A friend who lives in New York City writes:
The doctor I had when I lived in San Diego believed in always trying the gentlest and simplest remedies before resorting to anything as drastic as drugs or surgery. My cholesterol was high and she suggested I try lowering it by eating oatmeal for breakfast every day, saying it didn’t work for everybody but a lot of her patients had been able to avoid going on statins that way. “But I hate oatmeal,” I whined, like a sulky child. She said perhaps I would get used to it; wouldn’t it be better than being dependent on medications for the rest of my life? So, reluctantly, I bought some Quaker Oats and gave it a try. The results were dramatic — my cholesterol numbers were “perfect” the next time I had a blood test. Dr. Yu was right about getting used to oatmeal, too — I actually like it now, and look forward to my daily bowl.
Perhaps inspired by my success with the oatmeal, I also lowered my blood pressure myself, through breathing exercises. A friend who is into alternative medicine had told me about being advised by several of her alternative-medicine practitioners to try lowering her blood pressure in that way, so when mine was high, I just googled about lowering it until I found a site that offered free demo clips of a kind of breathing exercise geared to music — you can choose whether classical or new age. As it said on the site, they don’t work for everybody, and most people have to do them for twenty minutes daily for a couple of weeks before the benefits begin showing up at all, but some lucky folks see an immediate and drastic drop in blood pressure the first time they try. I turned out to be one of the lucky ones. For months, I did the breathing exercises daily, cued to inhale and exhale by their demo tapes, and my blood pressure stayed down. Eventually i even sprang for the CD set they were selling on the site, just because I got sick of hearing those same melodies on the free demo clips over and over. Now I’ve internalized the rhythms so I don’t need any music at all to cue me, and I can do the exercises anywhere, while doing other things, and my blood pressure has remained low. I do notice that if I ever neglect the exercises, when my life gets busy and I just forget to do them, it starts creeping up again — which is good incentive to keep them up. Basically, the exercises just consist of inhaling to a slow count of 8 and exhaling to a slow count of 16, and doing that for about 20 minutes every day. My blood pressure was around 160/90 before I started the exercises. Now it’s 120/80, just as it should be.
I also find the breathing exercises very soothing, in general. When I’m upset about something like, say, being stuck on a slow bus that is crawling through traffic while I’m in danger of being late to something and am surrounded by screeching children, I find that doing those exercises enables me to be reasonably serene and philosophical instead of miserable and angry and anxious.
Notice that by measuring her blood pressure regularly my friend (a) learned how to control it and (b) collected excellent evidence that breathing exercises help. Because individuals can easily collect such evidence — my friend did so by being lazy — a good response to “where’s the double-blind randomized trial?” is Big Brother loves you.