Buteyko Breathing Technique

What is Buteyko Breathing Technique?

This relatively new drug-free therapy is a means of retraining the breathing process in an effort to improve health and reduce symptoms in a number of conditions.

Its founder Dr Buteyko believed many illnesses, such as asthma in particular, were down to hyperventilating or not breathing properly. He believed that teaching the sufferer to breathe properly via a set of simple instructions would alleviate many of the symptoms of the condition, if not bring the individual total health.

By getting the client to breath properly and reduce the volume of air they inhale, Dr Buteyko believed carbon dioxide levels in the blood would be eliminated and the body’s acid-base rebalanced. Other tissues would then have an increased amount of oxygen.

Retraining the breathing involves numerous repetitive exercises which look at inhaling and exhaling through the nose, holding the breath and learning to properly relax.

Those who use the method claim to be able to treat up to 150 other medical conditions such as diabetes mellitus and migraine.

To justify the therapy was required Buteyko devised a testing method and a cell oxygenation index. This involved the client holding their breath for a set amount of time and then expiring. He could then calculate their cell oxygen content.

When breathing normally Buteyko calculated the oxygen level in the blood was around 96 to 98 per cent. Hyperventilating causes a loss of carbon dioxide which is necessary for the body to use oxygen correctly. A loss of carbon dioxide means a loss of oxygen and the body’s tissues starved. This is called the Bohr effect. By breathing properly proponents of Buteyko insist this process is reversed and the tissues receive all the oxygen they need.

The Buteyko method also looks at the patient’s diet and sleep patterns and attempts to redress them if they are perceived as harmful to the patient’s overall health.

The exercises can be done by people of any ages although it tends to work better on children and young adults who have not spent the same length of time breathing incorrectly as older adults.

Because they require no specific equipment the exercises can be done whenever – and wherever – the client finds suitable.


What to expect

You will be trained to always breathe through the nose through a series of repetitive exercises and techniques. Over a certain period of time this should permanently retrain your breathing rate and you will be required to monitor your breathing at certain intervals less and less as time goes on. During stressful periods you may need to retrain.

On your first session you will be asked to hold your breath so it can be measured. This is known as the Control Pause and is conducted using a watch with a second hand. If you can only hold for less than 20 seconds you will have symptoms of wheezing and asthma. This test will be repeated during sessions and once your CP is 40 your asthma or other health condition should have significantly improved if not gone completely.

When embarking on your training you will be required to monitor your breathing regularly, keep a record of this and follow a plan of action devised by your therapist. He or she will also teach you relaxation techniques which you will be expected to practice at home.

Exercises are usually taught over a series of meetings with your therapist. Ideally these meetings should be in quick succession such as over the period of one week or even a weekend.

As you begin to master the techniques of Buteyko you should notice an increase in your energy levels and your symptoms should gradually reduce. Depending on your progress a follow-up consultation or series of meetings with your therapist may be required.

You may feel well enough to reduce your prescribed medication but this should only be achieved under supervision from your therapist and doctor.

Sessions usually last between one hour and ninety minutes.


Effects and benefits

Reducing hyperventilation leads to improvements in a number of other diseases according to followers of the Buteyko method. In fact, they believe that anyone who takes in more air than their body requires could benefit from the practice.

Chronic over breathing or mouth breathing can result in such traits as audible breathing during rest, sighs, large breaths prior to talking, regular sniffing, and upper chest breathing.

In terms of recognised medical conditions which could benefit,
this includes various breathing disorders, diabetes and mental difficulties.

Other conditions the therapy purports to treat include:

  • Asthma
  • Snoring
  • Hay fever
  • Allergies
  • Emphysema
  • Migraine
  • Sleep apnoea
  • Chronic Cough
  • Rhinitis
  • Bad breath
  • Nasal polyps
  • Sinusitis and rhinitis
  • Anxiety symptoms and depression
  • Reproductive disorders
  • Blocked nose
  • Jaw joint pain
  • Dental or gum problems
  • Tingling or numb fingers, toes or face
  • Yawning despite no tiredness
  • dizziness

Its followers believe Buteyko can also boost the immune system, improve concentration and increase stamina and general energy levels.


Buteyko Breathing Technique and fascinating facts

  • Buteyko is pronounced Bu-tay-ko
  • The practice was developed in Russia during the 1950s by a doctor called Konstantin Buteyko
  • Around 5.4million people in the UK every year are treated for asthma
  • The first official study into the effectiveness of the Buteyko Method on asthma was undertaken in 1968 at the Leningrad Institute of Pulmonology
  • It was officially recognised as a medical technique for asthma by the Russian authorities in 1981following a study at the First Moscow Institute of Paediatric Diseases
  • A trial in Australia in 1998 showed those suffering from asthma who used the Buteyko technique needed their inhalers 90 per cent less after three months
  • The method is now used in Australia, New Zealand, Britain and America
  • During the 1960s Dr Buteyko headed up a project for the Ministry of Aviation and Space Research which aimed to put the first humans in space
  • Normal breathing involves breathing 4-6 litres of air per minute at rest, with a breathing frequency of 8-12 times per minute
  • The first clinical trials of Buteyko in North America were in the year 2000 at the University of Calgary. The trials were funded to the tune of $1million by a wealthy family from Alberta whose son had benefitted from the technique
  • The NHS spends around £1bn every year on treating patients with asthma
  • Statistics show around 1.1m days are lost every year due to asthma-related conditions and other problems with breathing
  • Poor breathing can lead to digestive disorders such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, bloating and constipation
  • Heart disease can be exacerbated by poor breathing. Spasms in coronary arteries result if the body has low oxygen levels
  • Around one in eight children in the UK are today labelled as asthmatic. That figure increases to one in five youngsters in the United States.
  • Within the last decade the number of individuals suffering from asthma in the USA has grown by around 40 per cent
  • More than one million people in the USSR are said to have used Buteyko breathing techniques
  • In the UK, Buteyko is being taught by both physiotherapists in Pulmonary rehabilitation wards in NHS hospitals and asthma nurses
  • There are around 22,000 trained Buteyko practitioners worldwide
  • A dog pants in order to regulate his or her breathing
  • Our nose filters out particles of pollen, pet dander, pollutants and dirt by means of the hairs and mucous membranes within it
  • In sleep apnoea, muscles of the soft palate relax during sleep. This results in a narrowing of the pharynx and uvular collapse and the eventual obstruction of the throat or airway for breathing.


Professional Organisations

Buteyko Breathing Association

A non-profit making organisation aimed at improving the lifestyle and health of those with asthma and other breathing-related conditions. The group promotes awareness of the practice to the public and encourages use of the method in such establishments as the NHS. Carries a register of practising members who have to sign up to the Association’s code of conduct.


The Buteyko Breathing Educators Association (BBEA)

An association of Buteyko trainers who provide strict teaching and certification standards. Encourages members when it comes to on-going personal development and keeping up with the latest research on the subject. Produces research and conducts clinical trials in a bid to prove the technique’s effectiveness.


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