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Laid-back, colorful, modernist 60 sq.m. flat downtown. Feels as if you're staying at an absent friend's place. A variety of day- and night-life options accessible even on foot. Easy to commute, dir...

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

On Breathing: an Interview with Dr Sergey Zinatulin - Part 1

Today, I am really happy to post the first part of my interview with Dr Sergey Nakifovich Zinatulin, on the subjects of breathing and breath-training. Now, judging from the variety of breathing-related suggestions, aphorisms, truisms, and 'facts' that I have heard over the past 25 years that I have been into martial arts, my conclusion is that, although the importance of breathing is almost universally accepted in circles of martial artists, its function is barely understood. In this sense, I thought Dr Zinatulin might be able to offer valuable insight, so it was about two months ago that I announced that this interview would happen and asked the readers of this blog to send me the questions they would like to ask the doctor. I have to admit though that what I originally conceived as an interview, ended up being closer to a small scientific textbook. I hope the contents are as insightful to you as they have been to me. A great big thanks to my friends who contributed their questions for this interview!

Dr Zinatulin, could you please introduce yourself to the readers of this blog, and could you provide some information about your background?
I was born in 1959. In 1982 I graduated from medical University of Arkhangelsk, Russia with a major in therapy and specialization in psychiatry, neurology and narcology.  I worked in this field for about 4 years, and then in 1987-1988 I took courses in the Buteyko Breathing Technique under Konstantin Buteyko himself. 

From 1997 on, I have been studying and researching the use of different breathing training devices, respiratory kinesiotherapy, and developed various methods of respiratory training both with and without special devices. My main focus is treatment and health improvement in children: I’ve been worked in a clinic for children, created a special program to teach the Buteyko method to children and have overseen its application in kindergartens and primary schools. I have authored several books on respiratory training and I have lectured extensively on the subject.For the results of my work in the field of healthcare and clinical rehabilitation, I was awarded the A.P. Chizhevsky gold medal “For Professionalism and Business Reputation” by the Russian Academy of Medical and Technical Science.

I’m currently working as the head of the scientific department of the Russian company Dinamika; I am offering consultations to patients from all over the world on the use of the Frolov device. From February 2012 I also started giving classes of my program for children “ABC of Breathing” in one of the best schools in Novosibirsk. 

Who or what was it that prompted you to devote your life and career to the study and research of breath training, respiratory therapy of various diseases, and the use of breathing devices?

During the period I was studying under Konstantin Buteyko, I became convinced of the health benefits that we can reap from breath-training - I completely restored my nose breathing and managed to cure myself of my stomach ulcers, gastritis and cholecystitis. My personal experience and numerous successful cases of other Buteyko practitioners lead me to the decision to further develop these ideas scientifically and in practice. Down the road, I got to understand that learning the Buteyko method can be quite difficult, and that is why I became interested in breath-training devices that help learn correct breathing in a much simpler way. 

From 1987 until today I have witnessed many cases of patients that recovered ‘miraculously’ thanks to the benefits of breath-training, with help from our specialized knowledge, after putting in a lot of effort themselves, of course.

Everybody seems to know (or claims to know) that “Breathing is Living”. Would you like to explain in the simplest way possible why this is true, and perhaps provide an analogy so that we better understand the role breathing plays in our body?

I have developed a special program where children from the age of 5 years old get to learn about the benefits of controlled breathing.  I use a very simple test to help them understand how important breathing is and you can try it too with your children: put some food and a glass of water on a table. Have them sit by the table, then hold their breath and wait to see what is the first thing they desire; air, water of food? It is air, of course!

Medical research shows us that a human being is a single whole. It is a proven fact that breathing is part and parcel of blood circulation, metabolism, energy exchange, acid-alkaline balance, and water-salt metabolism. The interconnection of breathing with sleep, memory, emotional tone, ability to work, physiological and adaptive capacity, etc. is also widely known. Between all those, we exist due to the energy of breathing. At my lectures and workshops, I often call breathing “an invisible thread of life” - if it is cut, we die.

Each and every one of us breathes, but is there a correct or an incorrect way to breathe? How could we define ‘correct breathing’ and what are its benefits?

The first rule of correct breathing entails nasal breathing (both during inhalation and exhalation) at rest and during light physical activity. When we are speaking, singing, or we are engaged in a moderate physical activity, we should inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth.

Second rule: diaphragmatic breathing is the only normal type of breathing in a state of rest. During rest or light physical activity (quiet walking, slow race, speaking, singing), we must learn to breathe diaphragmatically, expanding the stomach during the inhalation. During intense physical activity, if necessary, diaphragmatic breathing can be augmented through work performed by the auxiliary respiratory muscles (intercostals and thoracic). Once intense physical activity is completed we should once again return to diaphragmatic breathing.

Correct breathing improves lung ventilation and prevents hyperventilation. It has a positive effect on the circulation of blood and lymph, our metabolism, the function of intestinal organs and our nervous system.

How does our breathing become disturbed in the first place? How do we ‘learn’ to breathe wrong?

Generally, the brain respiratory center controls the whole process of breathing. The neurons of the respiratory center receive information about the composition of inhaled air (temperature, humidity and various impurities), gaseous composition of air mixture in the alveoli of the lungs, gaseous composition of the blood, the lungs ventilation parameters (inspiratory and expiratory volume, respiration rate and frequency), pulmonic tissue stretching, ventilation apparatus performance, and respiratory muscles tension. The respiratory center receives this information non-stop; it analyzes, processes, and compares it with data on body temperature, metabolism, acid-alkaline balance, pulse and blood pressure indexes, etc. Therefore our breathing reacts to pretty much all the processes happening inside our body and in the environment. K.P. Buteyko, for example, pointed out that overeating (especially too much protein), allergens, hypodynamia, sleeping on one’s back, stress, smoking, and alcohol consumption have a bad influence on our breathing. 
I personally think that the main reason of disturbed breathing in people today is the lack of a “breathing culture”. Now that I am working with school children I see proof of it all the time: children at the age of 7-8 know about food supplements and vitamins, but know nothing about controlled breathing and correct posture. Gay Hendriks has made a similar observation in his book, Conscious Breathing; he writes that he has rarely seen newborns who couldn’t breathe using their diaphragm, but among 6-graders it was almost impossible to find one who could. 

If we fail to understand the way to breathe properly, all other factors lead to dysfunctional breathing, chronic hyperventilation and other disorders. And this, in turn, leads to development of different diseases (lung, heart, vessels, metabolism, and nervous system pathologies). 

How about oxygen and carbon dioxide? Could you explain how each one affects the acid-alkaline balance in our body in the process of breathing, and subsequently how does each of them affect our health?

Through the process of breathing, oxygen is brought to the lungs, where it gets absorbed into the bloodstream and then delivered to all the body’s tissues for the important energy-creating function of metabolism. The part of the breathing process that takes place on the cellular level is the oxidation of food molecules that releases energy and has carbon dioxide and water molecules as by-products. In our cells, breathing and nutrition come together in metabolism, which is a constant process of substances and energy exchange.
Regarding oxygen, our body uses approximately 600 liters per day, in a calm state.  About 90% of that oxygen is used in the cells for oxidation of nutrients, to provide energy for the various functions of the organism. The thing is that part of this oxygen creates active forms of oxygen with high oxidation activity. These are known as free radicals.  These are are very active chemical substances that circulate in the body and are ready to react with other molecules of vital importance to the living cell. If oxidation stress develops in the body, it may be the cause for a number of serious diseases, including heart disease, cancer, cataract, atherosclerosis, and many others. The contradiction here is that a certain amount of free radicals is actually necessary – for example, our immune cells use free radicals to kill bacteria. In this sense, it is important to maintain balance between the role of oxygen as oxidant of nutrients, required to produce utilizable energy, and the damaging role of oxygen as oxidant of DNA molecules and cell membranes. Interestingly, this balance can be maintained with the help of carbon dioxide that is a universal inhibitor of active oxygen forms generation in cells: it noticeably slows down the reactions where active oxygen forms are generated. Thus, it protects our cells from destruction.

Carbon dioxide develops in our cells as a result of chemical reactions. For a long time it was assumed that it is a waste product of cellular respiration and must be removed from the body. That is why it was considered important to breathe a lot and deeply to get more of the “good” oxygen and remove more of the “bad” carbon dioxide. Nowadays, after long-term research, it has been established how significant the biological role of carbon dioxide is. It is now common knowledge that carbon dioxide plays an active part in the regulation of breath, blood circulation, metabolism, acid-base balance, electrolytic balance, permeability of cell membranes, nerve cells excitability, bronchial motor tone, and the tone of blood vessels, digestive organs, and urinary tracts. Through specific breath-training practices we can ‘harness’ the healing properties of carbon dioxide and use them to prevent a great number of diseases or assist in their treatment.

In the second part of this interview, Dr Zinatulin will present a number of simple tests we can use to assess how well we are breathing.

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