Friday, February 23, 2007

Asthma and anthroposophy

I've suffered from asthma since I was 17. Over the years I've had many trips to the ER and have gone through countless inhalers. Luckily it's never been severe, but asthma symptoms have definitely limited my activities.

Asthma is a mysterious thing. No one really knows what causes it. There are identified triggers--pollen, exercise, anxiety--but these vary from person to person. No one can really say why someone develops asthma in the first place. Tiny babies can have it; adults can also develop it as I did.

Last year I bought a DVD about the Buteyko method, also known as eucapnic breathing. I'd heard about this from friends and thought I'd give it a try, since it's completely non-invasive. Essentially, Dr. Buteyko stated that asthma sufferers overbreathe. Buteyko believed that asthma is caused by too little carbon dioxide in the lungs; CO2 regulates the ability of the body to take in oxygen, so that if CO2 levels go down, so does the amount of oxygen the blood can absorb. Seems paradoxical, but it makes sense.

The one big thing about this method is that you must always breathe through your nose. Always! Doing this automatically decreases the incoming airflow, among other things. But asthmatics are very often mouth-breathers, and it's an unconscious habit.

So, the main thing I've been doing is to try to be conscious of my breathing and keep my mouth shut! This is where the anthroposophy comes in.

Rudolf Steiner developed his "six basic exercises" to help foster consciousness and balance in our thinking, emotions, and will forces. The "will exercise" involves doing a small, unnecessary act at a certain time each day. For example, I would decide to touch my earlobe at 11:45 am daily. Choosing something insignificant takes away any chance that external influences will help me: something like feeding the cats already must happen, and something like eating a piece of chocolate has its own incentive! So I have to choose something that will require my conscious intention to remember.

I have to admit: I've never been very successful at this exercise. It's far too easy to forget after a few days, and then just give up amid all the myriad activities and distractions of life. But I have tried to use a modified version of this exercise in relation to the Buteyko method.

If I catch myself breathing through my mouth, I bring my full consciousness to it and change over to nose breathing. I try to stay conscious of my breathing for as long as possible afterwards. I then work towards some of the other Buteyko advice such as breathing fairly shallowly and relaxing.

In this way I hope to bring more consciousness to what is normally a very unconscious activity. It's not quite the will exercise, but it's what I'm able to do right now.

Something about this has been working: I've used very little asthma medication in the last year and certainly have had no crises. Have I become more conscious overall? I'll have to get back to you on that.

2 comments:

healingmagichands said...

I am very interested in your experiment with nose breathing. I read about this method of dealing with asthma a couple of years ago in some magazine or other. Since this is not something I suffer from myself, but that other people I know do, I was very curious to hear from someone who tried it whether it was successful or not. it made sense to me when I read about it.

Henitsirk said...

HMH: I found it interesting that while studies have shown no improvement in overall lung function using the Buteyko method, use of medication drops drastically.

Perhaps it's a placebo effect, or simply the result of relaxation. Whatever it is, it works for me.

My goal was not to "conquer" asthma, but to not have to take medication. Now I'm content to let my body/soul/spirit work through whatever lessons asthma is trying to teach me.