Over the past two years, style arbiter Ricky Toledo’s sleeping habits were far from stylish. His partner, designer-businessman Chito Vijandre, complained that Toledo snored at such a volume that he couldn’t sleep. Toledo, who was suffering from sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by shallow, irregular breathing, wore a nose mask and hose attached to a ventilator that was clumsy and uncomfortable. Then there was the inconvenience of bringing it on business trips and being detained by airport security.
Although Toledo could sleep with the CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, he started getting allergic rhinitis. “The doctor didn’t admit that it was the reason for the allergy. I suspected it. He prescribed sprays and steroids.”
Toledo read about a workshop on Buteyko breathing, which naturally cured respiratory ailments such as asthma. Working closely with practitioner Jac Vidgen and diligent practice of the exercises—half an hour twice a day—liberated him from the bondage of the machine.
His partner said Toledo no longer snores. When they both work out at home with DVDs of Zumba and hiphop and free weights, Toledo has learned to breathe properly—through the nose—during exercise. “Before, I tended to huff and puff. We’ve been taught to overbreathe—inhale deeply through the nose and exhale through the mouth,” said Toledo. “With Buteyko, the breathing is more controlled.”
Debunking the common notion about breathing, Buteyko therapist and lecturer Jac Vidgen explains that humans live in an “oxygen-centric” society, where oxygen is believed to be of prime importance. However, since the body needs 200 times the carbon dioxide level that’s in the air, it manufactures its own CO2.
Deficit of carbon dioxide
“First, so our oxygen is efficiently transferred from our blood to our cells. Second, so that our vessels are unconstricted, and third so our PH balance and metabolism remain balanced. If we overbreathe, we exhale carbon dioxide faster than we make it, so we develop a deficit of carbon dioxide,” he says.
Russian scientist/doctor Konstantin Buteyko studied breathing patterns in relation to chronic illness, discovering that there was a clear correlation between chronic illness and overbreathing.
During an asthma attack, people get disturbed and breathe quickly and deeply, exhaling more carbon dioxide. The breathing quantity is directed by the amount of oxygen in the blood affecting the amount of carbon dioxide, the gas that regulates the acid-base level of the blood.
Dr. Buteyko believed that hyperventilation—breathing too fast and too deeply—could be the basic cause of asthma, worsened by decreasing the level of carbon dioxide in the blood to the point that the airways get restricted to maintain it.
“When we hyperventilate, that is, if we breathe more than we need for the activity we are doing, our physiology, biochemistry and neurology become compromised,” says Vidgen.
This technique may seem to defy logic: when you’re short of breath or stressed out, instead of inhaling deeply, the Buteyko method prescribes shallow and slow breathing through the nose, desisting from the cycle of fast, gasping breaths, nasal passage constriction and more wheezing.
“We breathe about 26,000 times a day on the average. But a quarter to a third of the day is spent unconscious when we’re asleep. So the way we breathe has a major effect on sleep quality. Typical symptoms of hyperventilation during sleep would be snoring, sleep apnea, insomnia, shuddering during sleep, intense dreams, waking up often during the night, the need to urinate during the night, waking up unrefreshed in the morning or with mucous or clogged nose. These problems routinely reduce when they start breathing more correctly,” explains Vidgen.
“In essence, we teach people to breathe less—because modern humans and all sick people overbreathe. Once they incorporate breathing less into their daily life, symptoms reduce, energy levels improve, various aspects of life improve, even regularity of bowel movement and decreased appetite result—as part of the process, people feel less hungry and eat less. It’s not just about eating less; it’s got to do with hormone and metabolic changes, plus practicing the exercises. But breathing more optimally and routinely allows people to lose weight.”
Toledo rejoins, “It’s like a workout, because you perspire.” Since the Buteyko workshop also advises some lifestyle management, he has learned to eat healthier and has trimmed down two sizes. He sleeps only three hours after the last meal and does his Buteyko exercises. “You feel refreshed the next day. When you’ve got apnea, you go back to sleep after waking up because you feel tired.”
When Toledo starts to feel under the weather, the Buteyko method helps him control the symptoms of cough.
Vidgen adds, “You might get warm. Its effect on physiology and biochemistry of the body is similar to a workout. I’ve seen people who didn’t work out, but after two weeks of the workshop, their muscle tone improved because the delivery of the oxygen to the muscles is more efficient.”
Correcting bad habits
Chiqui Mabanta, owner of the Corner Tree vegetarian restaurant, says the Buteyko method has contributed to her well-being. “It corrected bad habits like breathing through my mouth. We should breathe through our noses. When you sleep, you don’t realize that the mouth is open. The techniques help me fall asleep in a few seconds.” She adds that when she’s running or walking briskly, the Buteyko method improves her endurance. As a career woman, the breathing techniques calm her down so she can meet the pressures.
“I’m just happy that I have a tool when I need a quick fix. Buteyko breathing helped me drastically,” she said.
Echostore proponents Chit Juan and Reena Francisco fondly call Vidgen the “Breathing Nazi” because of his strictness. When Vidgen would see Francisco panting, he would command, “Don’t do that!”
Catching them with their mouths agape, Vidgen would order, “Close your mouth! Breathe as if you’re not breathing.”
Still, they do follow-ups with Vidgen through e-mail, phone calls or text messages so that they could maintain the practice.
For many years, Francisco had been bothered by asthma. After a few weeks of practice, she was able to get rid of her asthma tablets. “Breathing expands the passageways,” she says.
Juan was suffering from tenosynovitis, which involves inflammation of the tendon on the wrist. With the Buteyko method, the pain was gone. “The exercises made me conscious about my breathing. I can get heart palpitations if breathing is wrong. Jac taught us how to control. The method also helps in constipation because it frees up all the passages and improves the flow of food.”
When she travels and the body gets out of sync of its routine, Juan uses the Buteyko method to put her back on track.
Vidgen observes that in his 18 years of practice, he has seen more people with anxiety and stress choose Buteyko’s method for relief. “It also works with allergies, skin allergies, and hormonal and thyroid issues. When the body has sufficient carbon dioxide, the hormone system is much more efficient. When there is insufficient or too much hormone being produced, Buteyko helps put the body back into balance. The impact on hormone and immune systems is usually not as fast as for asthma and apnea, though,” says Vidgen.
Ultimately, he says students feel calmer because the brain has more optimal levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen. Says Vidgen, “The neurons synapse more effectively with the brain cells. Otherwise thinking patterns become fractured. Most humans spend a lot of time worrying about things over which they have no control. Whereas if they can get some detachment, they can get calmer about it. The breathing method is like meditation; it helps the mind to become quiet.”
Vidgen will hold free introductory workshops: Mandaluyong/Ortigas—Wednesday, Aug. 1, 7-9 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 5, 5-7 p.m. at Living Life Well, 5/L, Mega Atrium, SM Megamall; Makati City—Thursday, Aug. 2, 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m., at In Touch Community Services, 48-A McKinley Road, Forbes Park; Quezon City—Saturday, Aug. 4, 4-6 p.m., PhilDHRRA Partnership Center, 59 C. Salvador St., Loyola Heights. Visit the websites http://www.buteykoasia.com/ or http://www.learnbuteyko.info. Contact Jac Vidgen at 0919-6356060.