A breath of life
By Walter Ang
September-October 2009 issue
Asian Dragon Magazine
Walter Ang writes about how a half-century old breathing method can provide
A breath of life
People seem to want more of everything and anything in this is the age of overconsumption. According to Jac Vidgen, aside from overeating and overspending, most people even over-breathe. Vidgen is a senior practitioner of Buteyko breathing, a method that enhances one's heath and healing originated by Russian scientist and medical doctor Konstantin Buteyko in 1952.
Buteyko theorized that overbreathing disturbs the delicate ratio of oxygen and carbon dioxide inside the body, therefore, less oxygen reaches vital areas of the brain and body. Resulting symptoms range from lightheadedness and dizziness to palpitations, skipped heart beats, muscular spasms, and different degrees of anxiety. Buteyko's more than 40 years of research has uncovered up to 200 diseases or conditions that can be linked to incorrect breathing.
With the "less is more" philosophy gaining ground on all fronts of our lives, it can now apply to breathing as well. "Breathing is neither taught nor learned," says Vidgen. "It is a function of the body that we just do naturally, without thought or effort. But it is also taken for granted and incorrect habits can develop as a way of coping with the stress of our modern lifestyle." He also notes that breathing is an integral component of Asian practices such as pranayama breathing in yoga and chi-gong or tai-chi breathing.
He points out that the Buteyko breathing allows people to re-train their breathing patterns as a way to improve health and to reduce or eliminate dependence on medications. "It normalizes the breathing rate and depth so that an effective metabolic process can be achieved. Buteyko is perfect for people with asthma and other respiratory ailments. People say asthma and other breathing disorders are caused by pollution and the environment, yet asthma can strike in clean environments, while some people who live in polluted environments never suffer asthma. The way people breathe is certainly a major factor," he says.
Vidgen became involved with Buteyko breathing in the early 90s in Australia. "When I started to learn the method, I had immediate benefits to my lifetime symptoms of allergic rhinitis and back problems," he says. He trained under Alexander Stalmatski and Christopher Drake, and eventually introduced the method to the Asian region. He has been based in South East Asia since 1998, teaching classes mostly in Manila, Thailand, and Hong Kong.
Classes are usually done in a series of five sessions, each lasting one to two hours, spread over one to two weeks. "Most participants have symptoms which they want to reduce, like asthma, but some learn the method as a tool for general health - to strengthen immune and hormone function or to improve or refine sports or exercise performance - and, of course to have a healthier old age," Vidgen says. He now also teaches the method through internet chat or phone.
Students with asthma usually experience immediate relief "often within the same day of the first lesson or by the following day." Vidgen notes that Buteyko breathing has helped his students deal with issues such as allergies, eczema, sleep apnea (when people stop breathing while sleeping), migraine, and weight control, among a host of other conditions. Athletes and scuba divers, on the other hand, report increased stamina, better performance, and reduced recovery time.
"Generally, my students are delighted to find an increase in vigor, concentration, and the elimination of many symptoms that one would not necessarily attribute to improved breathing. Often, the more severe the problem the more dramatic the improvement," he says. "Increasingly, I have been getting students that suffer from fatigue, stress, depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. It's indicative of the way we live our lives and the way we use our bodies in modern society. We need to slow down and simplify our lives."
The results that can be achieved using Buteyko breathing have been documented in five scientific studies conducted in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Scotland. The "British Guideline on the Management of Asthma 2008" allows British health professionals to recommend Buteyko, stating that the method "may be considered to help patients control the symptoms of asthma."
Vidgen points out, however, that results vary from individual to individual. "It depends on many factors such as the age and health of the participant, as well as their degree of practice and their willingness to be aware of their breathing. Some students will require more than five sessions, depending on their individual condition," he says. "Children as young as three or four can learn the method but parents need to be present. I've also had students as old as 90."
Aside from bringing the method to Filipinos, Vidgen also hopes to find individuals who are interested to become trainers. "It's kind of sad that I'm the only one teaching Buteyko in the Philippines right now," he says. "I'd love to teach new trainers so we can spread the method, after all, everyone would benefit from a more optimal breathing pattern."
For details, visit www.buteykoasia.com or call +63919-635- 6060.