Breathholds are the cornerstone of the Buteyko method.
As I often talk about the importance of breath-holding exercises, it seems to my clients, at first, that it is counterintuitive – to hold one’s breath to have a better oxygenation of the body.
I wrote this article to clarify the process and the benefits.
First, breath-holding does not create more oxygen in the body (we are not breathing, no input, so here the doubters are correct), we create a hypercapnic state (increasing carbon dioxide in the blood) for a short period of time.
So, temporarily we have an increased level of carbon dioxide and a reduced level of oxygen in the body. But due to the Bohr effect, oxygen delivery to the cells improves after these exercises.
The most important reason we do breath holds in the Functional Breathing Program is to retrain the receptors in the respiratory centre of the brain to the new, healthier level of carbon dioxide tolerance in the blood.
When a person is a habitual hyperventilator – inhales and exhales more air than is physiologically needed, s/he falls into a vicious cycle of hyperventilating; this happens because the CO2 receptors become extremely sensitive to a slightest increase in carbon dioxide in the blood, and the person is forced to breathe bigger. Once the CO2 receptors are less sensitive, a healthier amount of CO2 is tolerated, which allows for a better oxygen delivery to the tissues. An individual with a good tolerance to CO2 does not feel the need to take big shallow (chest breathing) breaths, no frequent yawning or sighing happens, the person feels comfortable breathing only through the nose.
To sum up, breath-holding exercises help lower sensitivity to carbon dioxide in the blood, which improves oxygen delivery to the cells. With optimal oxygenation of each cell, we achieve more calm, centeredness, relaxed airways (important for asthma sufferers) better muscle recovery after exercise, improved cognition. And good tolerance to CO2 allows us to breathe excusively through the nose! Why it’s important? Read here.