Rational Wellness Podcast 031: Breathing with Dr. Rosalba Courtney

Dr. Rosalba Courtney discusses with Dr. Ben Weitz about how dysfunctional breathing can lead to health problems and how breathing assessment and training can improve this. Dr. Courtney happened to be in the US to teach a course on breathing techniques to practitioners.

2:15 I asked how Dr. Courtney came to be so involved with breathing therapy? Dr. Courtney explained that as an Osteopath and as a Naturapath in Australia she was always looking for natural treatment methods for patients who were not responding with her normal manual therapy methods, including patients with very rigid rib cages and asthma patients who were not responding. She learned a few breathing techniques, both of which came out of Russia–the Alexander technique and the Butyeko technique. The more she used these breathing techniques, esp. in those difficult to treat patients, the better results she got. In 2003 Dr. Courtney got a PhD in breathing and she developed a method and protocol for the assessment and training to improve breathing.  Dysfunctional breathing is common and has three main components: 1. Biomechanics of breathing, including whether you breathe through your nose or your mouth, how you use your breathing muscles, and the patterns and rhythms of your breathing whether they are functional or dysfunctional, 2. the Biochemistry of breathing–how breathing is affecting your pH, your body balance, your carbon dioxide and oxygen, 3. the Psychophysiological aspect of breathing–How you are perceiving your breathing?  Are you perceiving it accurately?  Are you aware of breathing, can you connect with it? Is breathing pleasant or unpleasant? How has fear, anxiety and stress conditioned your breathing?  You have to figure out how is this person’s breathing wrong, what’s caused it, and which breathing techniques to use to fix it.  There is the Butyeko breathing technique that uses reduced breathing and breath holding. There are other methods of breathing that work more with the nervous system and try to optimize the function of the vagus nerve and create sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous system balance.  She also works with intermittent hypoxic training, which is acclimatizing the body to higher altitude conditions to improve the body chemistry.

5:42 I then asked for Dr. Courtney to clarify what dysfunctional breathing is and I mentioned that despite the importance of breathing, most of us don’t really ever think about our breathing.   Dr. Courtney explained that breathing functions like a pump to create pressure changes to pump air and fluid through the body. Breathing has biochemical functions, including to regulate oxygen and carbon dioxide and pH. There are secondary functions of breathing where breathing interacts with many systems of the body. Breathing affects speech and oscillations in the body. It is involved in self regulation of the brain and the nervous system. Breathing is also involved in posture and motor control. Functional breathing is breathing that fulfills its functions appropriately and dysfunctional breathing is breathing that does not. Dysfunctional breathing is often linked to symptoms, such as unexplained breathing discomfort.  You might be over breathing or using excessive tension.  You can end up with chronic neck, shoulder, or back pain.  And this pain will not be responsive to normal treatment.

8:07  The normal person breaths 21,000 times per day and if you are over breathing, then this can lead to chronic pain, On the other hand, sometimes manual treatments like chiropractic and massage can help reset breathing.

9:01  I mentioned that most of us think that the purpose of breathing is to bring oxygen to the tissues in the body, but it is equally important that we get the right amount of carbon dioxide as well. Most of us think, oxygen good, carbon dioxide bad, but it’s not that simple. Dr. Courtney explained that the right amount of carbon dioxide is needed to help regulate the body. If there is not enough carbon dixoide, it will make you at first too alkaline, and then too acidic.

10:18  I said that I work with some professional athletes and getting their acid/alkaline balance right seems to be very important and I asked if breathing training could be helpful for them?  Dr. Courtney explained that research indicates that 25% of professional athletes have dysfunctional breathing.  They tend to breathe through their mouth rather than their nose, which means that their breathing is higher and they will tend to use the wrong muscles than if they breathe through their nose.  If they overbreathe through their mouth, it will tend to dry out their airways and cause inflammation. They will have to use excessive respiratory effort, so athletes will tend to run out of puff and they will have a lowering of the anaerobic threshold.  They will have a greater tendency for their vocal folds to be stressed, so it is an advantage if you can get them breathing through their nose more of the time.  Studies have looked at elite cyclists who were mouth breathing and they went through breathing training and they showed a big improvement in their performance. Athletes will tend to fatigue either because of their muscles giving out or because they run out of breath. Those who learn proper breathing techniques will only fatigue because of their muscles.

13:30  I asked what are some of the health condition that are caused by dysfunctional breathing and can these be prevented or reversed through proper breathing techniques? Asthma is one condition and asthma patients who get breathing training from a Butyeko practitioner or a physical therapist with specialty training, many can reduce their medication. Another condition is those with anxiety and panic disorder that can really benefit from breathing retraining techniques.  Some of the research shows that if someone has anxiety/panic disorders and has shallow breathing and has a low CO2 or if they have a lot of anxiety around breathing, they will be much less responsive to psychotherapy.  If you work with their breathing, they will respond better to the psychotherapy.

 

Dr. Rosalba Courtney practices in Avalon and Neutral Bay in Australia and she can be contacted through her web site,  https://www.rosalbacourtney.com/       Dr. Weitz is available for nutrition consultations at 310-395-3111.  

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