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Close-up of a woman's hands on her chest while doing breathing exercises

Managing Stress with Breathing

Buteyko Breathing is about re-establishing your innate breathing pattern (diaphragmatic and nose breathing); obtaining balanced levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitric oxide for circulation throughout your muscles, tissues, organs and cells. When this biochemical process is at its best so will be the detoxification process and all the other integrated systems of your body, including your autonomic nervous system response.

Mouth breathing activates the accessory breathing muscles in your chest, shoulders and neck (scalene, sternocleidomastoid and trapezium). Your accessory breathing muscles should only be used during high intensity physical exercise when mouth breathing is required, e.g. when your autonomic nervous system goes more into sympathetic, the fight or flight response mode. Ongoing mouth breathing will not only overwork and fatigue these muscles, but also create a bad habit of excessive breathing.

Excessive breathing, greater than 15 breathes per minute, increases stress hormones. Adrenaline and cortisol hormones are released during stress to bring your body into high alert. This however, over-time will drain your kidney energy and unbalance your endocrine hormonal system (depleting your parasympathetic nervous system hormones, serotonin and dopamine).

An ongoing heightened stress response puts you into a cycle of over-breathing, otherwise known as hyperventilation or dysfunction breathing. This change in breath pattern can influence your everyday breathing pattern, meaning even at rest your body may be kept in a constant flight or fight response; a magnified sensory, auditory and/or visual alertness.

Dysfunction breathing can also contribute towards:
Reduced immunity, osteoporosis, hypertension, high blood sugar and fat levels, memory loss, mood swings, cataracts, POCS, insomnia, tinnitus, digestive issues, asthma, sinus congestion, allergies, oedema, irritable bladder, fibromyalgia, and many more.

The good news is, with practice it is possible to alleviate your chronic stress response with Buteyko Breathing Re-education exercises, and in turn bring your breathing back into the healthy range. Your nose is your first point of focus.

Nose breathing activates and strengthens the diaphragm, the primary breathing muscle, and regulates your parasympathetic nervous system hormones. The exercises evolve around taking small, short, slow, quiet breathes in and out through the nose. With the help of neuroplasticity, your brain and body will start to move away from a chronic over-breathing pattern into more of an ideal parasympathetic nervous response.

To get you started, below are two exercises that are taught in the Buteyko course.

Nose Unblocking

A great exercise to do half an hour before bed each night and first thing in the morning. Also good to use before each Buteyko exercise sequence when your sinuses are congested.

  1. Sit up straight and relax the body. Make sure your mouth is closed, tongue tip is resting on the gum line of your upper teeth, and lips are fully sealed.
  2. Take a small gentle breath in and out through your nose. After the out breath hold your breath with a pinch hold of your nostrils. 
  3. Hold your breath for as long as possible, slowly swaying or nodding your head as a distraction.
  4. Keeping your mouth closed, release your nose and resume breathing. Calm your breath as soon as possible.
  5. Wait 30sec – 1min. Repeat 6 times.
  • If your nose isn’t clearing, do the same sequence whilst walking.

Many Small Breath Holds

For wheeze, stress or panic attacks.

  1. Sit up straight and relax the body. Make sure your mouth is closed, tongue tip is resting on the gum line of your upper teeth, and lips are fully sealed.
  2. Take a gentle breath in and out through your nose. On the out breath hold your breath with a pinch hold of your nostrils.
  3. Hold your breath for 3 seconds. Keeping your mouth closed, un-pinch your nose and breathe normally for 10 seconds.
  4. Repeat until symptoms have passed.
  • If holding your breath for 3 seconds was comfortable, increase it to either 4 or 5 seconds.
  • Be inventive. Practice this exercise whilst watching TV, driving, listening to soothing music, walking, showering, when you’re making a cup of coffee at work.

Important Note for Asthmatics:

  • The sooner you commence the breath hold exercise, the easier it is to stop symptoms of an asthma attack.
  • If having a severe asthma attack or if symptoms don’t stop within 10 minutes – take rescue medication.
  • Attending the Buteyko Breathing Re-education course would be the ideal way to greatly improve your condition.

More Information:

  • www.buteykoclinic.com
  • Close Your Mouth by Patrick McKeown
Miriam Bunder
Integrative Bodywork Therapist

ATMS Member 15464

ABN 38 016 837 325

I acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which I share my work, the Cammeraygal clan of the Eora nation, and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.
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