The Buteyko Breathing Method
Developed by Russian doctor Konstantin Buteyko (1923-2003)
This profound method is a "breathway to health" and consists of breathing exercises and lifestyle guidelines to reverse chronic hyperventilation. The aim of the method is to recondition the body, so that one returns breathing to normal levels by:
- Learning how to unblock nose naturally.
- Switching from mouth breathing to nasal breathing.
- Practicing breathing exercises designed to relax the diaphragm.
- Learning how to participate in physical exercise without hyperventilating.
- For those with asthma-related issues, practicing special exercises to curtail coughing and wheezing.
- Gradually introducing simple, yet profound, lifestyle changes to facilitate the road to full recovery.
Just as in my 3Core Connections® Pilates Perspective, there are three core principles of the Buteyko Breathing Method: Reduced Breathing, Nasal Breathing and Relaxation.
Reduced Breathing Exercises
The core Buteyko exercises involve breath control, consciously reducing either breathing rate or breathing volume. Many teachers refer to Buteyko as "breathing retraining" and compare the method to learning to ride a bicycle. Once you have spent time practicing, the techniques become instinctive and the exercises are gradually phased out as the condition improves. A common theme in Buteyko exercise is to pause one's breath just before the moment when it becomes uncomfortable.
The Buteyko method emphasizes the importance of nasal breathing, which protects the airways by humidifying, warming, and cleaning the air entering the lungs. In addition, breathing through the nose helps the body to maintain higher concentrations of carbon dioxide and nitric oxide in the lungs.
A majority of asthmatics have problems sleeping at night, and this is thought to be linked with poor posture or unconscious mouth-breathing. By keeping the nose clear and encouraging nasal breathing during the day, nighttime symptoms can also improve.
Strictly maintaining nasal breathing during physical exercise is another key element of the Buteyko method. A study in 2008 found that it made exercise safer for asthmatics. While breathing through the nose only, asthmatics could attain a work intensity great enough to produce an aerobic training effect. (For detailed accounts of scientific trials reported in internationally respected medical journals, validating the efficacy of Buteyko breathing for asthma: www.buteykoclinic.com/results-to-expect.html.
Dealing with asthma attacks is an important element of Buteyko practice. The first feeling of an asthma attack is unsettling and can result in a short period of rapid breathing. By controlling this initial over-breathing phase, asthmatics can prevent a "vicious circle of over-breathing" from developing and spiraling into an asthma attack. This means that asthma attacks may be averted simply by breathing less.
Teachers, note that the method is not a substitute for medical treatment, and reliever medication should be kept handy at all times and used as required. (See important medical information, below.) This aspect of Buteyko is merely a change in lifestyle that can minimize the chance of an attack occurring and reduce the severity by enabling the asthmatic to remain calm and in control of breathing.
Important: While numerous scientific studies (www.buteykoclinic.com/results-to-expect.html) point to the efficacy of the Buteyko Method in alleviating asthmatic symptoms, please be advised that it is not a substitute for medical treatment. Reduction of medication should be done under supervision of your doctor, as some steroids and other drugs should not be ceased too quickly.
Answers to Your Buteyko Method Questions
How effective is the Buteyko method?
The Buteyko method has been subject to five trials in the western world. In all trials, results indicated a significant improvement to quality of life, with 70% fewer asthma symptoms such as wheezing, breathlessness and coughing, 90% less need for reliever medication, and 50% less need for preventer steroid medication within three to six months. For detailed accounts of scientific trials reported in internationally respected medical journals, validating the efficacy of Buteyko breathing for asthma: www.buteykoclinic.com/results-to-expect.html.
The trials also demonstrated a direct correlation between breathing volume and reduced symptoms and need for reliever medication. Additionally, lung function was maintained after the trial. Taking into account that preventer medication was halved with no deterioration of lung function, this was indeed very positive.
What are the symptoms of over-breathing?
- In the respiratory system: wheezing, blocked nose, loss of smell and taste, runny nose, post-nasal discharge, breathlessness, coughing, chest tightness, frequent chest infections, frequent yawning and snoring.
- In the nervous system: poor concentration, dizziness, light-headed feeling, numbness, sweating, brain fog, vertigo, tingling of hands and feet, faintness, trembling and headache.
- Heart-related: typically a racing heartbeat, pain in the chest region, and a skipping or irregular heartbeat.
- Mind-related: some degrees of anxiety, frustration/restlessness/irritability, tension, depression, apprehension and stress.
- Other general symptoms include mouth dryness, fatigue, difficulty falling asleep, waking up at night, waking up tired, reduced productivity, embarrassment, bad dreams, nightmares, dry itchy skin, sweaty palms, increased urination, such as bed-wetting or regular visits to the bathroom during the night, diarrhea, constipation, general weakness and chronic exhaustion.
I have had asthma for the past thirty years. Can I benefit from the Buteyko method?
Yes, expected reduction of coughing, wheezing, breathlessness is 50% within two weeks. This is a standard expectation, regardless of how long one has had symptoms. Mild to moderate asthmatics can expect to significantly reduce or eliminate their need for reliever and steroid medication following correct application of the Buteyko method.
I have coughing attacks, wheezing attacks, excessive mucus. Will the Buteyko Method help me?
Yes. Regardless of your respiratory condition, the Buteyko method is very effective for stopping wheezing, coughing or breathlessness. Chronic hyperventilation is the cause of coughing, wheezing and excess mucus. The Buteyko method reverses chronic hyperventilation, thereby reversing these symptoms.
How can I determine whether I chronically hyperventilate?
Central to the Buteyko method is a breath-hold measurement called the Control Pause. This measures how long you can hold your breath until you feel the first hunger for air or first involuntary movements of your breathing muscles. You can apply this test free from these video segments. The lower your control pause, the greater your breathing volume.
When I go to the doctor, I am asked to blow into the peak flow meter. Is this wrong?
The standard test for measuring airway obstruction is the peak flow, or spirometry. Spirometry measures your forced expiratory volume or, in simpler terms, how much air you can blow out in one second. However, as many asthmatics experience, the test itself is enough to bring on a cough, wheeze or chest tightness. As the test itself causes airways to obstruct, it is not a reliable indicator. A more reliable indicator of asthma symptoms is the Control Pause used in the Buteyko method.
Can I start Buteyko breathing without a Buteyko practitioner?
There are self-help products on the market. These can be very worthwhile and we have found that many patients can greatly reduce their symptoms. The benefits of attending sessions with a Buteyko educator are many: they can tailor a program to your needs, teach you the exercises, provide feedback as to whether you are doing them correctly and help you through cleansing reactions.
Can I learn the Buteyko method from DVDs?
Yes, follow this link, and you can get the complete instruction on DVD for adults and a special Buteyko DVD set for children.
I wake up each morning with a blocked nose. How can I unblock it?
Your nose is blocked because you were breathing heavily and probably breathing through your mouth. This link views a free video on how to unblock your nose.
How quickly can I expect an improvement from the Buteyko method?
This depends, to some extent, on individual considerations; however, common asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and blocked nose often can be alleviated within hours from application of the Buteyko method. Insomnia, snoring, sleep apnea, anxiety, stress, asthma, etc., are often greatly helped within days. The time needed to see improvement in other conditions will vary according to the condition, duration, fat stores and medication usage.
How safe is the Buteyko method?
Buteyko is very safe for all persons. For most patients, relaxation with gentle reduced breathing is akin to taking a walk, and will be well tolerated by almost everyone.
Can the Buteyko method be taught to children?
Yes, children make very quick progress with the Buteyko method. The exercises can be tailored depending on the age and health of the child. Good habits include breathing through the nose, correct physical exercise, avoiding overeating, and avoiding overheating. A Buteyko DVD set for children is available from www.buteykokids.com. Here you will find a number of exercises available for free.
Can the Buteyko method be used during pregnancy?
It is not advisable to use the Buteyko method during pregnancy. The best option is for mothers to learn the method and have a high CP prior to becoming pregnant. Having a high CP at the beginning of pregnancy is very beneficial for the health of the mother and fetus.
What happens during a cleansing reaction?
Roughly two-thirds of those who apply Buteyko will experience a cleansing reaction within the first two weeks. Cleansing reactions are indicative of the powerful physiological change which the body undergoes. For people with asthma, the most common reaction is excess mucus from the nose and airways. For a few days and weeks, the nose may be runny, especially during physical activity with nasal breathing. It is also possible to experience an increased amount of mucus moving up from the lower airways. In addition, there may be other symptoms such as a slight headache, diarrhea, increased yawning, and cold-like symptoms or a general feeling of being unwell. Symptoms are, in general, not disruptive and will pass in two or three days. Like any detoxifying process of the body, there is a short adjustment phase. On a positive note, most people will experience signs of health improvement including: fewer asthma symptoms; less coughing, wheezing and congestion, especially in the mornings; increased calmness and concentration; better sleep and more energy, and reduced appetite and cravings for chocolate and other foodstuffs.
Is there any age limit to learning the Buteyko method?
No, the Buteyko method can be taught to any age. It is simple, safe and effective for all ages.
In addition to instruction in Therapeutic Breathwork (Buteyko Method Asthma Relief), we offer specialized programs in:
General Fitness, Weight Loss, Post-Rehabilitation and Pain Management, Sports Performance, Prenatal & Postnatal Programs, SeniorFit™, Workplace, Structural Integration (Rolfing).