Buteyko seeks to address breathing patterns and bring them to “Normal”. Thus, Buteyko is a practice, not a prescription. This is because breathing patterns are behaviour patterns, and sometimes, behaviour patterns can cause big challenges in life.
To correct any behaviour, you first have to:
1. recognize the issue exists;
2. have awareness of why it happens and what is actually going on,
3. understand why you are correcting it,
4. know how to correct the behaviour, and
5. what the desired outcome of the correction should be.
Eg. If you bite your nails, you first have to realize that nail-biting is problematic behaviour to engage in (recognition) and that you would like your hands to look and feel better (ideal outcome). To overcome the problem, you need to have awareness of when it is happening by knowing why it occurs. Most nail-biting habits happen in a state of anxious unawareness. So; to overcome this; you have to recognize that you are in fact trying to self-calm by biting the nails, because of stress and anxiety you are experiencing at that time. Understanding that the habit is stemming from anxiety helps you to become more aware of when you are feeling anxious and can help you to become aware of when the behaviour is likely to happen and why it is happening. Understanding that changing the behaviour will also impact your health because every time you bite your nails you are further compounding the stress experienced by introducing pathogens into the mouth, or engaging in mouth breathing during the episode, or lowering immunity, or upsetting your teeth and jaw, or feeling guilty for having not been aware; is further information that helps you understand why the behaviour needs to change – beyond the aesthetic. And this can help empower you to change the behaviour yourself without resorting to potions and lotions and foul tasting bitters – because you can actually have the awareness to prepare for this: e.g. Going to watch a scary movie could create anxious excitement, and so it is easy to prepare for the possibility and remind yourself to remain alert to your habit of self soothing and then to be able to effect the preferred behaviour and change the outcome. Once you realize it why it may happen (stress), you can apply the correction: by keeping your hands busy with beads or stress balls, etc, so that you can avoid nail-biting. Then you need to continue the corrective behaviour every time you are aware that you are about to bite your nails – until you train your brain to change it’s reaction to stress and give it something else to do instead.
According to Dr. John Ratey, in his book, “User’s Guide to the Brain”, behaviour is determined by neural pathways that have grown and connected to create the outcome. Every time we repeat an action; we further cement the behaviour – by making it actually physically reinforced in our brains.
Some people describe this as all of our behaviour being actually coded into our brains like computers. And just like with your hard drive, hitting the delete button doesn’t actually erase the information, it just makes it available for over-writing or re-using. That is why we cannot simply change behaviour immediately – unless there is a process of overwriting that takes time and effort – just like creating the behaviour did. So, we can’t just “delete” behaviour patterns – we actually have to re-code or re-write these patterns to improve them. And if we want to avoid any further “glitches” in behaviour, we have to make sure we don’t write any unintentional errors into the code by mistake.
Correcting or enhancing breathing behaviour patterns is not as simple as trying to change nail biting behaviour. Even the worst nail biters sleep eventually, but everyone breathes constantly, day and night, until they are dead. Breathing is so fundamental, so automatic and so complicated – yet so vital to every single cell of our body. And yet many of us have no idea about what “good breathing behaviour” really is, or how to effect it.
Breathing changes in reaction to every single environmental change and every single stressor. Without recognizing the signs, you cannot become aware of what is causing the reaction. When you are simply correcting a reaction, you are not overwriting the information in your brain – merely creating new pathways to contend with and further cementing the stress. Anything that causes stress will cause your behaviour to change – and the first behaviour that is affected by stress is breathing. Stressed breathing signals the brain to begin the activation of Fight or Flight and this is counter-productive and also the reason why breathing is just about the most complicated behaviour on Earth.
That is why you really need to have an experienced practitioner actually physically with you, guiding through any behaviour changing process. Buteyko does not seek to overcome symptoms, although this is par for the course. Buteyko seeks to Normalize Breathing, and once breathing is balanced, oxygen is restored. Once oxygen delivery and “life”; in it’s very basic sense, is improved within the cells, the body is able to Self-Heal and Self-Regulate efficiently and effectively.
Our bodies are sophisticated living “tools” for our curious and creative minds; and we only have use of one of them in this lifetime. It is worth learning more about how you can be better at breathing, because in life and health, there are always aspects you can improve on and things you may be doing incorrectly – without realizing how they may be negatively affecting your well being.
Improving Breathing Behaviour is a process that can encompass many different health modalities and varying fields. More about that next time.