Breathing Retraining: From Sick/Victims to Superhumans
Are Mindfulness and Meditation Behind Success for the Best Trial on Cancer?
This question appeared in comments of popular meditation and mindfullness blogs. Indeed, since the participants of the best ever-known clinical trial on metastatic cancer (in the whole history of oncology) practiced breathing exercises (about 2 hours daily for ... 3 years), one can
claim that mindfulness and meditation were a significant part of their
work with their minds, while breathing retraining was a physiological
part that helped the body to increase oxygen levels in tissues.
Let me remind here that numerous clinical trails found that common
known techniques, such as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery increase
life span of patients with metastatic cancer reducing their 3- or
5-year mortality by about 10-20 percent. These are the reasons why
professional oncologists and medical cancer specialists give advise to
most of their patients with metastatic cancer to use these popular
clinical modalities. However, in this clinical trial on metastatic
breast cancer, apart from using these methods, patients who diligently
practiced breathing exercises reduced their 3-year mortality by nearly
6 times. You can find more details about this trial in the Amazon book
“Doctors Who Cure Cancer” by Dr. Artour Rakhimov.
Numerous other cancer trials discovered positive effects of meditation
on quality of life, reduced inflammation, stress, fatigue, and
depressive symptoms, as well as improved sleep. However, to our
knowledge, there are no trials which measured effects of meditation or
mindfulness techniques on survival or mortality of cancer patients.
Could meditation and mindfulness contribute to such great success in
cancer treatment? This is a legitimate question since the original
study suggested that increased carbon dioxide levels in the expired air
testified about larger CO2 levels in body cells. This shift towards
normal CO2 values caused dilation of blood vessels, enhanced the Bohr
effect, and provided more oxygen to cells of the body, as well as to
malignant cells of cancer tumors.
Indeed, this clinical trial emphasizes that breathing less air and
higher CO2 levels in body cells increases oxygen transport to tissues.
You can find my analysis of this publication “Study of
application of the shallow breathing method in a combined treatment of
breast cancer” here:
best cancer trial.
Increase in CO2 as the main effect of this cancer trial
However, one of the essential additional effects of breathing less air
and higher CO2/O2 levels in the brain relates to certain specific
effects on firing of nerve cells. CO2 controls the threshold of
excitability of nervous cells during their communication with each
other. This threshold is present in order to prevent appearance of
accidental or spontaneous and asynchronous firing of cells of the
The normal threshold of excitability of nerve cells, in mammals, is
about 50 milli volts. That happens when cellular CO2 levels are normal.
During hyperventilation, a small reduction in CO2 levels in the brain,
below the norm, causes increased excitability (or
“irritability”, as many physiological studies called it) of
nervous cells. This happens due to the lowered threshold of
excitability. This leads to “spontaneous and asynchronous
firing”, as we discussed before.
But since people with chronic diseases, cancer included, commonly
suffer from overbreathing (see the Homepage for studies, graphs and
charts), it is normal that these people suffer from mental chatter and
reduced abilities to get focused with decreased attention span.
CO2 eliminates mental chatter and promotes easier meditation and mindfulness
Therefore, breathing retraining has a strong natural effect on
elimination of mental chatter naturally. Breathing less air creates
conditions that allow people to focus on real-life topics. This is a
common “side effect” that makes mental focus and
concentration easy and organic.
Q: What about mindfulness and mental effects of Buteyko reduced breathing exercises practiced during this amazing cancer trial?
A: The Buteyko reduced breathing technique demands concentration on one's breath. Any
time, when attention of a breathing student is displaced on irrelevant
topics, he or she needs to become aware of this deviation from the
goal. Then the student should return their focus on the present moment
and restore mental concentration on required bodily sensations. This
surely sounds like and looks like one of the meditation techniques.
Furthermore, most meditation and mindfulness techniques naturally lead
to slower and easier breathing (as during the reduced breathing
exercise) with higher CO2 and O2 levels in body cells. Therefore, it is
really hard to separate mind and body effects during application of
these health therapies: just pure breathing exercises, meditation and
Details of this mindful meditative breathing technique
If we go into details, the purpose of this reduced breathing technique
is to reduce the length and depth of one's inhalation and produce
relaxed effortless exhalations. This is how the method works at initial
stages of learning for students with less than 20 s for the body oxygen
test). As a result, breathing frequency of novices or people with
chronic diseases during this practice is usually higher than at rest or
just before the session.
At later stages, when the CP is over 20 seconds, reduced breathing is
conducted with additional focus on extended exhalations and increased
automatic pause. This later stages of the process are accompanied by
further changes in automatic breathing. One of the key factors of this
process is appearance and extension (in duration) of the automatic
pause, which is the natural pause or delay between an exhalation and
the next inhalation during automatic (unconscious) breathing at rest,
for example, during sleep or while sitting.
For details related to exact numbers on this relationship, one needs to
refer to the Buteyko table of health zones. Here is an
image that was made many years ago for 4 common regular breathing
patterns. This image has been present on pages of this website since 2010.
This image reflects general or qualitative changes in automatic
breathing during progress from chronic disease to normal and super
health states. Cancer is surely included since cancer patients have
high respiratory rates, large minute ventilation and low CO2 and O2
levels in body cells (see the Cancer breathing page for details).
Whatever the level of learning, when students practice this breathing
technique, they naturally spend as much time in total relaxation (even
no breathing movements) as possible. In fact, Buteyko was once asked by
a journalist, “People say that your breathing method is very hard
to practice. Can you please explain us, in a few words, how to practice your
breathing exercises? What we need to do?”.
“Nothing, absolutely nothing....You even do not need to
Most ancient meditation Sanskrit text suggests... the same breathing exercise
Does it look like any of known meditation techniques? Yes, there are
four ancient meditation techniques that are among the oldest ones, and
they also closely relate to and even very similar to the breathing
exercise descried above. “The Vigyan Bhairav Tantra” is
50 century old ancient Sanskrit text on meditation. It describes a
conversation between the god Shiva and his consort Devi or Shakti. This
book includes 112 meditation techniques.
The very first 4 of them are meditation techniques related to ...
breathing. (Just this fact alone can testify about a special role of
breathing meditations among all others.) However, due to age-related
factors, possible changes in language (and meanings of words) and
translation, it is probably impossible to find out the exact
instructions for these meditation techniques (i.e., how to practice
them). As with ancient Egyptian papyrus papers, people would provide
those meanings to these millennial-old texts which suit their current
habits, superstitions, and visions of the world and life.
So far, I could not find accurate instructions how to practice these ancient
meditation breathing exercises. You can find exact quotes from this
Sanskrit text and my interpretations of these 4 most ancient Indian
breathing meditation and mindfulness techniques right below here as
your bonus content.
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