website quotes a US doctor as stating: “Possibly one of the best therapies ever discovered for HIV, other infectious diseases, and most degenerative, or chronic illnesses (including cancer) is oxygen therapy.”
Many people undoubtedly benefit from breathing exercises. However, overblown claims about these powers are frustrating for scientists who believe they do have potential for more widespread use, but that this should be supported by good-quality research and trials. “It is likely there will be uses for breathing techniques in a variety of medical settings,” says Thomas. “However, it’s not a magic bullet. “There are a lot of people peddling snake oil. What one has to do is look at these claims with a sceptical eye, and do proper scientific studies to show whether or not it works. If you are just generally worried about your health, it won’t do you any harm. Just don’t expect it to turn your life around.”