Lao Tzu Meets K.P. Buteyko

“The Perfect Man breathes as if he is Not Breathing at All” Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu is credited for having developed the system of Taoism.  His advice about breathing is used to succinctly explain the concept of how still and natural – in other words unstressed – breathing should be when at rest. Many Buteyko educators use this quote to help their clients understand that ancient ideals of perfection lay in the idea that “less is more” and hinted more towards maintaining the subtle reflexes, rather than focusing on the obvious symptoms. Prof KP Buteyko said that “There is only One Disease: the Disease of Deep Breathing”. As we become stressed, we breathe more than we need. This destabilizes oxygen delivery to our cells, and when chronic, we lose function over time. Thus, “perfect Breathing” is breathing that is naturally almost invisible at rest because there is no stressor that stimulates it.

“The words of truth are always paradoxical”  – Lao Tzu

KP Buteyko said that Breathing is “Counter Intuitive”. Breathlessness is created by a “feeling” of hypoxia, or lack of oxygen delivery at a cellular level. This creates a “sensation” that stimulates a reflexive action to “breathe more”. But over breathing reduces CO2 and destabilizes the Bohr Effect, and this leads to less oxygen being delivered to the cells, and this in turn creates more hypoxia and increased feelings of breathlessness.  KP Buteyko’s gentle techniques may also assist to reduce acute bronchospasm when medicine is not at hand by helping to reduce panic and also by activating the “Rest and Digest” functions of our nervous systems. In learning to “do less” – often paradoxical when speaking of breathing – we create the desired outcome of calm and restful, self-regulating breathing patterns.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” – Lao Tzu

This quote – often reduced to “Go With the Flow” has more depth when seen in the context of breathing and health. Truly responsive and functionally adaptive bodies are not in need of medicines to regulate homeostatic controls like blood pressure or bronchodilation. But many of us resist our bodies natural self healing and self regulating mechanisms and sabotage our immunity because we fear the symptoms this self regulation creates.

Buteyko said that asthmatic bronchospasm was a protective response. Seeing the body from this perspective often allows the asthmatic to begin to take the first steps on their road to Normalcy once more. Losing the fear of symptoms by gaining understanding of how you function helps to introduce calm and allows you the “mental space” from panic and fear based responses. Instead the person learns to listen to their body, and to start encouraging and supporting their body’s immunity – with a positive outlook because they know their body is functioning as it should.

“ “Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” ― Lao Tzu

Professor KP Buteyko may well have added: “And no man can say he has “Mastered Himself” unless he has also mastered his breathing”. For many of us this is the missing puzzle piece that solves so many of our health issues. For many of us it is the last place we look, preferring first to master our exercise regimes, diets, supplement regime, apps, screen time, sleep patterns and other aspects of health first. Yet, mastering breathing masters and repairs all of these other areas of function – and in many cases makes the need for special interventions redundant. It’s no wonder it is the biggest overlooked health factor – there is no “product” that can master your breathing for you. Only you can do that. Buteyko educators with good experience and sound understanding can help you to learn the skills necessary to initiate healthful breathing patterns, but you do it all by yourself – and the benefits of better oxygen uptake are felt immediately.

“Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is Enlightenment.” – Lao Tzu

Similar to above, this is also true of all those who are offering you guidance with your health. Many practitioners of many modalities come to train in their field because of their own experience. With something as subtle as breathing and respiration, a person who has healed themselves using the method they are offering has true “experience” even if they aren’t medically or scientifically inclined. KP Buteyko’s own prerequisite for training in his method was a minimum 60sec early morning control pause, along with other qualifiers. In other words, experience was of greater value than textbook learning. “The Map is Not the Territory”.

“Knowledge is a treasure, but practice is the key to it.”  – Lao Tzu

KP Buteyko would have agreed. Daily practice is essential. Then there is Living your Practice. This means accepting all that you cannot change and changing All you can. Living Your Practice is the key to becoming truly well and “whole”. Accepting means taking action to make changes too: If you know that your city is choking the life out of you, why not move to cleaner climes? What is the “Payoff” for remaining stuck? More money? More access to healthcare? Would you need those things if you lived and worked where cleaner air was important to people? If you know that sugar creates inflammation, why not slowly reduce it until you are no longer addicted? Are you giving in to feelings of inadequacy or needing nourishment in some way? What is stopping you from living your daily practice? What are you prioritizing over and above your health right now?

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” ― Lao Tzu

KP Buteyko always said the symptom is NOT the disease. Medicine looks at a group of symptoms and calls these sets of symptoms disease. One symptom changes, and often a new diagnosis is formed. Buteyko felt these were just “labels”. Symptoms are clues to the reduction of function. Restore function and symptoms are no longer needed to assist regulation.

So many of us identify with out symptoms and claim our illness as our identity. These labels: “Asthmatic” “Cancer Patient” “Fibromyalgia Sufferer” often stick and take over who we are. Our entire personality can become centered around our disease, and this is often why people do not disclose. Sometimes it is really hard to let go of that person, and sometimes there is even grief involved. There are no “Right or Wrong” feelings.

An asthmatic yesterday doesn’t have to be one tomorrow.

©M.Mitchell. Buteyko South Africa








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