The Science: Studies show that playing the didgeridoo can reduce sleep apnea.
Before you decide that there is no way you can do that breathing thing, keep reading! I know many people have heard that playing the didgeridoo can help with sleep apnea. The reason is due to this study: Didgeridoo playing as alternative treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome: randomized controlled trial. Clearly the exercising of the throat and tongue help strengthen the muscles. These are the same muscles we are trying to activate to keep our airway clear while we are sleeping. Let me tell you that playing the didgeridoo is a workout for all of those muscles!
It is a lot of fun to play.
I have been playing the didgeridoo for years. It turns out that my brother was given a real hardwood didgeridoo made in Australia for a birthday present. He has loaned it to me on a semi permanent basis. After hearing about the sleep apnea study, I just had to figure out how to play it. The first challenge is just getting it to make a noise that sounds good. There are lots of youtube videos to get you started. Once I started to make some decent sounding noises using just one breath, I moved on to learning how to circular breathe. That is the technique that allows you to play a continuous stream of sound or drone. It took me weeks of practice. I started by trying to continuously blow bubbles using a straw in a cup full of water. Breathing in and filling your lungs while blowing out air trapped in your cheeks. It is an unnatural thing to do so it really takes effort and desire to learn.
Once you learn to play, it is such a relaxing, meditative way to spend 30 minutes. I look forward to my daily session. While I try to play 7 days a week, I probably average 5 days a week. Each session is probably 20 to 30 minutes long. As you get more practice, you learn to make different sounds and alter your drone.
What about that whole circular breathing thing?
First off, the study didn’t determine WHY playing the didgeridoo helped sleep apnea, just that it did. I think circular breathing is not the primary reason why playing the didgeridoo helps sleep apnea. It is the incredible tongue and throat workout you get. And you can get this same workout just by filling your lungs over and over. I am telling you my throat and tongue feel worked out at the end of the session. I think this is why it helps with sleep apnea. You are really strengthening your tongue and throat making the noises while playing.
What do we want our tongue to do when we are sleep? Stay against the roof of our mouth behind the back of our top front teeth. That keeps it out of our airway. This is the exact tongue motion I make when I play the didgeridoo. Additionally, we are doing something to help our brains “remember” this action. That way when we are sleeping, our brain has a memory of this action. Just like a golf swing or playing the piano. You are not remembering every little motion. Your muscles remember the action. There is a saying that I came across when reading a brain science book. “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” We need to fire that tongue forward muscle action over and over so that our brain “wires” that action together. We can do that without the circular breathing!
The sound makes all the difference.
Here is the sound pattern that I use to strengthen my tongue and throat. It is something I call knocking on the front door. That is because that is what it sounds like to me. It is as simple as blowing into the didgeridoo and hitting your tongue against the back of your upper front teeth as fast as possible. It sounds like this:
As you can hear, the tongue has to work fast! I didn’t do any circular breathing. So imagine doing that over and over, just using your lungs. How many times in 30 minutes would your tongue move back and forth? Many, many times.
You can do it too. It is easy to get started!
The first thing you need is a didgeridoo. I suggest buying an inexpensive bamboo or plastic didg to get started. You can get one on Amazon for about $30. I like the ones that have a beeswax mouthpiece. If you want to, you can even make one out of PVC pipe. Here is video on Youtube to help you out. How to make a pvc didg. After you have it, head over to the didgproject.com website for some great info on how to get started playing. If you want to read more about how playing the didgeridoo can help you get off the CPAP machine, check out this article on the didgeproject website: The didgeridoo sleep apnea update 2019