You may have been directed to this page for information regarding anxiety, cancer, allergies, diabetes, rhinitis, congestion and numerous other conditions. Although this page focuses on asthma, the biology, philosophy and treatment remains the same for other conditions related to low carbon dioxide status. This information is particularly pertinent for sleep apnea.
The Least You Should Know
No matter what medication you take or what you do, if you continue to over-breathe you will continue to suffer asthma.
That is the most important thing to know about asthma, and if you take nothing else away from this article, take that. If your CP is low – take The Carbon Dioxide Test – then your body is set to a low level of CO2 and any trigger for over breathing can result in symptoms or an attack. Building up your level of CO2 is the only lasting treatment due to the fact that it is low CO2 that is causing the asthma to begin with.
CO2 is necessary for the dilation of smooth muscle tissue and vessels. The lungs have such tissues. When the CO2 level drops, broncho-constriction results. This is also a protective mechanism. The body is trying to stop you from losing any more CO2, and you will find it is harder to breathe OUT than it is to breathe in.
Medication cannot give carbon dioxide to your body! It will open your airways but it is then up to you to retain your CO2.
This is new information to the United States, but Australians have been using it for quite a while (although it isn’t very mainstream yet). Therefore, doctors may not recognize this link and encourage big breathing, big blows into testing devices, and deep breaths of nebulisers. This is completely counterproductive and the only reason they get any success at all (but never cure) is due to medication providing a false dilation of the bronchioles. This is short acting and does nothing for the problem in general.
You cannot cure something if you do not know its cause. Well, I suppose you could accidentally.
If you feel an attack coming on, decrease your breathing. This will feel like the complete opposite of what you want to do as you feel like you cannot get enough air. Decrease your breathing so you feel a slight hunger for air – smaller breaths or fewer breaths per minute. Don’t go so far as to make yourself gasp or need to take in deep breaths to regain equilibrium.
The thing to keep in mind is it was your over-breathing that caused the attack.
If you take medication, be sure to continue with the reduced breathing.
The aim for both adults and children is the same – to condition the body to accept a higher level of carbon dioxide.
NOTE – it is highly recommended you work with a Buteyko practitioner for these exercises and during the changes that occur. I give this information because practitioners are impossible to find in some areas, especially outside of Australia. It is also necessary to see your doctor about medication adjustments (do NOT stop or alter any medications on your own!). Changes can be unexpected, and range from the physical, blood chemistry and amount of medication needed.
Where do you breathe? Your stomach should move OUT with the in breath and IN with the out breath. Your chest shouldn’t move much at all.
Feel the difference between a big breath and a deep breath. Many people say deep breathing is good for you and they are right if they mean “deep into the lungs” or low into the lungs, with sufficient pause (as taught in yoga). You can have a slow, small breath and it can still be “deep” – it is where the air goes that defines deep. Whereas a big breath is just a lot of air exchange. We want to avoid big breaths.
Posture. Don’t underestimate your posture for breath control. Stand with your back to a wall – heels, upper buttocks and shoulder blades touching the wall. Pull your shoulders to the wall. Now relax shoulders down (but not forward). Feel a string pulling you up from the top of the head, like a puppet. Pull your navel toward your spine. Now relax into that position, it is the position of correct posture. It can take a while for this to feel natural, and for you to naturally move in this posture. It may even hurt in spots if you have had chronic bad posture.
Do not mouth breathe. This is singly the biggest reason for hyperventilation and the hardest habit to change. The nose was made for breathing as it warms and filters the air before it reaches the lungs. If you mouth breathe while sleeping, some people have changed the habit by taping the mouth with paper tape. Some do not recommend this for obvious reasons. Always fold a corner down for fast removal. Do not tape children or someone else while they sleep. For babies and young children, push their lips together if you see them mouth breathe and sleep them on their side, especially the left side. If your nose is blocked, use The Secret.
The Secret – Look up. Pinch your nose, hold your breath. Nod your head or move legs (moves muscles to produce CO2). At the first need to inhale (NOT longer) gently resume Reduced Breathing (small, shallow breaths that leave you with a feeling of slight air shortage). If this has not totally unblocked the nose, repeat until it does. If you have a cold, it may take a while to unblock. This works most effectively with a “dry” blockage but has been used successfully during colds, it just takes longer. Cut an onion and let the vapours make your eyes and nose water, this will thin the mucous; or eat spicy food.
Decongestant: A cheap and highly effective decongestant is to snort powdered cayenne pepper (1)(2). Although it can be done dry, you may prefer to put it in a drop or two of water in a teaspoon and snort it that way. Start with a few grains and increase until you have a slight burning sensation in the nose. The nose will open immediately and mucous will flush out so have a tissue handy. The effect can last all night or you may need a midnight refresh. It also helps migraines instantly. (3) You may find you can stop using it altogether after a week. And yes, when I first discovered this I also thought the last place one would want a burning chilli pepper is up one’s nose. But if children can do it without fuss, so can you. Sinus Buster is a brand of nasal spray that uses this technology as “capsaicin spray”. The cayenne on your herb shelf is just as effective.
Suppress your coughs as much as possible. Try coughing with your mouth shut if the coughs are those small irritating ones. The need to cough should lessen as your CO2 rises, depending on your current level of CO2.
Sleep on your side, especially your left side. Back sleeping, on a firm surface with just a tiny neck roll for a pillow is the best sleep posture. However, until sleep breathing is corrected, this position can backfire as it is most prone to opening the mouth when there is low CO2 status. The side position also helps reduce snoring, which is itself a symptom of low CO2, as is sleep apnea.
Avoid cigarette smoke, perfumes or highly polluted areas. If this is impossible, then note how you over-breathe during those exposures. This is because oxygen is competing with other air particles so to compensate, you breathe more in an attempt to get more oxygen. Unfortunately, you lose more CO2 with every out breath.
Treat your allergies if you have any. Exposure to an allergen causes over-breathing. (allergies page is coming soon)
Exercise correctly. During exercise and physical labour only breathe through the nose. You may find you can’t exercise as long or as intensely as you used to once you start nose breathing during exercise. You will build back up again but this time with correct breathing. Exercise is the best way to build up CO2, making the whole process much faster to your goal – as long as you aren’t jeopardizing it by mouth breathing.
Rebalance after laughter. Big belly laughs have their own health benefits, but until you have a new CO2 setting, your body will need help readjusting to the loss of it. Correct using The Secret.
Use a neti pot daily.
Learn Pranayama breathing. A simple version is to use ring finger and thumb of the right hand. Block the right nostril with your thumb by putting it over the nostril, don’t push the side of the nose in. Breathe in through the left nostril into your stomach slowly, hold the breath; block the left nostril with the ring finger, exhale through the right nostril, hold, inhale through the right nostril, hold; block the right nostril, exhale, hold, inhale, hold, repeat. Don’t underestimate the power of this to transform your health and life.
Buy a Himalayan salt lamp.
The Breathing Exercises
See information about the Control Pause (CP) on The Carbon Dioxide Test page. You will be using that method. You will also be using Reduced Breathing (RB). RB is reducing the amount you breathe, either in depth or frequency or both. This creates a slight hunger for air (but not a starvation for air which will lead to gasping). It takes about half an hour. Do the exercise before eating where possible.
You will also take your pulse at the start and end of the exercise. When done correctly, your CP will go up and your pulse will go down. If the reverse happens, you are not doing it correctly.
1) Take your pulse and write it down.
3) RB for 5 minutes
5) RB 5 mins
7) RB 5 mins
8 ) CP
9) RB 5 mins
11) Check pulse and compare to #1.
Your CP length will indicate how often to do this exercise. If it is 30 seconds or above, you can afford to do this once or twice a day. You will find you are thinking about your breathing all the time. This is good. It will take a month or two before you naturally breathe correctly without thought. Regardless, it is always a good thing to stop taking for granted important things like breathing by bringing it into your life focus.
If your CP is 20 seconds or below, schedule four times a day for exercises and fit in a couple more when possible.
Treatment for children:
Use The Secret to unblock the nose.
On this page you can register and receive a free download of the treatment for children. I have downloaded this before and I recommend it. I am not affiliated with the website.
Children find it hard to do a control pause, so they do what is called Steps and mouse breathing.
+ try to make it fun, like a game but not hyped up; be sure they are relaxed.
+ Have her stand, ready to take some steps forward (be sure there is room enough to do this, outside might be best).
+ demonstrate how to take a small breath in and a small breath out.
+ have her hold her breath by getting her to pinch her nose, be sure her mouth is visible so you can monitor there is no mouth breathing.
+ have her walk as many steps as she can before taking a breath (through the nose). Encourage her to walk as many steps as possible without it becoming stressful.
+ don’t let her run, and each time you do the steps, be sure the pace is similar.
+ Count aloud her steps.
+ when she starts breathing, calm her breathing immediately and help her relax (like “jelly on a plate”).
+ the first breath will usually be bigger than usual but suppress her following breaths.
If Steps becomes boring you can switch occasionally to other games or exercises, concentrating on mouse breathing and breath holding during play. Muscle movement produces CO2; reduced breathing helps retain it. Explain to children the importance of nasal breathing and remind them if you see them mouth breathe.
Mouse Breathing (MB)– tell the child they are a little mouse and put their finger under their nose so they can feel the breath. The little mouse has to breathe so quietly that the hungry cat won’t hear them. Pretend to be an elephant – push out a big breath from your nose; show the difference between that and a mouse.
They will breathe faster while taking shallow mouse breaths but this is ok, you want to decrease the volume of air.
The exercise – it might take about 20 minutes:
CP – steps – MB – steps – MB – steps
CP – steps – MB – steps – MB – steps
mouse breathing – CP
Write the number of steps. It should take a couple of months of twice daily (before meals). The goal is 50 steps. 100 steps is considered a CP of 50. Skip the CP if the child has trouble with it and switch to mouse breathing. Take a rest after the steps before the CP.
Viruses such as the common cold are the biggest triggers for babies and children to start wheezing. One of the main reasons is because they start to mouth breathe due to a blocked nose. If your baby or young child gets a cold, be watchful of their breathing, and help them clear their nose if they are having trouble breathing through it. Preventing a baby from mouth breathing when they’re not sick is important, whether they have symptoms of asthma or not. Mothers in other cultures will push a sleeping baby’s lips together if they are mouth breathing; I’m unsure if this is instinctual or learned but it is a very intelligent practise.
Older children can use a neti pot to clear the nasal passages and sinuses. My daughter used one from the age of 5, and I suspect could have used one a little earlier than that. If introduced gently and with experience, the first time can be a pleasant experience for them and they won’t object too much in the future. Use a neti pot yourself several times first so you know how much salt to use, the right temperature, how to angle the pot and whatnot.
Babies cannot use a neti pot but they can have a few drops of saline (salt water) put into the nose. This thins mucous and can help clear it; wait up to ten minutes for this to have an effect though. It is frustrating when a baby has a blocked nose as they find it hard to sleep and are very irritated at having to mouth breathe. We are born with a fierce protective mechanism built in to protect us from mouth breathing, but habit can change that mechanism fast. I know babies who mouth breathed almost habitually by the age of 6 months.
Some advise using a nasal aspirator or bulb syringe for squelching out the mucous from a baby’s nose but I personally never found that useful although I have on occasion heard a good report. It it a little too traumatic for the little benefit, also.
The best bet with babies is to help as much as possible with the acute stage of runny and blocked nose and then treat for low carbon dioxide when they can breathe through the nose again. There isn’t much else you can do really, as you can’t explain to a baby why they must breathe nasally at all costs.
Watch their breathing during sleep, especially toward morning as this is when the mouth most often drops open. If you notice them mouth breathing, gently use a finger to push their lips together; this should kick start nasal breathing again. Risk waking them to do this, it is worth it. NEVER TAPE THEIR MOUTH CLOSED. Even if you think you’re the only parent on earth who would do it safely keep in mind every other parent that messed up also thought they were the only smart ones. Just don’t do it.
You may notice a baby’s mouth is open but they are nose breathing and this is normal and the most common. The tongue rests on the roof of the mouth, directing air flow through the nose, leaving the mouth completely out of the equation.
Sleep them on their left side. During waking hours also watch their breathing strictly for a few days and then randomly after that. Remember that the more they mouth breathe the more tight the nasal passage becomes which causes more mouth breathing. Give them as much exercise as they will do; if they are under six months, assist them to move their body while nose breathing – this will cause them to create more CO2 with the exercise and retain that CO2 with the nasal breathing.
If your toddler or baby is on medication for asthma, this is probably steroidal and opens their airways. Remember from this page and the one on the Carbon Dioxide Test that the body is closing those airways to retain carbon dioxide and because CO2 is needed to relax smooth muscle. Help the body do this, especially if taking steroidal medication. It is more important than ever while on those medications to decrease the breathing in toddlers and avoid mouth breathing in babies. Increase CO2 production with movement. Keep stress levels low, keep a baby skin to skin or at the very least in physical contact with the mother or main carer. To keep a baby skin to skin you can wear them in a sling under your clothing, this is how skin to skin contact is done in cold climates; this has been shown to regulate the temperature of the baby and mother so is still applicable in hot climates. You may find that wearing the baby in hot weather is uncomfortable if you are not skin to skin. Keep them away from allergens, extreme temperatures, chemicals, smoke and pollutants which cause over-breathing. Treat for yeast overgrowth and parasitic infection (link coming soon). Talk, sing and sleep close to their face. Only dress them in natural fibers and sleep them in natural fiber bedding (other fibers off-gas); throw out an old mattress or wrap the mattress. If able, invest in an organic cotton or latex mattress. Buy a himalayan salt lamp and use it wherever the baby/toddler is, especially for sleeping.
If you are concerned with the sound, frequency or any aspect of your child’s breathing, please see a health professional.