Thursday, February 25, 2010

How's Your CP?

The control pause or CP is the cornerstone of the Buteyko breathing method. Buteyko determined that just by measuring your CP and pulse, you could tell the state of your health. He created a table of Health Zones based on his analysis of hundreds of people both sick (some severely so) and healthy. What the CP is measuring is the amount of CO2 in your lungs because it is this level that drives your need to breathe. The more CO2 you have, the longer your CP.

To perform a CP, you simply take a normal breath in, a normal breath out, close your mouth and pinch your nose. At the first sign of discomfort, maybe a twinge from your diaphragm or a swallowing motion telling you to breathe, you let go. If you have held your breath just the right length of time, you should be able to continue with normal breathing. If you gulp for air, or have several heavy breaths before being able to calm your breathing down again, you have held it too long. There should be no stress when doing this measurement.

If your CP is 40s or above, you are in excellent health! 40s is
the norm recognized by doctors everywhere (12 breaths/minute, 41 mmHg CO2 in the aveoli, 70 beats/minute pulse and you have an automatic pause in your breathing which I will explain shortly). In the 20 to 30s range, where most modern people fall, you might not be taking any medications, but you probably do have problems with things like arthritis, IBD, pre-diabetes, and so on. In the 10 to 20s range, disease is present but stable. For asthma sufferers, that means that any trigger can set off an attack. You are most likely on medications for your symptoms. There is no automatic pause. As soon as you finish one breath, you start another. Finally, at 10s or below, you are seriously ill. You breathe 26 times/minute and your pulse may be above 90 beats/minute. Below 5s, you are terminally ill.

Now Buteyko was talking about your breathing when at rest, not when exercising or moving about. Normal breathing should be light, slow, and almost imperceptible.
A normal breath has a relatively quick inhale, maybe 2s, a slower, relaxing exhale, maybe 3s, and is followed by an automatic pause before the next inhale begins. This is a sweet moment when the body is truly at rest and it should happen with every breath. But when we are sick, we sometimes force our exhale so as to be able to quickly take in a new breath. There is no pause and our breathing is tense and heavy. We become chest breathers. This is hyperventilation. But paradoxically, the faster you breathe, the less oxygen gets into your cells and organs. If you are sitting or laying down, you should not be breathing 26 breaths/minute! Your heart should not be beating at 90 beats/minute.

Don't feel too bad if your CP is low. Mine dropped to 15s this winter when I was battling pneumonia and colds at the same time. The good news is you can bring it up to healthier levels and it was Buteyko's work that showed that just by doing this, you could improve your health. And by Buteyko's norms, you could bring your CP as high as 60s and even enter a state of super-health (like the yogi masters) with a CP up to 2 minutes or more.

What are the things that can increase your CP? Exercise, for one. In fact, exercise alone is all you need according to Buteyko. Our ancestors got more exercise than we do, and they naturally had lower breathing rates as
this table shows. But if you are seriously ill, or even not so seriously ill, exercising may cause problems. One needs to be cautious so as not to make a condition worse. That's where various breathing techniques come into play. If you don't exercise, then you do need to practice reduced breathing. Other things you can do are to sleep on the left side (or tummy), keep your bedroom cool at night, (your breathing gets heavier when you are too warm), and eat less. (Many Buteyko practitioners recommend vegetarian food choices, but Buteyko himself was a meat eater. I am certainly not giving up my low-carb life-style!) And of course, always breathe through the nose.

In the next post, I'll share with you some of the things I have been doing to reduce my breathing.

I have taken most of the information in this posting from
Dr. Artour Rakhimov's website and books on the Buteyko Method. Rakhimov is a PhD doctor not a medical doctor, but he did study with Buteyko's widow and being Russian himself, is able to translate Buteyko's papers and other studies done by his students into English for us. He is also the only one who takes Buteyko beyond being a cure just for asthma and breathing related problems. Buteyko himself treated people with heart disease as well as asthma. But Rakhimov does go to the extremes of the method, becoming almost ascetic in his recommendations (sleeping on the floor, cold showers, etc.). I don't recommend his DIY contraption, but I do highly recommend exploring his site if you want to know all the finer details of Buteyko's amazing research findings.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


I have been spending my days recently re-learning to breathe. I thought I knew how, but apparently not. My recent bout of pneumonia compelled me to go back to my Buteyko breathing exercises to deal with the wheezing and cough that I had. My doctor was scaring me with words like tumor and tuberculosis, and was sending me off for X-rays and CT scans. (No tumor. No TB.) I had to take matters into my own hands.

I first heard about Buteyko five years ago when I just happened to be wandering the isles of my local Borders and a book jumped off the shelf and said, "Read me!" (Does that ever happen to you? It happens to me all the time.) The book was Breathing Free by Theresa Hale. The cover blurb promised that this "5-Day Program" would heal asthma, emphysema, bronchitis and other respiratory ailments. Quite a promise! I don't usually believe such wild assertions but I had bronchitis at the time, so I thought it was worth a read.

The method really interested me but I was on my own as far as trying it out. When I did some internet research I found that there one or two websites devoted to the method and virtually no practitioners in this country. Even books other than the Hale book were hard to come by. The method was accepted by the medical establishment in Russia and becoming accepted more and more in England, Australia, and New Zealand after several clinical trials proved that it works, but not here. Happily, when I searched the web for information in January, I found that times have changed and there are many sites and practitioners in the US now. There is even one in Pasadena, whom I promptly called to set up an appointment.

I found that I have become a chest breather and I think that one of the reasons is because I misinterpreted the directions in Hale's book to breathe shallowly. Other Buteyko books use the same word, but what they mean is taking small breaths not great big gulps or big breaths. What they don't mean is to breathe only moving the chest and not the diaphragm. Reduced breathing might be a better term. So I have been practicing erect posture and relaxing my tummy to allow my diaphragm to do its job and gently pull my lungs down with each inhale, and totally relax on each exhale. It's so subtle but the effects are enormous!

Meanwhile I discovered You-Tube. It's amazing what you can find there! And what I found were videos of Buteyko practitioners explaining the method and giving groups of people instructions on the exercises. There is even an interview with Buteyko himself (in Russian, but an English transcription is available). The explanatory videos you can find are by Brian Firth who has an amazing story to tell about his own asthma, Paul O'Connell who has a 17-part introductory seminar starting here, Patrick McKeown (love his Irish accent), and finally Artour Rakhimov. Rakhimov's book, which can be bought online, Normal Breathing: the key to vital health, is the most comprehensive and scientific of the books available in English. The best website for all things Buteyko, including lists of practitioners in many different countries, is here.

But Buteyko isn't only for asthma and other breathing related disorders. That's what so exciting about this idea. Since when we overbreathe we actually deprive our cells of oxygen instead of increasing the supply, our organs cannot function at their best. Our immune system gets overwhelmed and cannot make needed repairs. Our heart works harder, digestion goes slower, muscles get sore, cancers grow. We get panic attacks, hypertension, insomnia, depression, Alzheimer's, hormonal problems (think thyroid and pancreas), and others. Buteyko estimated that there are 150 to 200 health problems that are connected with abnormal breathing, the health problems that are fairly common for modern people. But the Buteyko method is important for everyone who is interested in optimum health.

Because of the subtlety of the method and the seriousness of the diseases it treats, every Buteyko website or author will tell you that you need to learn the technique from someone who is specially trained in it. I would agree with that. It's well worth it to seek out personal instruction and guidance.

The thought has occurred to me that not only should we be eating like our ancestors did, exercising like our ancestors did, and getting plenty of sunshine like our ancestors did, we should be breathing like our ancestors did. I'll talk more about the principles of the method and why I say we should breath like our ancestors in the next post. Oh yes, and I would say that the "5-Day" promise really means five sessions learning the principles and weeks of practice!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Sun and Auroras

Thanks to Dr. Eades and Twitter, I found out about a really neat iPhone app this morning. It's called 3D Sun and was written by an astrophysicist in collaboration with NASA scientists. It brings realtime satellite videos of the sun to your iPhone. Your phone will even notify you when a significant event is happening. If you don't have an iPhone, you can still see the same images on the web at the STEREO (Solar-Terrestrial Relations Observatory) website. (The sun looks green because the satellites are taking images in the extreme ultraviolet range.)

Watching the sun and perhaps catching a solar flare while it is happening would be exciting enough, but the app also offers links to other great stuff including images of the auroras as well as movies of previous flares. One fascinating movie shows a comet getting eaten up by the sun.

Apparently we are having some pretty spectacular auroras right now. The sun's activity, manifested in many ways including sunspots, is picking up again after being at its cyclical minimum. Auroras are caused by the geomagnetic storms that this solar activity originates in the atmosphere of our own Earth due to the solar wind. (You can see a movie of a comet's tail waving in the solar wind here.)

The northern (or southern) lights, as auroras are sometimes called, are caused by the excitation of electrons in the upper atmosphere. The colors come from the kind of atom or molecule that gets an electron or has an electron drop to a lower energy state. Oxygen atoms emit a green or brownish-red photon depending on the amount of energy absorbed. Nitrogen atoms emit a blue photon if they gain an electron and red if they are returning to the ground state after being in an excited state. The auroras form shapes because the electrons move along the magnetic field lines. (This is an extreme over-simplification.) When the disturbances are great, the lights can be seen as far south as the southern US and more temperate parts of Europe. For more information on auroras and how they are formed click here. For more on shapes, click here.

I have never seen the aurora. Someday I hope to. I think it would be well worth braving the freezing temps to view something as spectacular as this photo taken by Marketa Stanczykova in Iceland just a few days ago on February 16.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Reddish Birds

This is the fellow that started it all. Because I wanted to get a good close-up photo of him, I bought a new big lens for my camera, which led to my buying a new camera, one worthy of such a magnificent lens, which led to my buying a new tripod, one strong enough to support such a big lens, which led to my spending a week in December in Morro Bay to get some use out of the new big lens and put it and me through their paces.

Last week before the rains started again, I went down to Bolsa Chica just to see what I could see. The light was not the greatest for photography, but the Reddish Egret did show up again and performed his magic dances for me. Another birder came by and said I needed a video camera to do him justice, but I liked the challenge of trying to capture the essence of his display motions with a still picture. Was I successful?

As I was shooting copious photos of the egret, another somewhat rare (for L.A.) bird appeared in the water behind me and I swiftly zoomed the camera and tripod around to capture this female Red-breasted Merganser.

The tripod was bought in three pieces from three different companies. The legs are carbon fiber for lightness, the head is a ball head which allows easy motion in any direction, and the pi├Ęce de resistance is a Wimberly head attached to the ball head which is perfect for big lenses and bird photography. I got the Sidekick model especially for its light weight. Altogether, the new tripod is slightly less heavy than my old one. But carrying the camera, the lens, and the tripod around is a challenge for me. That's why photographers love Bolsa Chica, you don't have to hike very far or climb up and down steep cliffs to get to the birds and when you do find them, you can get pretty close without disturbing them. As I was leaving at sunset, a man was just arriving with a larger lens than mine. He attached it with his camera to his tripod and slung the whole thing over his shoulder and off he went. Sigh... I need a Sherpa.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Green Season

A friend of mine says that here in Southern California there are only two seasons, green and brown. If that's the case, then we are definitely entering our green season as evidenced by our latest Canyon Walk in Lunada Canyon. It has been several months since I was able to accompany the others on our monthly walk and I was delighted to find the canyon recovering so well from the goats, the blight, and the very dry fall. All we needed was a little rain.

The signs of early spring included the "pussies" coming out on the Arroyo Willows, Salix lasiolepis, that grow in the bottom of the upper canyon where it is wettest.

This is a California Sagebrush, Artemisia californica, that had been decimated by the goats. It's making a nice comeback although goats are not very neat pruners. This plant has the most wonderful smell. If you gently brush the leaves and then sniff your fingers, you'll be rewarded with a truly unique California frangrance.

Here is our brave little Bladderpod, Isomera arborea, plant. There are many Bladderpods in the canyon, but this is the one that was most devastated by the blight. To find it blooming so early in the year was a welcome surprise. The beetles seemed to be delighted as well.

I was also very excited to find the lupines coming back. There were several Arroyo Lupines, Lupinus succulentus, just getting started in the area that had been mowed, but my favorite is the Longleaf Bush Lupine, Lupinus longifolius, that is half buried in some sage plants. It had lots of new growth and several budd stalks coming up. You can see one of them on the right side of the photo.

I'm looking forward to the burst of blooms we will find on our next couple of walks.

Monday, February 1, 2010

After the Storm

I paid another visit to Abalone Cove last week when we were having some nice late afternoon negative tides. What a change has taken place there since last October! I think they must have imported truck-loads of rocks to maintain the beach and protect the cliffs from further erosion. Either that or the storms we had washed away all the sand exposing the rocks. I know that Palos Verdes Dr. South had to be closed for awhile due to mudslides the week before when the rains were so heavy. Whatever the reason for the rocks, it made getting to the best of the tidepools more difficult even with a tide as low as -1.6. But the weather was gorgeous and the hills were green again. It was a beautiful day!

My prize for the day was my first nudibranch. I think it is a Monterey Dorid, Archidoris montereyensis. Nudibranches can be very colorful, iridescent even, which is actually a warning to other creatures that they are poisonous. They are carnivorous and sometimes feed on jellyfish and sea anemones retaining the "sting" of these animals which repels their predators. I wasn't sure what this was when I first saw it, but it moved when I nudged it gently. The left end is the head. It was all tucked up because it was out of water and trying to wedge itself into the crack in the rock where it was moist.

I found two Giant Keyhole Limpets, Megathura crenulata, very close to each other. One was mottled gray and the other was totally black. The soft body of this impressive animal envelopes the shell.

I realized that in my previous posts about tidepooling, I had never shown a picture of the Aggregating Anenome even though there are hundreds of them at every pool I have been to. They are easy to take for granted (and to step on if you are not careful!) Most of the time, I see them all closed up and covered with bits of rocks and shells to retain their moisture until the tide rolls in again. They like to clump together and can make interesting patterns on the rocks.
Although they live side by side, clonemates from different groups are enemies. Warrior anemones with knoblike swellings packed with large stinging cells border each group. If a warrior comes in contact with an enemy warrior, they exchange a barrage of poison darts, causing injury to both. The warriors withdraw, leaving behind a “demilitarized zone.”

Happily, the interesting and beautiful stepping-stone rock ledges were still there. I have taken many pictures of these rocks in different lighting and still find them fascinating.