Dr Mercola on yoga breathing “In fact, the whole field of breathing and breath-work has enormous potential for improvement, as most prevailing ideas about breathing promoted in yoga, Pilates, and meditative methods tend to focus on taking big, deep breaths — which is actually the opposite of what you should do”
Robin Rothenberg is a very experienced yoga therapist (mainly Iyengar and Viniyoga) and teacher trainer who has taken part in research studies and written a book on yoga for low back pain. Recently, after a period of worsening health, she took a fresh look at yoga breathing, learning about Buteyko to improve her own health, and discovered for herself that Buteyko was far more closely aligned with the original yoga teaching (yoga sutras and hatha yoga pradipika) than modern pranyama teachings. Please watch the 35 minute video here, it is well worth it. I have summarised some of the key points below.
- Robin recalled that many years previously she had had a student in her yoga class with such severe asthma that she needed to keep her inhaler next to her on the yoga mat. Yoga helped but she was still on the maximal dose of several medications for asthma. When 68 years old, the student’s doctor recommended she take a Buteyko breathing course, which proved to be transformational. She recovered from asthma, no longer needed medication, and trekked round Nepal when aged 70 after decades of disabling asthma. This remarkable transformation was noted by Robin. The student still came to yoga lessons, but did her own (Buteyko) breathing exercises instead of yoga ones in class. Robin noted this with interest, and also liked that the science backing up the Buteyko method, which made perfect sense (see links below, how hyperventilation harms). Robin still assumed that Buteyko breathing may have helped her student but would be of no relevance to herself (“I do pranyama”).
- Then years later, Robin gets a severe chest infection which will not clear up. She is becoming progressively more disabled and her chronic cough –which would always get worse with a lot of speaking, eg teaching courses, gets so bad she is losing sleep. She is exhausted. Coughing in class over students. Nothing is helping out of her yoga toolbox, she can’t even lie down flat. Eventually to her horror, she is diagnosed with asthma and prescribed a reliever inhaler, with the threat of steroid medication if it is not brought under control.
- Robin remembers her student with asthma and her “cure” with the Buteyko breathing. She decides to investigate it further and studies the ancient yoga texts (e.g. yoga sutras and hatha yoga pradipika) and notes how retention of breath was emphasised, very different from the large, noisy, big breathing she and many colleagues teach. Robin learns Buteyko from the student, Pippa who has trained as a Buteyko educator (a colleague of mine who now edits the Buteyko Breathing Educator Association newsletter) and after the very first session, she sleeps well and her husband has to check that she is alive as she is uncharacteristically quiet! She goes on to recover quickly from her breathing problems, and also the chronic cough she had had for years. She can now run up hills that she had struggled to walk up for 25 years, all while nasal breathing. She said it was transformative in every aspect of her life: she has constant high energy; greater mental clarity; great digestion; no breathlessness at all.
- Robin points out that the important points about breathing had somehow been lost as pranyama was handed down through the generations. She would nasal breathe in class, but not bother for the rest of the times, whereas 24.7 is important in Buteyko. Robin then trained as a Buteyko educator with Patrick McKeown and is now spreading the word among her yoga colleagues, as the science and physiology makes sense, whereas she had accepted the pranyama practices without any real explanations. She now teaches clients and practitioners and feels that it is important to get to yoga teachers as what many are teaching with big noisy breathing can be bad for health.
- In brief many (not all) yoga teachers may not be teaching breathing correctly.
|Nasal if possible in class||Nasal (24/7), exercises to clear blocked nose|
|Diaphragmatic (if mentioned at all, or “what is natural for you”)||Diaphragmatic|
|Full deep breaths||Small, quiet breaths|
|Get rid of toxic CO2 (not all yoga teachers, eg Dru yoga – science is understood)||Retain CO2 as usually too much is lost, CO2 not just a waste gas, need a balance|
|Oxygen transfer will be decreased||Oxygen transfer will be increased|
Patrick McKeown says “you should not be able to hear breathing in a yoga class”
Here is an hour long interview where another experienced yoga instuctor (Lucas Rockwood of Yogabody) asks Patrick more about Buteyko and yoga breathing.
Why you need to rethink this popular stress management technique
Tess Graham, a respected breathing expert in Australia trains yoga, pilates, sports e.t.c. teachers
Artour Rakhimov has books and more information on yoga breathing (slower and less).
- How hyperventilation harms: part 1 hyperventilation can narrow the airways.
- How hyperventilation harms: part 2 hyperventilation can narrow the blood vessels and reduce blood and oxygen supply.
- How hyperventilation harms: part 3 hyperventilation can unbalance the blood gases and reduce transfer of oxygen from the blood to the organs and tissues that need it.
If you would like to have a comprehensive breathing assessment, call me on 01663 743055.
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