The Greatest Paradox – Breathing Against the Collapse
At the moment of a child’s birth, tremendous transformations take
place in countless respects. One of the most obvious is the onset of
independent breathing. The entire respiratory system must have reached
the required developmental stage, in order to suddenly – literally from
one minute to the next – be able to establish and maintain a sustaining
functional system for the remainder of the life period.
Any attempt we make to observe our own natural breathing process,
will necessarily fail, because, as soon as we focus our attention upon
our own breathing, the "natural" rhythm changes. Nevertheless, we can
notice some essential aspects:
- The trachea stays still during the respiration. It does not bulge
in any direction – not forwards nor backwards nor sideways.
-The thorax expands during inhalation and contracts and relaxes
-The movement of the upper thorax is a slow rising and falling along
the vertical axis; the lower ribs expand only slightly to the sides and
-The spacing between the single ribs increases and decreases. The
contraction movement is smooth, gradual, soft, and gliding.
-We can even observe the rise and fall of the diaphragm within the
lower to middle rib cage.
But how unrelated these described rhythmical movements are from the
continuous breathing pattern that I observed on Gawain, is difficult to
formulate and was a point of constant worry and concern. This problem
seemed to me to be absolutely central to his development.
Sometimes I would try to breath as he did.
He would suck his solar plexus in when he inhaled and at the same
time his abdomen would bulge out. The lower rib cage would widen
dramatically to the sides. When exhaling, his rib cage would relax
somewhat and the abdomen would reside.
It was only necessary to make one attempt at a cycle of breathing in
this manner to make me feel light-headed, dizzy and nauseated as well.
If I tried to perform any additional type of movement during executing
these types of breathing motions, the feeling of unwellness was even
As the years went on, this "pulling in" of the rib cage worsened.
Later, as his thorax stiffened and became more rigid, he would often
simply not breath for longer periods. It was quite normal for him to
inhale, and then hold his breath for 10 or 15 seconds whilst letting the
strange pumping movement continue. Afterwards he would usually inhale
again before allowing a short exhalation.
When he was sleeping, and apparently his muscle tone relaxed even
further, he could only get air by throwing his head back and tearing his
mouth wide open. He would gasp for breath two or three times and the
pump without breathing for fifteen or twenty seconds without
successfully inhaling. When he went through periods like this, we slept
hardly at all in the night waiting - for the gasping and snorkelling
sound of inhalation and often taking him up and shaking him to get him
to wake up enough to breath.
"Why does he breath like that?" I would ask everyone who examined him.
But none of his doctors – either specialists or otherwise could answer.
"If his breathing situation cannot be improved, how can we expect him to
I could not stop asking this question. It seemed so essential, so
important. One doctor suggested that perhaps he did not require more
oxygen than he was getting. Another ear, nose and throat specialist came
somewhat closer to the reality when he observed that the nasal areas are
undeveloped in a newborn baby, and usually develop further after birth.
In Gawain’s case, he said, these cavities had not completed their
development and had stayed at the stage of a newly born child's.
Not only was the functional act of breathing so abnormal, but also
the entire respiratory cavities were unable to cleanse themselves in any
way. Now I can say, that not only had the cavities failed to develop,
but they had continuously collapsed in upon themselves, but then I could
not understand his constant and worsening condition.
Gawain’s nose had been blocked since he was six months old. He began
to suffer from a terrible sinusitis with 2 ½ years, which continued
until he was 8 years old. The asthmatic bronchitis had been chronic
since six months. With three years of age he had his first ear infection
on both sides and was operated on for mastoiditis. This involved several
operations. After that, the ear infections stayed chronic – often one of
his ears ran for months. With six years he had to have another ear
operation that resulted in a partial loss of hearing in that ear.
The above is an overall description of Gawain’s respiratory state
when we first met the work of Leonid Blyum. Upon our first meeting he
referred to Gawain’s "paradoxical breathing" and how we would have to
address this problem initially. I was relieved to hear that a name
existed for the breathing pattern that I had observed for seven years,
but what exactly did that mean?
It was through observing hundreds of children with abnormal breathing
patterns, that Leonid Blyum could formulate that which he came to
describe as a collapse of the bodies internal hydrostatic pressure.
As a highly trained and practiced manual therapist, Leonid Blyum
realised in his earliest work with C.P. patients, that, on the one hand,
the structural deformities and abnormalities were much more extensive
that normally is given notice to. Head shape, head-neck orientation,
neck-shoulder connection, shape and size of the thorax and pelvis,
positioning of the same, position of the legs in the pelvis – in short -
the entire muscular skeletal system showed extreme deviations from that
of the healthy individual. In addition, these individuals have a quite
different "inner volume and pressure" within the bodily cavities. He
found the response to an evenly applied hand pressure on the thorax,
abdomen or even head to be weak, slow or rigid in contrast to the
response of the healthy individual, revealing the weakened inner
membranes and connective tissue quality of such affected persons.
Although all C.P. individuals and people with spinal injuries suffer
from a collapse of the hydraulic system, this collapse manifests itself
in surprising variety. Gawain’s particular version is what the ABR
method describes as a collapse of the dorsal cavities – the spaces at
the back of the body. This explains why, over the years, his entire
vertebral column became visible immediately below the surface of the
skin, as one by one - the spinal processes of each single vertebrae "popped
out" - becoming palpable and readable on his dinosaur like back.
Instead of developing the differing curves for the neck, the upper
back and the lumbar spine area, Gawain’s back became one rounded "C"
shaped structure, with limited ability to upright itself. This meant
that the frontal part of each vertebra came into a closer relation to
the next one than normal, at the same time widening the distances
between the spiny finger-like parts of the vertebrae (spinal processes)
on the back. The tilt of each single vertebrae brought a tilt of each
individual rib with it, which was further complicated, due to the
weakening and ensuing rigidity of each respective joint. The ribs thus
took an evermore rotating and downwards journey within the rib cage. The
lower ribs protruded to the sides, whilst the upper ribs were compressed,
lacking spacing and mobility. The overall appearance of his thorax was
wide and extremely flat. In addition it was twisted and asymmetrical.
This gesture was repeated in his arms. The shoulders were rolled
forwards and upwards; the clavicle was submerged to the level of the
ribs. It was the position of these structures that determined the twist
and tightness of his arms and hands.
It is surely not difficult to imagine that his breathing should have
been tedious indeed. When one realises that weak muscles have the
tendency to develop into stiff and rigid ones, it is clear why Gawain’s
breathing became increasingly strenuous and decreasingly efficient over
Since the onset of treatment with ABR we have observed immediate and
continuous improvement in this area. The occurring structural changes in
the thoracic region have also resulted in dramatic improvements in his
Slowly, but step by step the rigid upper rib cage loosened, whilst
the lower part strengthened. Volume capacity gained continuously. The
overall shape has normalised. The breathing can be supported within the
ribcage through the strengthening of the diaphragm muscle, so that the
abdomen no longer bulges and partakes in the breathing process.
After ¾ of a years treatment, the chronic asthmatic bronchitis that
had accompanied him for the last 6 years, had resided completely.
Improvements with his ears and nose were gradual but the problems
cleared up after 1-½ years of therapy.
When Gawain sleeps, his breathing is deep, rhythmical and continuous.
There are no pauses – short or long.
In waking periods however his tendency to hold his breath can still
be observed upon occasion, but in a much milder form than was previously
evident. This is especially apparent when he is executing an activity
that requires a greater physical effort. In this way we can see that his
rib cage requires further strengthening, to be able to support the
The relationship between an improved breathing process and countless
other functions like movement, speech, song, and general health can
easily be imagined, but will be described singularly in following