The following exercise is the essence of the Buteyko Method. The merging of diaphragmatic breathing is my own work based on feedback from people attending my clinic. This is back- to-basics learning to correct the volume and use our diaphragm. This is how we should be breathing every minute, every hour, every day. This exercise is the Left Hand Rule of Buteyko and is deﬁned as “reduction of breathing volume by relaxation of the muscles involved in respiration to create a need for air.” (The Right Hand Rule is correct posture with the mouth closed.) In other words, our breathing volume decreases when our breathing muscles are relaxed.
There are three parts to this exercise, and they all ﬁt together. Learn the ﬁrst part then move to the second, and ﬁnally the third. If you feel that you cannot master this exercise, practice the easier version instead. In time, as your CP increases, you can return to this exercise.
Part 1. Relaxation of respiratory muscles.
Part 2. Learning to tummy breathe.
Part 3. Bringing reduced and diaphragmatic breathing together.
Since food affects your breathing, it is best to practice this exercise on an empty stomach or at least not straight after eating. This is by far the most important exercise, as it trains you to be aware of your breathing volume, to permanently change your CO2 levels and to relax the muscles involved with respiration.
Adopt a correct but comfortable posture. Correct posture involves sitting up straight with both feet under your chair. Sit in the horse rider position at the edge of the chair with your back straight and your knees lower than you hips. Correct posture is very important in helping to reduce your breathing. If you are slouched, you will compress your diaphragm, increase the tension that you experience and increase your breathing volume. For example, the following exercise illustrates just how posture affects our breathing:
- Bend forward;
- Feel how you are breathing for a couple of minutes; Sit up;
- Now feel how you are breathing.
You will ﬁnd that it is a lot easier to breathe while sitting up.
The diaphragm is our main breathing muscle. It is a dome- shaped sheet of muscle that separates our thorax, which houses the heart and lungs from our abdomen, which holds the intestines, stomach, liver and kidneys. Diaphragmatic breathing is more efﬁcient because the amount of blood ﬂow in the lower lobes of the lungs is greater than in the upper. The fast, shallow breaths of people who chronically hyperventilate results in less oxygen transfer to the blood and a greater loss of CO2. Fast, shallow breaths also activate the sympathetic nervous system, resulting in more tension. The good news is that diaphragmatic breathing can be easily learned.
Part 1: Relaxation of respiratory muscles
• Sit up straight. Lengthen the distance between your naval and sternum (chest). Forcing yourself into a “straight position” is not necessary, as this only increases tension.
• Place one hand on your tummy (just above your navel) and one hand on your chest.
• Place attention on the movements of your lower hand. While sitting up straight, gently push your tummy outwards. Don’t make any changes to your breathing at this point. This exercise is primarily to encourage diaphragmatic movement. Alternatively, you can lie on your back with both knees bent.
• Draw in your tummy and watch your hand move inwards. Do this simple exercise for a few minutes to help activate a “dormant” diaphragm.
• Gently push your tummy out. Watch your hand move outwards.
• Gently draw your tummy in. Watch your hand move inwards.
At this point, don’t be concerned about how you are breathing. Continue to do this for just a few minutes. When you feel you can move your tummy in and out easily at will, proceed to the next stage, which is to incorporate tummy movements with breathing. The above exercise is very helpful in releasing tension from the area around your tummy. When your mind is stressed, your tummy muscles get very tense. Stress in the mind almost always appears in the tummy. Your mind might tell you that you are not stressed but your body will be honest with you.
Deliberate tensing and relaxing of these muscles by drawing in the tummy and gently pushing it out are great for relaxing this area. It is of vital importance to have a relaxed tummy. In addition, encourage the area around your tummy to relax by imagining the tension and stress dissolving.
Part 2: Learning to Tummy Breathe
• Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your tummy.
• As you breathe, allow your shoulders fall to their natural position. Raised or tense shoulders increase the volume of your chest cavity and the volume of air inhaled. Tension increases breathing, while relaxation decreases it.
• With your hand on your chest, exert gentle guidance using your mind and hand to reduce your chest movements.
• At the same time, coordinate your tummy movements with your breathing.
• As you breathe in, gently push your tummy outwards at the same time. Breathe as if you are breathing into your belly. Do not let your tummy get too big as this might cause dizziness.
• As you breathe out, gently draw your tummy in.
• Breathe in. Gently push your tummy out.
• Breathe out. Gently pull your tummy in.
Note that they move in opposite directions from each other. The reason why the tummy moves outwards with an in-breath is because the diaphragm pushes downward and exerts gentle force on the abdomen. On the other hand, the tummy moves inward during an exhalation because the diaphragm moves upward and takes pressure from the abdomen.
Part 3 is coming up in the next blog!