Breathe Less, Eat Less? Breathing Problems And Diet

Breathing Problems After The Holidays. Too Much Food, Too Little Exercise, Or Does It Go Deeper?

Thanksgiving and Christmas are when Buteyko Breathing Center‘s phones ring off the hook. After the holidays, people are fervent to improve their breathing. Why is that? Well, do you recollect the feeling of heavy, hindered breathing after finishing a plate of turkey and potatoes? This is the reason! “Wrong food” and over-eating, accompany any holiday season, reminding people about their mortality.

No doubt, people over-eat even without holidays but to a less threatening degree. Statistics say: in the US, two-thirds of adults struggle with being overweight and obese. Those who are determined to feel and look better, counterbalance this inconvenient habit with rigorous exercise, dieting, taking weight control pills, getting massages, going to steam rooms, and undertaking liposuction. What a busy life! Wouldn’t it be simpler and more pragmatic to just eat less?

Buteyko Breathing Normalization Helps These Issues, But To Eat Less Helps Normalize Breathing

Easy to say! Many people cannot do this for various reasons. They don’t feel content with small portions of food since their bodies are not capable of absorbing maximum nutrients; their food is not organic or wild and therefore lacks vitamins and minerals; and because they simply like eating. Breathing Normalization helps with these issues but eating less helps normalize breathing. “Breathe less, eat less, sleep less, and walk more!” was Dr. Buteyko‘s typical advice.

A well-balanced body informs its “master” when it needs food by creating a sense of hunger, which also indicates a readiness to digest food. Most animals don’t eat when they are not hungry or if they don’t feel well. I believe, people should do the same. “Impossible!”- Some students exclaim in response to this idea. I repeat: Do not eat when you are not hungry – that’s all I am asking! If you are hungry, eat.

To implement this idea, we need to define what “hunger” is. Think about a child refusing anything but ice cream. Is he really hungry? I once overheard a discussion between Dr. Novozhilov and a woman who was complaining about her son going on a hunger strike every time he sees a healthy meal.
“Doctor, he wouldn’t even touch his food,” she cried out. “I have no choice but to give him what he wants!”
“I don’t see this as a problem,” Dr. Novozhilov answered, unperturbed. “If he does not want to have a wholesome dinner, he should not have dinner. Let him go to bed without food. Your son’s attitude will change by the next morning, if not, certainly by next afternoon.”

Identifying The Face Of Real Hunger And How It Relates To Breathing Problems

I had never come across real “hunger” until I traveled to India. One night in Bodhgaya, my brother and I passed a flock of kids sitting on the ground, not far from some outdoor tables of a crowded restaurant. They circled a tiny fire, pulling their ragged clothes over their knees and feet. In India, when you see misfortune, you never know whether it is genuine or a creative ploy to shake money out of tourists. These children made no attempt to beg; they were sitting quietly, gazing at the flames (perhaps, that’s why they looked real to us). My brother changed course and went to a small grocery store next to the restaurant. He came out holding packages of crackers, cheese, samosas, and fruit. When he approached the children, they realized that this treasure was for them. They instantly flew up and surrounded my brother – a successful businessman on his first voyage to India. While he was trying to give something to every child, the kids started jumping up and pulling food out of his hands. Within seconds, he found himself at the epicenter of a wild, animalistic fight. Screaming, children attacked him and each other, at the same time ripping packages open and wolfing down food. When my brother made his way out, I noticed blood on his white designer shirt.

That was a small portrait of “hunger.” In addition, I’d like to draw you the face of “starvation.” During the 2nd World War, an acquaintance of mine lived in Saint-Petersburg, Russia, during the fascist siege. In the early spring of 1942, she told me, after a long, cold winter with only crumbs of food available, the grass finally began to grow. On the first sunny day, everyone from her apartment building staggered or crawled out to a nearby lawn. She, a young woman at that time, sat on the wet ground pulling out tiny shoots and chewing on them right away – as did everyone else around her. When her elderly neighbor came close, she – normally a kind person – intended to smash him as hard as she could. Instead, she was only able to whisper, “Go away! This grass is mine!” She had no energy left for anything more.

Why do I tell these horror stories? Not to encourage you to starve, I hope you understand, but to create perspective. Sometimes, people exaggerate, saying: “If I don’t get a bagel with lox right now, I will starve to death!” It seems to me, that after a while, they start to believe their own words. A reality check can liberate you from the fear of missing a meal. Before reaching for food, Dr. Buteyko suggested that you ask yourself if you would eat a bowl of plain rice or a piece of dry bread. If your answer is “no,” you are not hungry.

Attacking Breathing Problems One Meal At A Time

Are you a member of the Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner religion? Most people are! They eat at least three times a day, whether they are hungry or not. Perhaps, their belief system was formed when they were babies cared for by mothers following Dr. Spock’s recommendations. Many modern adults have been eating on schedule since the day they were born. Their mind-body connection was replaced by a clock. If your goal is to breathe lightly and achieve optimal health, reevaluate your devotion to this Holy Trinity. Trust your appetite or better – a lack of it!

Adam, one of the Buteyko Breathing Center’s clients, at age sixty-five noticed that he does not get hungry in the evenings. Even though he had been eating dinners his entire life, he decided to change his lifestyle. He quit supper! The initial outcome of this “extravagant” behavior was a near-divorce experience after his wife refused to live with a non-dining husband. Fortunately, she got used to it. The aftermath was not bad: Adam effortlessly lost thirty pounds of extra weight.

Now, let’s discuss breakfast. Kids often try to drag breakfast out for as long as possible, attempting to escape to school with empty bellies. “They don’t know how to eat healthily!” their parents say. Dr. Buteyko believed that kids, unlike adults, have not yet lost their natural inclinations. During sleep, we accumulate energy: there is no need to recharge the battery while it is still full. Dr. Buteyko recommended eating breakfast no earlier than three or four hours after waking up, but preferably later.

I like breakfast. Skipping dinner now and then is fine but I prefer to keep my breakfasts intact. Normally, I am hungry in the late morning. This contradicts Dr. Buteyko’s view that food should consumed be mostly at night, even if it’s late. In theory, this makes sense since it is only natural to relax after eating – a great thing to do when the day’s work is done. Inversely, during daylight hours, an empty stomach helps people to stay active. On a practical level though, this principle does not sync with my biorhythm. Oops, I just turned from being a Buteyko devotee to a Buteyko dissident. Well, I cannot deny the truth: if I eat in the late evening, I might snore at night… but that’s because even though I eat much less now, often it is still more than I need.

The Next Step Toward Breathing Improvement: Looking At Quantity

When I start eating, sometimes I don’t want to stop. I know that many people have a similar experience. Satiated satisfaction does not set in instantly but about ten minutes after finishing a meal. This feedback is confusing and can easily lead to over-eating. “Remember the last time the phone rang when you were having dinner?” Dr. Buteyko would ask his students. “You got up and talked for a while. When you came back, you were no longer hungry. If the phone did not ring, you would continue eating, right?”

Reducing food portions is another way to improve breathing. Ludmila Buteyko was very good at this. Her son, Andrey Novozhilov explained, “My mother does not only breathe like a little mouse but eats like one too.” When Konstantin met Ludmila, she was obese, weighing in at around 400 pounds; after she normalized her breathing, her body looked lean, showing no excess fat. Once, I took her to a restaurant. While both of us were enjoying our food, I noticed that she ate at least three times less than me. When I asked her about it, she looked directly at me and said: “In my almost thirty-five years of life with Konstantin, I have never seen him eat a full-size meal.”

Learn From A Child

There is something else adults can learn from children – the art of snacking. As a child, I took delight in “stealing” small pieces of food when my mom was still cooking. I knew I would be in trouble by the time dinner was ready when my father would frown and ask, “You are not hungry? Again?” Yet, it took my parents a long time to make me quit. Believe it or not, but snacking (if it’s healthy) is a more natural style of eating, closer, for example, to how monkeys eat. An occasional apple, carrot, or handful of nuts (instead of a plate of chicken, rice and salad) can greatly reduce the number of calories we bombard our bodies with. Besides, a so-called “normal” meal requires a great deal of energy to digest, which is wasteful! This passage should come as good news: if you eat light and little, you can eat more often.

Now, The Bad News: Fasting Improves Breathing

Celeste, a student at the Breathing Center, told me that she used to fast every Monday. She followed this routine for three years, and in this period, was not bothered by her asthma. When she stopped fasting, her asthma attacks returned. Clearly, her weekly fasts not only increased her Positive Maximum Pause and but also maintained it at a reasonable level throughout the whole week. Surprisingly, but prior to her work with a Buteyko specialist, Celeste never noticed the connection between her breathing and fasts.

Once, I met with a group of people who followed the teachings of Porphyry Ivanov, the legendary Russian healer who had extraordinary abilities to heal the sick. A part of his approach was to stop eating daily and start eating only four days a week. Working as a journalist then, I looked at his followers with an investigating eye. Their bodies were surprisingly balanced: not slim, not fat, just strong and healthy-looking. I still vividly remember their child-like rosy cheeks.

Improving Breathing Health Through Fasting – It Has A History

For thousands of years if not more, fasting was used on this planet for health restoration, not to mention spirituality. In Russia, the advantages of fasting are widely known. Orthodox Christianity, which penetrates Russian culture, recommends periods with greatly reduced and lighter eating. Many scientific experiments and clinical work conducted in the Soviet Union, and later in Russia, proved that fasting could stop or prevent various diseases. It improves metabolism, cardiovascular functions, immune and respiratory systems… the list of benefits is too long for this blog. To summarize, fasting is a powerful holistic technique, which stimulates the rejuvenation of the whole body. Today, the Ministry of Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation recommends doctors use fasting as a form of medical treatment. As a Breathing Normalization specialist, I can say that fasting – if done properly – always increases Positive Maximum Pause.

Dr. Buteyko Showed That Fasting Can Improve Health, Breathing

In 1964, Konstantin Buteyko lectured at Moscow State University to a large audience of students and educators. He explained the idea of breathing reduction and demonstrated his Positive Maximum Pause – on that busy day it was only 180 seconds. After his presentation, there came a time for questions. As usual, people were interested to know more about breathing in connection to food. Dr. Buteyko, handsome and fit, unbuttoned his suit jacket. He wrinkled his lower abdominal area and said, “Look, I have one centimeter of fat, which would allow me to live without food for a whole month. How much fat do you have?”

Dr. Buteyko periodically did short-term fasts. Normally, he did not plan them. He would get up in the morning and check his appetite – if he was not hungry, he would not eat. The day would go on and he still would not get hungry, so he would not eat until he would feel hungry again. This natural abstinence from food typically lasted a day or two but occasionally up to ten days. “Also, Buteyko once fasted for fifty-plus days,” Ludmila shared with me. During his fast, she was in Moscow while Konstantin was staying in his apartment in Novosibirsk. When his fasting period was coming to end, Konstantin called Ludmila and asked her to fly to Novosibirsk. She found him in a somewhat troubling situation: he lost too much weight and was barely able to walk. He told Ludmila that he made a mistake by restraining himself from eating for too long.

Don’t Overdue It, Be Cautious!

Perhaps, this story is a good reminder to be cautious in our attempts to eat less. Furthermore, please keep in mind that there is no one technique, which works for everyone. Ludmila, for example, never practiced fasting because her body would not react to it well. As a Buddhist, I like to bring forward the idea of the Middle Path as a way to avoid the extremes of self-gratification as well as self-deprivation.

According to Buddhist philosophy, until one is enlightened he or she continues to make mistakes… When it comes to food, people often keep perfect discipline until they go to a restaurant and have fun, so to speak. I do this too! This “fun” might consist of alcohol and all kinds of the wrong food, and could significantly lower an unstable Positive Maximum Pause. The question is: what to do then? Abstinence from food for a half-day or longer combined with breathing exercises is the price to pay for this indulgence. If you can add physical activities and time in a sauna, it might buy you a ticket to heaven.

To summarize, there are various basic techniques that help prevent the negative effects of excessive food consumption: eating less than three times a day; not eating between meals; eating light but more often; eating more natural and organic food; reducing meal sizes and fasting. Whether you decide to use all of them or just one, eating less will have a positive effect on your breathing and health.

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