Pursed Lip Breathing (PLB)
Many people have noticed that I breathe funny when exercising, and I even had one Black Belt recommend that I breathe “normally” so it would not be a distraction during forms. I decided to write this blog to educate both those with normal breathing and anyone who has difficulty breathing on PLB. I have had some form of COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease all my life. Usually I have been able to score in the very low end of “normal” on any breathing related test, but a couple of years ago I dropped below even that threshold and was eventually referred to a lung specialist. I believe this was due to the brand of toothpaste I had switched to (Sensodyne, which has medically active ingredients to decrease sensation in teeth). I have since changed to homemade toothpaste, and am on two different drugs daily to help with breathing, and am now back up to “low Normal” for lung capacity. As part of the treatment, I was also coached on breathing while short of breath. This includes diaphragm breathing, or breathing with your Buddha Belly, as well as PLB. PLB is where you purse your lips together while exhaling, as if you were going to whistle, creating back pressure in your lungs. This helps the small passages in your lungs hold open longer, improving air exchange. One way to visualize this is to think of an old fashioned canvas fire hose lying on the grass. Once the water flow is shut off, the part right at the end has the water run out, and then the canvas collapses and traps from water further back from escaping, at least in the short term. If you held the sides of the hose up, more water can pour out. Longer exhales, about 4 seconds each, are the target. Inhalations can be either from the mouth or nose, with the mouth being preferred for sheer volume of air, but care must be taken that breaths are not stacked, or topped up (Hyperinflation) before an exhalation happens. Nose breathing limits the possibility of stacking breaths, but having smaller passages limits the total amount of air brought in.
According to COPD Canada, 750,000 Canadians are “diagnosed” with COPD, mostly from smoking (I have never smoked, but both parents did) and up to 3 million total may actually suffer from it. For those of you with normal breathing, here is an excerpt from COPD Canada’s website:
It is my belief, that anyone who deals in the care of COPD’ers in their later stages should try a little experiment as suggested by Dr. Rick Hodder, a noted Canadian respirologist, in his book, “Every Breath I Take – A guide to living with COPD”. Quote: “Take in a deep breath but don’t exhale. Take in another and another. You’re hyper inflated. Hold it! Now run upstairs. You’ll soon appreciate what it feels like to have COPD or asthma.”
One other point about this directly related to the Kwoon, is that in addition to needing the pursed lips for back pressure, a “sound focus” exhalation is entirely counterproductive to maintaining enough blood oxygen to continue efforts for more than a minute or so, as well as reliable brain function. As I become Hypoxic (low blood oxygen levels) I become clumsy and “forget” the next moves in forms, and any ability in sparring drops dramatically.