Suzy is a 49 year old woman who saw me for daily headaches, ear pain, and fatigue. Her routine blood tests all came back normal. I helped her breathe better though her nose with allergy control, nasal saline irrigation, and nasal dilator strips. But the one thing she said helped the most was the deep-breathing exercises that I taught her.
In yogic breathing, the relaxing breath is performed by taking a slow, deep breath in through your nose on a count of 4, holding for a few seconds, and then breathing out slowly through your mouth on a count of 7. Then the cycle is repeated 4 to 5 times. I had her do this exercise multiple times per day: upon awakening, in-between major tasks or activities, and for 5 minutes just before bedtime.
Noted integrative physician Andrew Weil has pointed out the breathing in (inhalation) stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (the fight-or-flight response), whereas breathing out (exhalation) stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (the relaxing response). So by spending more time breathing out, the more relaxed you’ll be.
Another key concept to consider in Buteyko breathing is that by slowing down your breathing, you’re able to raise carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, which can make you calmer and feel more relaxed. During my neurosurgery rotation in my surgical internship year, I distinctly remember that we gave acetazolamide to lower intracranial pressures. Acetazolamide raises CO2, which is known to lower pressure inside your brain cavity.
In the sleep apnea research literature, obstructive sleep apnea has been strongly associated with elevated pressures within the brain cavity. One study found increased pressure, worse during sleep and highest in REM sleep, when apneas are most common. Pressures were also higher in the morning compared with evening pressures. This may explain morning headaches which are commonly seen in people with sleep apnea. Another small study reported on six adult patients with idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH) who all had various degrees of vision loss, and swelling of the optic nerve. One patient received acetazolamide alone, four received both acetazolamide and CPAP, and one got CPAP alone. Four had complete return of their vision loss and three had no more swelling of the optic nerve after treatment.
This is one example of how many natural healing options may work to various degrees, with scientific explanations.
How many of you practice deep-breathing exercises on a regular basis? How has your life improved as a result of doing these exercises? Please enter your responses in the box below.