- Published: May 16, 2018
Question: About a month ago, I decided to do the Wim Hof method. As a result, I started to hyperventilate all the time. Every time I become aware of my breath, I begin to breathe very deeply and quickly. Sometimes I feel like I need to breathe from my mouth; it's a feeling of being hungry for air. I also noticed a decline in my cognitive functions, difficulty concentrating and even hyperactivity. Walking up a set of stairs has become an extremely challenging experience. Now, I have inhalation problems when falling asleep, and my heart is always racing. Can Wim Hof’s method be detrimental to health?
Konstantin Buteyko, MD-PhD, often wore a wide leather belt around his torso, just underneath his outer garments. He would say, “Hyperventilation hides waiting to ambush; the belt is your protection.”
When I heard this story from his widow, Ludmila Buteyko, I was surprised: Aren’t we supposed to gain control over our breathing so that we naturally stop hyperventilating?
Certainly, this is possible, yet it is important to understand that there are some factors that promote hyperventilation. Here are a few of them:
My first dialog on this topic took place more than twenty years ago during one of my first visits to America when I was staying in LA with an acquaintance. One morning, I found him in a kitchen bending over a long row of colorful pot-bellied containers of various sizes.
I pointed my finger at his collection. “What is this? An American version of Russian nesting dolls?”
My joke made him smile. He patiently explained that it was his supply of food supplements and began taking capsules out of each container.
“Why supplement food? Is your food not good?”
My limited English and naiveté put a smile on his face again.
“Vitamins, minerals, and herbs are essential for maintaining good health.” His voice became evocative of my first-grade teacher in Moscow—“You must wash your hands!“ He continued. “Everyone should take food supplements daily. I always do!” He poured water into a glass, and one by one began swallowing the capsules.
“Strange!” I thought. “How come my health is perfect without these babies? “
“Is your health good?” I inquired.
“Not really. I have issues,” he disclosed.
Since then, I have met many people in the same boat. Based on the number of supplements they take, you would think they should be health-rich, yet they are health-poor. This is not a paradox.
Eating strawberries or watermelons on a snowy day is a red flag for me. In a four-season climate, nature offers us an endowment of fruits and berries during the warmest season and only for a blink of time. When it comes to these gifts, I try my best to stick to “local and seasonal,” but no one is faultless. I don’t let Christmas go by without tangerines. Dr. Buteyko was not a big fan of fruits; he specifically recommended avoiding citruses. He considered them allergy triggers. Fortunately, these succulent orange orbs don’t make my skin dry, reddish or pimply. Ludmila shared with me that Konstantin ate only wild fruits and berries. Undomesticated sweets are more nutritious, have tougher immunity and are always seasonal and local if you pick them yourself.
Fruits and berries contain sugar. Lots of sugar. Hyperventilators are often obsessed with them or other sweet objects since their metabolism is dysfunctional to a degree.
Saturday morning in Woodstock, New York. With the sun rising, I left my house and ambled up to the top of Overlook Mountain. Watching nature awaking, I passed by a pair of deer and a wheel of dharma glistening in gold on the rooftop of a Buddhist monastery and strolled down to town again.
Sunfrost, a healthy grocery store, was invitingly opening its doors. After almost three hours of hiking, I felt energetic, uplifted and hungry for protein. “A glass of fresh organic carrot juice would be nice,” I contemplated. Carrot juice contains a lot of protein, almost as much as human milk. I’ve heard that you can raise a baby on it.
At Sunfrost’s juice bar, there was already a line. No surprise! Arguably, Woodstock is the most famous small town in the world. On weekends it’s packed with people from all over, but mostly with New Yorkers.
“You would not believe it! Yesterday it took me an hour to get out of Manhattan.” In front of me, an overweight man was chatting to a middle-aged woman wearing pajama pants.
It was fall of 2009. I was sitting in a restaurant by the Black Sea, gazing at the sun-bleached tops of ever-rolling waves and waiting for Mikhail, a long-term student of Konstantin’s. Almost every time Dr. Buteyko escaped the busy city of Moscow to dock in Crimea, this local man had hung out with him, absorbing precious knowledge.
I was not surprised that Mikhail was late. Crimea’s provincial charm comes with its own time zone of slow time. During this afternoon, waiters were leisurely floating around, carrying trays of traditional Ukrainian appetizers: boiled beef tongue, marinated herring, and, of course, salo—thin slices of raw pork fat. Salo is a delicacy present in almost any Ukrainian home. It can be eaten with eggs, similar to bacon, or on a piece of dark rye bread with butter, or with a glass of vodka. If you ask a Ukrainian man to name one type of food he would take to fly to the moon, undoubtedly, he would say, “Salo.”
Your body is talking to you all the time, giving you a heads up about incoming dangers. Stressful times such as the holiday season can mute this voice and before you know it your body is under full attack. Panic attacks, suffocation attack, or migraines can be debilitating and take time away from all the merriment of the season. For people already battling illnesses such as asthma or COPD, this added stress can be even more harmful. So how do we prevent stress from muting our body's alarm system?
When Dr. Buteyko was asked about a diet favorable to optimal breathing, he often replied with a Russian proverb, Cabbage soup and kasha is our food. What did he mean by this?
As with any wise saying, this one has several meanings. First, it names two types of food prevalent in Slavic cultures: cabbage soup, which here acts as a symbol for vegetables, and kasha, which represents grains. In old Russia and the Ukraine, where Konstantin grew up, a combination of vegetables and grains was common and inexpensive food typical among peasants, monastics and military – the groups known as the healthiest and strongest.
Similar diets consisting mostly of local plant-based food, often vegetables and grains, have been prevalent all over the globe. For example, this was a conventional way of eating in India and Mexico; in Japan, a macrobiotic diet was developed, which has become well known for its powerful healing qualities. This type of food is traditional and has been proven to be healthful over time.
Sasha's Answer: Contrary to a common assumption, Dr. Buteyko considered yawning being an exception from a harmful effect of mouth breathing and hyperventilation. Yawning helps to normalize gas exchange and often follows relaxation. Many people who start practicing Buteyko Breathing Normalization, experience intense yawning, which is considered being a sign that the method is applied effectively. To control this reaction is a mistake. The advice to “yawn with your mouth closed” contradicts Dr. Buteyko’s work.
Listen to a conversation between Sasha Yakovleva and her client who suffered from severe asthma attacks but changed her condition by learning how to breathe through her nose only and switch to reduce air consumption.
In her new book “What Happened”, Hillary Clinton shares that after this year presidential elections, her friends advised her to take antidepressants or to see a therapist. She did not do this. Instead, she turned to an alternate nostril breathing technique suggested by her yoga teacher. It helped Hillary and now, she recommends it to everyone.
When I watched on CNN Hillary demonstrating this breathing technique, I experienced mixed feelings.
QuestionI take Yoga classes and the teacher is so focused on deep breathing. She picks me out and keeps on saying to me, “Take a deep breath - deeper, deeper -and then slowly let it out”. And I don’t like to deep breathe. Isn’t that going against the Buteyko method?
Many yoga teachers are not aware of the danger of hyperventilation. They often make their students hyperventilate without knowing that this can be damaging to their health. When I take a yoga class, I always breathe exclusively through my nose and avoid excessive breathing despite the instructions often given by a teacher.
Mass Shouting in Las Vegas. Flooding in Texas. Hurricanes. A risk of war with North Korea. There are many reasons for anxiety! Yet there are even more reasons to nip anxiety in the bud and not to allow it to mess up your breathing, your health and your life.
This breathing exercise is helpful for anyone who suffers from anxiety - a condition, which is driven by hyperventilation. When a person is anxious, he or she is caught up in their thoughts and their breathing becomes shallow making the chest move. To stop anxiety, it is important to normalize breathing and move this disturbing energy down, transforming it into a feeling of stability and being grounded.