Why “Virtuous” People May Breathe Better, and How Immoral Behavior Reportedly Takes A Toll On Your Health
When I discovered breathing retraining as a holistic way to manage my asthma about 10 years ago, I appreciated its scientific basis. I wouldn’t have to contemplate new spiritual beliefs or start wearing yoga pants.
The Buteyko Breathing Technique, which I learned first, was synthesized by a medical doctor who spent decades working one-on-one with patients and analyzing their vital statistics in a sophisticated laboratory from the 1950s to the 1990s
The late Dr. Konstantin Buteyko’s premise was that many illnesses are correlated with habitual over-breathing – creating low-level hyperventilation that’s imperceptible to the person doing it as well as most others who aren’t looking for the signs — and can be reversed through the gentle breathing that results from deep relaxation. I didn’t realize at the time that Buteyko wasn’t just talking about physical relaxation. He was also referring to the mental freedom that comes from knowing you’re doing the right thing.
In addition to offering breathing exercises, Buteyko suggested moderate meals, intense exercise, ascetic lifestyle choices and impeccable morality.
According to a summary of his method written by son Vladimir Buteyko and daughter-in-law Marina Buteyko, also doctors, on their present-day Moscow -clinic website, “immorality: avarice, malice, immoderate pleasures, etc.” exacerbate heavy breathing, while “high morality” and “aspiration to spiritual values” calm breathing.
In a 1982 interview with Konstantin Buteyko, translated into English and published on the family website, the famous MD lumped lying into a list of “greedy” health-related bad habits including over-eating and sleeping late.
“If humanity becomes ascetic,’ he countered, “it will wipe out any chance for these to appear and spread…It’s common knowledge that physical purge entails moral revelations.”
It turns out Buteyko is in good company. In 2012, U.S. News & World Report reported a study from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana that tested the health consequences of lying. Half a group of 110 adults were asked not to lie for a 10-week period, and the other half went about their daily lives and kept a log of their fibs.
The results? “When they told more lies their health went down,” said Anita Kelly, a psychology professor. “And when they told the truth, it improved.”
“Research on how lying affects health is scant,” the write-up concluded, “but lying is thought to trigger the release of stress hormones, increasing heart rate and blood pressure. Stress reduces your body’s number of infection-fighting white blood cells, and over the years, could contribute to lower-back pain, tension headaches, a rapid heartbeat, menstrual problems, and even infertility.”
In 2015 the professional journal Current Opinion in Psychology published a survey of research on the topic “The Physiology of (Dis)Honesty: Does It Impact Health?” In a nutshell, the answer seemed to be yes upon an exhaustive review of references on the neuroscience, psychophysiology and endocrinology of dishonesty.
“While recent summaries of virtuous acts suggest that truth, altruism and fairness confer a suite of psychological and health benefits to the benefactor, we suggest that lying, cheating and stealing may do the opposite….”
“On the one hand, telling the truth, being altruistic, acting fairly and being generally other-oriented are virtues directly linked to a suite of positive health outcomes such as:
better health and physical wellness, lower stress, decreased cellular aging, increased psychological well-being and longevity of life.
“On the other hand, lying, being selfish, cheating and engaging in infidelity are associated with a suite of negative health outcomes such as elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, vasoconstriction, elevated cortisol, and a significant depletion of the brain regions needed for appropriate emotional and physiological regulation.”
How can they tell? There’s a whole history of research into psychophysiological measurements as an aid to detecting lying, widely known as the “lie detector” or polygraph machine. The first polygraph was created in 1921 by a Berkeley policeman. These days, the sophisticated machines simultaneously measure continuous changes in blood pressure, heart rate, respiration rate and electrodermal activity (tracking electrical resistance and conductance of skin due to activity of the sweat glands).
Polygraph methodologies aim to detect deception by measuring the physiological arousal patterns that result from fear- and stress-based emotional states being deceptive is argued to evoke. Results are not foolproof enough to be admissible as evidence in court, but polygraphs are often employed as part of the screening process for certain jobs that require a high level of security
Interestingly, the research found that simply being around someone acting dishonestly also causes negative health affects in observers because of the interpretation that “there is danger in the environment”
Pulling back to the breathing-retraining angle, it’s clear that what’s eating you affects your breathing negatively. It seems like the old Alcoholics Anonymous slogan, “You’re as sick as your secrets”, may literally be true!
Interview with K.P. Buteyko, Taken in 1982. Published in “The Buteyko Method. An Experience of Use in Medicine”. Moscow, “Patriot” Publishers. 1990. Translated into English on https://www.buteyko.ru/eng/interw.shtml
Buteyko M.M., Buteyko V.K.: 2005. Asthma and Allergy, N1, Moscow, Publishing House “Atmosphere”. P24-25. Translated into English and downloadable at https://www.buteyko.ru/eng/news.shtml
John Synnott, David Dietzel & Maria Ioannou (2015) A review of the polygraph: history, methodology and current status. Crime Psychology Review, 1:1, 59-83, DOI: 10.1080/23744006.2015.1060080. https://doi.org/10.1080/23744006.2015.1060080
Angela Haupt, Aug. 20, 2012. How Lying Affects Your Health, US News & World Report. https//health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2012/08/20/how-lying-affects-your-health
Leanne ten Brinke, Jooa Julia Lee, Dana R. Carney, December 2015. The physiology of (dis)honesty: does it impact health? Current Opinions in Psychology Pages 177-182.