Have you wondered about how you breathe during your day?
2nd Sep, 2021


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Jacqui Fahey (00:00):

Welcome to Common Ground, a podcast series discussing new research and interesting projects in the field of complementary medicine. Hello, my name is Jacqui Fahey, Head of Education at vital.ly.

vital.ly is a digital platform, a professional health resource, and a distribution service all in one. 

Firstly, I'd like to begin by acknowledging the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the traditional custodians on the land on which we gather here. I would also like to pay my respect to their elders both past and present.

Breathing.....something we do 24 hours a day. On an average day, we breathe in and out about 22,000 times. The way you breathe can impact your health, from helping to regulate important functions such as heart rate and blood pressure, to having an effect on your posture.

There are different types of breathing exercises one can do to help foster a sense of calm, reduce stress and anxiety levels, and lower blood pressure just to name a few.

Have you wondered about how you breathe during your day?


Today on Common Ground, I'll be speaking with Mim Beim. Mim is a naturopath with over 30 years of clinical experience. She has written nine books, including Natural Remedies. In recent years, Mim began to explore the influence of breath on our health. She traveled in 2011 to Los Angeles to study with the world's leading Buteyko breathing practitioner, Patrick McKeown. Mim is now one of Australia's foremost breathing educators, helping people overcome conditions including asthma, sleep apnoea, snoring, anxiety, reflux, and irritable bowel syndrome. In 2008, Mim was awarded a fellowship of the Buteyko practitioners international. Mim practices and teaches breathing courses online and her clinic is located in New South Wales Southern Highlands.

Welcome to Common Ground Mim.

Mim Beim (02:10):

Jacqui, thank you for having me.

Jacqui Fahey (02:14):

Before we delve in Mim, we'd love to hear a little something about yourself. What led you to specialising in breathwork?

Mim Beim (02:22):

Well, Jacqui, it was probably about 25 years ago I did a very short course, like one hour a day for three days on Buteyko and I did it because I suffered from asthma and literally it took my asthma away. So from that day to now, I haven't had asthma. And so, I'm very glass half empty kind of gal. So I don't know why I wasn't more impressed. With my asthmatic patients, I'd say, you know, you should check it out and they never did. And that's why I traveled to America to study with Patrick in 2011, really thinking I was just going to get a little extra tool to help my asthmatic patients. I did not realise it was going to change my life and changed the way I practice and the way I look at breathing. So it did a whole lot more.

Jacqui Fahey (03:19):

What is Buteyko breathing? If you could explain this for our listeners?

Mim Beim (03:23):

Yeah, it actually comes, the word is the surname of Constantine Buteyko, who was a Russian doctor in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. He died in early 2000. He was researching the effect of breathing on blood pressure and then found that by giving these breathing exercises people were responding, they were getting better in other conditions. So that's where the word comes from and the technique is quite interesting. It's why I like Patrick McKeown, although he is a Buteyko practitioner, he's taken it a lot broader than that. Buteyko technique itself is very very good at retraining breathing but there's lots more. So the Buteyko is actually the biochemical aspect of the breathing but then we've got the mechanical aspect as well, which is mainly the diaphragm and then we've got the rhythm of breathing. So just one aspect is the Buteyko.

Jacqui Fahey (04:31):

I've heard the term ‘dysfunctional breathing’. What is that? And what are some of the signs of dysfunctional breathing?

Mim Beim (04:39):

Yeh, well I guess one of the big signs would be if someone is not breathing using their nose, they’re called a mouth breather, quite derogatory, the mouth breather! But you know, there are other signs that are, I guess, are more subtle - frequent sighing, frequent yawning, throat clearing, people using the, you know, upper chest breathing. So there can be quite subtle signs, people taking large breaths prior to talking.

Jacqui Fahey (05:15):

I've read recently, that basically there are two types of breathing, your diaphragmatic breathing and chest breathing, which obviously can have two very different clinical out pictures and experiences for health. Isn't it?

Mim Beim (05:28):

That's right. We were born to breathe using our diaphragm. And I think, you know, it changes, I don't know when it really does change but when you sit in a chair and particularly if you're, you know, typing using computers, you're kind of in that slouch position, which the diaphragm really can't work that well.

Jacqui Fahey (05:50):

Oh, okay. Yeah. Right. I might ask you a few questions further in the podcast about that, but what is breathing retraining and what does that entail?

Mim Beim (06:01):

Yeah, well, it's the, and this really is the Buteyko method of giving someone exercises, breathing exercises to do every day. And they will rewire the brain, basically when we're looking at resetting the respiratory centres in the brain, and that's a permanent change, which I really like, because unlike going to the gym where you're exercising your muscles, and, you know, if you stop for a couple of weeks, you are back at square one. Once the respiratory centre in the brain has been say, reset, recalibrated, it should remain there. So that, you know, what you do the breathing bootcamp. You know, for me my trigger for asthma was exercising. I was an aerobics instructor I'm sorry to say in the 80’s and 90’s, the trigger was there but my asthma didn't come back. So my brain had reset from that very short amount of time.

Jacqui Fahey (07:08):

Are there different breathing exercises for different health conditions?

Mim Beim (07:14):

Yes and no. I guess it depends what the person has but generally there'll be similar kinds of exercises but someone with anxiety, for example may need different exercises to say someone with sleep apnoea and also the breathing exercises and this is something Patrick's been very interested in the last few years for improving sports performance. And that is a kind of a slightly different spin and they can be quite different exercises as well.

Jacqui Fahey (07:53):

So in the example of asthma, why does mouth breathing worsen asthma for some people suffering this?

Mim Beim (08:03):

Yeh, well, the whole I guess clust of the Buteyko is saying that people are over breathers and that strikes people as quite odd because, you know, breathing is very good. Surely all breathing would be better but in fact, over breathing is breathing more than we, our bodies require. Buteyko said asthma is over-breathing. It's just like,  we say, maybe it's an analogy or something. He said, no, it is actually, it's a breathing problem rather than an allergy problem or whatever. It's all about the blood gas, carbon dioxide, which people say is a toxic gas, which it isn't, but it is. It's a byproduct of when we make energy in the cell. So energy comes from our fuel and our fuel is food. So it's carbohydrates, fats and proteins, which break down to carbons, hydrogens, and oxygen, they go in the food, goes into the mitochondria, into the Krebs cycle and out comes energy, and the byproducts are carbon dioxide and water.

Mim Beim (09:27):

So that's why carbon dioxide is called a waste product. But in fact, carbon dioxide is our driver to breathe. We think oxygen is very important and it is very important. Surprisingly, the brain is reading carbon dioxide levels. So if you are a mouth breather, you are losing too much carbon dioxide. The exercises of Buteyko increase carbon dioxide and help the body, help the brain tolerate higher amounts of carbon dioxide. Why do we want that? Well, carbon dioxide helps to relax smooth muscle, and the airways are smooth muscle. So an asthmatic, their smooth muscle of their airways is always a little bit twitchy. And then you give a trigger, whether it's stress or exercise or an allergen, and that will constrict. And the problem is with the airway, smooth muscle of the airway, when it constricts, it also produces mucous. 

And that's why asthma is a potentially fatal condition. So that's one of the aspects of what the exercises do. They increase carbon dioxide and increase the brain’s tolerance to it. So that always, there is slightly higher than it was previously. So that's the smooth muscle of the airways. There's the smooth muscle of the blood vessels and this was Buteyko’s focus. He was looking at high blood pressure. So where the blood pressure, high hypertension, is due to constriction of the blood vessels, then that's where this is going to help. Smooth muscle is also in the gastrointestinal tract. So you can see it can help with maybe things like diarrhea or constipation or even reflux. And I'd like to talk about that later on with respect to the diaphragm. But so increasing carbon dioxide helps to relax smooth muscle. Increasing carbon dioxide helps in oxygen delivery, which sounds a bit paradoxical, but it's called the Bohr effect.

Mim Beim (11:39):

And what happens is it's in the presence of carbon dioxide that the haemoglobin molecule will release its oxygen cargo to the tissues in the brain. So we actually need a little bit more carbon dioxide for oxygen delivery. And the other thing with carbon dioxide is it switches on the parasympathetic nervous system. So in the old days, people would, with anxiety, were told to breathe into a paper bag and that's really circulating the carbon dioxide. So it's kind of a tranquilising gas, and that's, you know, the focus of Buteyko is about exercises that increase carbon dioxide. So we are basically recalibrating, not too, too much carbon dioxide but that person with the dysfunctional breathing has carbon dioxide levels that have been too low. So that's how it works. And it works really quickly. You know, in fact, I'd love to give it a little exercise if you've got time Jacqui and hopefully people can experience that.

Jacqui Fahey (12:42):

Yes, that's great. That's fascinating. I didn't realise the carbon dioxide link. I was going to ask you, was there that parasympathetic nervous system link. So thank you for explaining this. With regards to reflux, how might breathing exercises assist this condition?

Mim Beim (13:00):

Well, yes, this one's really fascinating as it were. We were talking before about chest breathing and belly breathing and belly breathing is using the diaphragm. So the diaphragm is this big muscle underneath the rib cage. And you know, of course we do, people will use it but they're not using it enough. The diaphragm is a domed muscle and what goes through it is major. We've got the aorta, we've got the inferior vena cava, and we've got the eosophagus. And so the actual muscle of the diaphragm forms the lower eosophageal sphincter, and it's thought to be that 40% of reflux is due to this faulty diaphragm. So not working properly, so slightly constricted. And so this diaphragm going up and down massages the whole abdominal area 20 to 30,000 times a day. So it's a really interesting muscle but that's how sometimes breathing or restoring functional breathing can help with reflux.

Jacqui Fahey (14:25):

Wow. That's just amazing.

Mim Beim (14:27):

Yeah. It's kind of mind blowing really, it's all so connected. I mean, where your tongue position is, for example, that's going to affect your posture. So it's all of these things you know, with your mouth open, your tongue is not in the right position with your mouth open, your tongue drops with your mouth closed. It's got more opportunity to be in the correct spot, which is at the roof of the mouth.

Jacqui Fahey (14:56):

Right. Gee, all these elements for the combination for healthy breathing. I mean, you can just take for granted breathing. When you become conscious with it, you know, better breathing can be better health?

Mim Beim (15:12):

Yeah, absolutely. So if I say, well I keep breathing, there will always be someone else like, I'm doing okay, I'm alive. You know, my answer to that is, well, you know, you can have a really bad diet and still be alive or you can do no exercise at all and still be alive but how well are you? and the same with the breathing, you know, people will kind of lurch along, but you know, it's so interesting, improving breathing really has amazing outcomes. I'm teaching a course at the moment, and every time I teach a course, by the second lesson someone will say I've had the best sleep of my life because they've had their mouth closed that night.

Jacqui Fahey (15:58):

How does stress affect breathing?

Mim Beim (16:04):

Well, it's very much an evolutionary thing. Stress back in the day when we were roaming the jungles was always physical. So it was the bear, you know, we were fighting the bear or probably fighting our next door cave person in reality or running away from the bear. So it was always physical. So the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol are all physical and that's, so you can run or fight and your breathing will change. So even if the stress is not physical, so the cause is a deadline or it's an argument say, your breathing will change. And so we sometimes can't change the stress, the stressor, but interestingly, changing your breathing can reduce the stress hormones. And that's the carbon, that's part of the carbon dioxide thing to slowing it down and the rhythm as well.

Jacqui Fahey (17:05):

And hence that's where that calming effect comes in yeah?

Mim Beim (17:11):

Yes, yes, you can, like pain for example, you know, sometimes you just can't avoid that but by changing the breathing, the chemicals of stress are reduced or dampen down.

Jacqui Fahey (17:30):

Wow. Fantastic. COVID-19 and mask wearing, any tips for those wearing masks?

Mim Beim (17:42):

Well, it's actually a Buteyko teacher's dream because having the mask on will increase carbon dioxide. It's so important though that you have your mouth closed with the mask. It actually can be, I think, very therapeutic. Patrick actually brought out, he was quite prescient, if that's the word, five years ago, he actually produced a mask for people to train them. So, you know, who would have known that he was well ahead of the curve. Yeah, but it can be good thing but people are who not used to it can get quite anxious. So it's about, in fact, I've got a couple of people at the moment who are seeking help because they get so anxious with a mask on. So it's about improving their breathing first and then they can wear the mask more comfortably.

Jacqui Fahey (18:56):

Good to hear. I know you're going to share a technique with us at the end of this podcast but are there some simple exercises you could direct our listeners to? Do you have some on your website?

Mim Beim (19:10):

Yes. Well, I've got a YouTube channel actually. So I've got a lot of exercises up there. I guess, you know, well, let's, well have we got time for a couple of minutes of doing an exercise. Great. Okay. All right. All right. So if you can be sitting down with your back straight and your mouth closed, if it's possible. So some people can't breathe through their nose, so do what you can. And, but if it's possible to breathe with your, through your nose and I'd like you to do that and what we're going to do, it's an exercise called ‘three by three’. So basically it's three breaths, and a breath is an inhale followed by an exhale. So it's your normal breathing. It's not big or small, anything fancy. It's three normal breaths, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

Mim Beim (20:03):

At the end of that third exhale, I want you to pause for count of three, and then you start the three breaths again. So we'll just do it for a couple of minutes and I'll kind of talk you through it.

So sitting down with your mouth closed back straight and just starting whenever you'd like, the three normal breaths, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, pause for a count of three. And then you start the sequence again. If that pause feels too long, you don't have to pause at all. However, if you feel you can extend that pause to more than three seconds, I'm going to invite you to extend the pause for as long as it's comfortable. So you're doing three breaths and a pause until you feel you need to breathe in again. So shoulders dropped, belly soft, and the tongue is resting on the roof of the mouth, the tip of the tongue behind the front teeth. Just following the breath in, through the nostrils and out, and in that pause, holding for as long as is comfortable. And then the sequence again, shoulders dropped and belly soft, watching the breath as it enters and leaves. And just noticing if there's any more saliva in your mouth, noticing if you feel warmer.

We’ll just do a few more cycles, Jacqui, if you've got any more saliva? Okay, good.

Again, just following the breath and pausing for as long as is comfortable.

Okay. So that's around two minutes and I often give that little exercise when I've got patients who are anxious. And I want to see whether this is going to be helpful for them. And that little question I ask, if there is more saliva, is a sign that carbon dioxide levels have increased and your parasympathetic nervous system has been switched on. Because our mouth is dry when we've got the stress hormones, and when you switch on the parasympathetic nervous system, your digestion basically stops when we're very stressed but when we're relaxed, it's, you know, it's ready to absorb and digest and that's a sign that there's more saliva. So I kind of, from a clinical point of view, I generally ask that question after about a minute. If someone doesn't have more saliva after one and a half minutes, I think that they're quite sympathetic dominant so that they, you know, I think their stress levels are quite high.

Jacqui Fahey (23:36):

Right, yes. I can actually feel just so much calmer actually. I'm feeling very chilled out. Thank you.

Mim Beim  (23:45):

That's a pleasure. It's such a simple thing to do in, you know, in a consultation, if you don't have oodles of time. That couple of minutes is a really good way of assessing whether that person's going to benefit from the breathing or how stressed they are. And that also asking if people feel warmer, if they do, that's also a sign that you've increased carbon dioxide because of the smooth muscle of the blood vessels. So the capillaries have opened up. Cold hands are sometimes a sign of sympathetic dominance.

Jacqui Fahey (24:28):

And a little bit of feeling of lightheadedness? Is that the carbon dioxide as well?

Mim Beim (24:35):

That is when people are not used to it. Yeah. So, so that's a sign, people will say, oh, I feel a bit dizzy or lightheaded, and it's just like, okay, well you're not used to that slight build-up of carbon dioxide. And so, you know, the more exercises they do, that will go away, because we're retraining, we're changing a habit of a lifetime, so it can take a little bit of time.

Jacqui Fahey (25:03):

Yes. It is aptly named isn't it, it is a retraining. It's a recalibration, isn't it? So a comment to you Mim, breathing is an integral link with the body mind connection would you say?

Mim Beim (25:18):

Yeah, absolutely, absolutely, and as your breathing changes, with, you know, every day, your health and I think getting one of the things we're doing in the course, people are then much more aware of how they are breathing. So my personal feeling is that the breath is the first thing that changes when we're ill. And, and if you can be subtle enough or know your body well enough, and that's what we do as, you know, as naturopaths, nutritionists, bodyworkers, and you know, it's all that awareness of your body, how your body is tracking. And of course we do that with nutrition and exercise, but the breath is the most fundamental thing. And so how am I breathing today? And has it changed? Am I, you know, Am I not well? Am I stressed? Is there an infection? Why is my breathing different?

Jacqui Fahey (26:22):

Yup. And then taking that moment, with one of the techniques we’ve just tried out, that's just so powerful. I mean, that was two minutes you said, yeah? Wow.

What are some key takeaways that you'd like our listeners to take away from our chat today?

Mim Beim (26:50):

Okay. Well, keep your mouth closed, except for when you're eating and talking and you know, breathe only using your nose. I think the awareness of the breath, if you know about diaphragmatic breathing, it's not just for special occasions. People say, oh, yes, I know I do that in my yoga class. It's like, yeah. And the other 23 hours you are also meant to be, it's not just for special. So diaphragmatic breathing.

So the three things, having your tongue in the spot, if you've got a moment, where the spot is, you can find that if you close your mouth, smile and swallow, the tongue tends to go up there. Another way of finding it is making a popping, clicking sound. Before you make the sound, the tongue is kind of up the top of that. So that's where the tongue should be resting all day. And that has a whole, that's a whole world in itself. It's very, very interesting. So the tongue in the right position, diaphragmatic breathing and using your nose, use those three things and you're well on your way.

Jacqui Fahey (28:19):

Wow, ok, I could actually just feel my jaw relax too then when you said that with the tongue rest position.

Mim Beim (28:28): Yeah. It keeps the whole jaw in the right position.

Jacqui Fahey (28:35):

Well Mim thank you for sharing your wisdom and your experience today. You’ve shared some very valuable insights. So thank you for coming on Common Ground today.

Mim Beim (28:45):

Thank you for the opportunity Jacqui, it's been a pleasure.

Jacqui Fahey (28:49):

To our listeners, please subscribe to Common Ground, we appreciate your support and feel free to leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you. Thank you.

Mims Youtube page

Mim Beim official website

Clinic session - Mim and Buteyko breathing

Clinic session - Mim and small breath holds technique