Monday, February 2, 2009

The Importance of Good Breathing Patterns for Parkinson's Disease

Breathing - we all do it until we don't - How to make it work for us

Parkinson’s disease does not make for easy breathing when you become ill with the flu, a cold or pneumonia if you haven't been breathing properly prior to the illness. As a matter of fact, not breathing properly can contribute to the problems of swallowing, poor sleep, choking, feeling tired, not sleeping well, feeling panicky, depressed, not being able to scent the world around you.

In China where both Qigong and Tai Chi are practiced, breathing plays a significant role. Pranayma or breath control is a significant part of Yoga in India. In Russia Konstantin Pavolovich Butekyo developed a holistic philosophy similar to Yoga published and practiced in the 1960s and given a nod of permission by the British Guideline for the Management of Asthma 2008.

While we were growing up we took breathing for granted. We caught a cold and our noses were stuffy, we coughed non-stop in an automatic response to clearing that post-nasal drip, we hacked away and we became aware because it was difficult to breathe. We got better and then we forgot about it.

As we age our breathing is not as deep as it was when we were children. We slouch over our desks; we don’t use our diaphragms to breathe. We’re tense and our breathing becomes shallow. It comes from the top of the chest, making us that much more tense. As a matter of fact, just getting older can reduce our blood level oxygen by 20%.

Incorrect breathing patterns can compromise our health: our immune, circulatory, endocrine and nervous systems are at risk when we cannot or do not take in enough oxygen to do that oxygen-carbon dioxide (CO2) exchange to nourish the cells and carry away cellular waste/toxins.

How do poor breathing patterns affect someone with Parkinson’s? Let’s begin with posture – often in PD patients, posture is stooped. The muscles have lost elasticity and become stiff-rigid-weaker. We are aware of this happening in arms and legs but it also happens in the chest, the diaphragm, the lungs, the throat making it difficult to breathe well and therefore to speak and swallow as well. It has many other side effects but let's deal with the obvious first.

PD patients often breathe at a faster rate. Normal resting rate is 12-18 breaths per minute; the PD rate can be more than 20 per minute. More energy for fewer results means tiring easily and difficulty performing tasks.

Voice: if there is less air volume driving the voice, there will be less audible volume. There may be a breathy or hoarse sound quality. Because there is less ability to control the inflection pattern, it becomes more difficult to communicate effectively. Dysarthria is the name for weak, slow or uncoordinated speech. If the vocal cords become weak, speech and voice therapy should be considered. But you can begin at home.

PD patients need strong respiratory systems. Pneumonia is the leading cause of death and strengthening that system could be a life saver. Poor breathing can cause spasms of the trachea (windpipe) which can necessitate hospitalization in illness which didn't pre-PD, such as flu.

Mouth Breathing vs Nose BreathingIn the ring we have nose breathing vs mouth breathing. The decision is: the winner is nose breathing!

The healthiest way to breathe is through your nose. The air is warmed in the nasal canal and filtered in the paranasal sinuses as well as being moisturized, dehumidified.

Mouth breathing can be a sign of something so mundane as a runny or stuffy nose or a sign of asthma, snoring, halitosis, obstructive sleep apnea or deviated nasal septum. It is considered a breathing abnormality. Breathing through the mouth can result in or acerbate hyperventilation, high blood pressure, heart disease and asthma.

One of the primary goals of the Butekyo Method is to train for nose breathing. Mouth breathers will find their lips taped shut. An alternate method is using Chin-Up Strips...kind of like BreathRight is for the nose. Both can help your breathing and, therefore, your sleep especially at night.

The nostrils being smaller than the mouth, slow the outflow of exhaled air. This is actually a good thing because the necessary back pressure provides more time for the lungs to extract oxygen and maintain the proper O-CO2 exchange to maintain the blood pH balance.

If carbon dioxide is lost too rapidly, oxygen absorption is decreased. In the nostrils are nerves which regulate breathing. Mouth breathing bypasses these controls. These controls are there by design. This is the foundation of the Butekyo Method.

Mouth breathing fools the brain into thinking that CO2 is being lost too quickly at which point it tells the mucous producing cells to go into overdrive, slows the breathing and causes the blood vessels to constrict. Conversely, nose breathing can reduce hypertension and stress.

That nose also smells the air which can increase your pleasure of the world around as well as warning of danger. Sense of smell is also a keen memory maker. Unfortunately all to many Parkinson's patients are in various stages of losing that wonderful sense.

Breathing through the nose also helps to maintain proper elasticity of the lungs. Less elasticity means less ability to expell the bad air and to inhale good air which means the same thing for the blood stream and the individual cells.

You can tell if you are breathing through your nose. If you aren't, there are some rather elaborate ways to clear those nasal passages. I'm not going into them here but you can try the easy and obvious to get ready for the exercises to follow in breathing installments 2 and 3.

If you've got a winter cold or flu, you can simply prepare a pot of steaming vinegar and then sauna your head or at least your nose and mouth area. The vinegar is curative as well so you should be able to breathe through your nose as well as knock out some of those bugs in your sinuses. This also helps the dryness caused by the winter heating season as it will humidify as well.

I know, you've been warned about kleenex but sometimes it's as simple as holding one nostril shut and gently blowing into the tissue. You can do the inverse as well sans tissue. Just don't let yourself choke. You can also go for the Q-Tips. Just enough to clear the nares, not your sinuses. Just enough to breathe through your nose.

Tomorrow we'll take breathing to the next level to find out the origin of your breathing and, naturally, some beginning exercises.

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