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Chronic Sleep Apnea? Asthma? Try Didgeridoo Therapy

Posted September 16, 2018 9:07 PM by Hannes
Pathfinder Tags: Didgeridoo music therapy

During my time in music school I quickly learned to pick out music therapy majors: long, frizzy, unwashed hair and guitar cases slung over an individual’s back were usually dead giveaways. Kidding aside, music therapy often has amazing effects when applied in clinical settings. I’ve personally witnessed musical participation stall dementia and increase brain function in elderly or incapacitated individuals, as well as improve conditions like depression and anxiety.

A few fairly recent studies examined a more unusual therapy: applying the ancient Australian didgeridoo to patients with breathing disorders. A traditional didgeridoo involves a termite-hollowed eucalyptus branch that has been de-barked, trimmed and fitted with a beeswax rim at the “mouthpiece” end, forming a simple trumpet. Traditional eucalyptus instruments often cost thousands of dollars, but modern composite didgeridoos can run as little as $30.

The didgeridoo player vibrates his or her lips within the mouthpiece to create a buzzing drone that evokes the Australian outback in the mind of most Westerners. Virtuoso players can vary their breathing and lip tension to mimic sounds of native Australian fauna.

Image credit: Feans / CC BY 2.0

A 2005 British Medical Journal article reported a Swiss study linking regular didgeridoo playing with improved outcomes in obstructive sleep apnea patients. Participants in the study’s intervention group were given four didgeridoo lessons over a four-month period and were instructed to practice the instrument for at least 20 minutes a day at least five days per week. A control group was placed on a waiting list during those four months. Following the study, the intervention group reported relatively significant improvements in daytime sleepiness and snoring.

A similar Australian study tested regular didgeridoo playing on asthmatic indigenous Australians and resulted in improved respiratory function in participating boys. Interestingly, female study participants were given singing lessons instead of didgeridoo lessons, possibly because Aboriginal tradition forbids women and girls from playing the didgeridoo. As a result, the study was less successful with girls, in terms of both participant retention and outcomes.

It might seem odd to specifically apply the didgeridoo to a clinical setting, but there’s a good reason. It’s the only wind instrument that requires circular breathing – exhaling through the mouth while breathing in through the nose – to play. Skilled didgeridoo players can sustain a drone for nearly an hour without stopping to catch their breath.

Circular breathing strengthens upper airways, explaining why it improves sleep apnea and asthma. Any player of a wind instrument can attempt circular breathing, but learning it is not for the faint of heart, and it sometimes takes a lifetime to master. If you’d like to try for yourself, try slowly spitting out water while inhaling through your nose. Once you’ve mastered that, try it with breathing instead.

Circular breathing can be done with or without a didgeridoo, but it seems like more fun with the instrument. Didgeridoos are also one of the best cat repellents on the market, or so I’ve heard. Felines be warned.

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#1

Re: Chronic Sleep Apnea? Asthma? Try Didgeridoo Therapy

09/18/2018 10:47 AM

If you want to make a digeridoo it is quite easy to do from plumbing parts. I wrote a short blog years ago on making a slide version that can change its note. http://cr4.globalspec.com/blogentry/3355/Making-a-Didgeridoo

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Re: Chronic Sleep Apnea? Asthma? Try Didgeridoo Therapy

09/18/2018 4:10 PM

This might sound like a silly question -- but can most people learn circular breathing? The didgeridoo would be a lot more fun and a lot less cumbersome than CPAP machines. I know the machines are improving (at least according to the ads we see on TV) but the didgeridoo is much cheaper, cheaper even than a doctor's appointment depending on your co-pay.

Do have to eat Vege-mite in order to learn that breathing? I gave it a fighting chance but just can't hack it.

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Re: Chronic Sleep Apnea? Asthma? Try Didgeridoo Therapy

09/19/2018 4:12 PM

No Vege-mite required as far as I can tell. You also can learn to circular breath without a didgeridoo. I think is more difficult to learn to circular breath while trying to learn how to play anyhow.

Just make your lips have a small opening so you have back pressure when you blow, or blow through a straw. Then puff up your cheeks with air and start blowing. When your lungs run out of air, squeeze your cheeks to momentarily push out air while you breath in through your nose. You also end up using your tongue to block off the back of your mouth while you are breathing in but I find that happens automatically. The goal is have as continuous a stream of air as you can while breathing in.

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Re: Chronic Sleep Apnea? Asthma? Try Didgeridoo Therapy

09/20/2018 3:45 AM

Thanks again,

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Re: Chronic Sleep Apnea? Asthma? Try Didgeridoo Therapy

09/20/2018 8:56 AM

And when you're practised at it you won't even need a bag for your bagpipes

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#3

Re: Chronic Sleep Apnea? Asthma? Try Didgeridoo Therapy

09/19/2018 2:06 PM

If you think snoring will keep you awake, those didgeridoos will really get on your nerves...

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Re: Chronic Sleep Apnea? Asthma? Try Didgeridoo Therapy

09/19/2018 3:54 PM

Thanks I just bought one on ebay for £8.25 (about $11).

Apparently it's from Chile. Looks good for the money even if I never learn to play it.

But, I guess I need to find a good tutorial on line.

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Re: Chronic Sleep Apnea? Asthma? Try Didgeridoo Therapy

09/19/2018 4:03 PM

I find them fun and relaxing to play from time to time. You basically just buzz into it with your lips. You keep your lips loose so the buzz is as low like if you were trying to imitate an engine. Don't worry about circular breathing that comes later after you can play it for short duration's.

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Re: Chronic Sleep Apnea? Asthma? Try Didgeridoo Therapy

09/20/2018 3:44 AM

Thanks,

............and

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#10

Re: Chronic Sleep Apnea? Asthma? Try Didgeridoo Therapy

09/20/2018 5:10 PM

Whilel I find this fascinating, and have sleep apnea (CPAP still works but pressures are increasing!), I have to take issue with the line about musical participation "stalling" dementia. To date in medicine, I have seen nothing stave off the dementia progression or halt it at all. There are therapies like music that improve the mood of the alzheimer's patients and other patients, it is VERY TRUE that music has a positive impact on health - and I adhere to the theory that learning music at any age can help with new neurological networks/brain plasticity. None of this anecdotally - well, maybe the last one of "any age" but we do have functional MRI studies proving brain plasticity in middle aged individuals.

I will have to look for a didgeridoo - my son is learning trumpet and annoying everyone, how much more annoying would it be for me to accompany him on a didgeridoo? The circular breathing requires a focus of attention and of the weak muscles of the neck that frequently compound sleep apnea - it makes perfect sense that exercising those muscles would help with the soft tissue collapse for sleep apnea and by extension, snorers.

I presume the focused attention of learning circular breathing will promote some cerebral synaptic development, I'm certain the cerebellar pathways will develop. As we all should know, the cerebellum and brain stem are like your lower computer programming - machine language or other basic level instructions - that are always running on your UNIX and other 24/7 systems. We do see basic illnesses that affect those pathways and once the illnesses impact the systems, it is rare that new cells regenerate those tissues and return a person to full function. At best we can rehab the injured to functional status most of the time, but it takes a miracle, a dedicated family around the individual, a lot of determination, or a mishmash of all three to return someone to their pre-injury trajectory. I am not giving up hope on reversing alzheimers, I'm aware though that by the time you see the dementia effects, all you can do is slow the continuous progression. Like HIV/AIDS, once you on the path, you just work at staying on the path and not succumbing to the myriad of progressive deteriorations in your health. It seems harder for us (me) to watch our patients or loved ones in the throes of the disease than if we should progress ourselves.

I hope my children remember all my favorite folk songs and show tunes if I should become demented (as apposed to my current forgetfulness) and sing/play for me when I can no longer play and sing on my own. It does help one's spirits, and if I'm playing a didgeridoo - I hope I can still play when I can no longer play guitar!

Thanks for the blog entry, music is more than just healing for the sick, it is healing for the healthy and a social mortar for society.

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#11

Re: Chronic Sleep Apnea? Asthma? Try Didgeridoo Therapy

09/21/2018 11:40 AM

Look what I found in the list of last year's Ig Nobel prizes:

PEACE PRIZE [SWITZERLAND, CANADA, THE NETHERLANDS, USA] — Milo Puhan, Alex Suarez, Christian Lo Cascio, Alfred Zahn, Markus Heitz, and Otto Braendli, for demonstrating that regular playing of a didgeridoo is an effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea and snoring.

REFERENCE: "Didgeridoo Playing as Alternative Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Syndrome: Randomised Controlled Trial," Milo A. Puhan, Alex Suarez, Christian Lo Cascio, Alfred Zahn, Markus Heitz and Otto Braendli, BMJ, vol. 332 December 2006.

WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Milo Puhan, Christian Lo Cascio, Markus Heitz, Alex Suarez. NOTE: Alex Suarez was the first patient, and was the inspiration for the study.

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#12

Re: Chronic Sleep Apnea? Asthma? Try Didgeridoo Therapy

09/30/2018 3:37 AM

I am interested in your post with regard to instruments that aid breathing problems, where they exist. I have analysed bel canto singing for a number of years, and think I can give an explanation why such a problem may exist. Muscular sensations around the throat are illusionary, and the following is my explanation of what they are.

There are three bel canto terms I would like to raise, (1) vuoto, empty space, (2) leaning point, (3) up and back.

  1. Vuoto, this is a illusionary feeling at the front of the mouth, where some thing can be felt to be drawn back and forth, but a look in the mirror revels that the moving part is the top of the tongue, this also affect the throat opening,
  2. Leaning point, an illusionary feeling where one snorkels, a feeling of an action of closing the nasal inlet. An action by the back of the tongue.
  3. Up and back, this is reference to the ulnar, an action of moving the ulnar up from the leaning point.
  4. So what opens the throat and eases breathing? The first thing to be dealt with is the vuotu, drawing back at the front of the mouth, which does not open the throat, so a singing exercise is used, (vocal attack), resolves this, HU, The H of this term move the back of the tongue away from the leaning point, (throat opening), and the vowel U, closes the vuotu, (forward movement), which frees up the vocal cords too freely produce vowel sounds. And lastly up and back, think of the ulnar moving up and back from the leaning point. This Then unlocks the throat, an illusionary area, located thought the mask, at the nasal bridge. An area which you should fell to be open when thinking HU and up and back.
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#13
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Re: Chronic Sleep Apnea? Asthma? Try Didgeridoo Therapy

10/01/2018 9:57 PM

Sorry, spelling error, up and back ulnar, should be up and back uvula.

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