Eric Bakker N.D.April 29, 2022

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Buteyko Breathing Technique

Professor Konstantin Buteyko was born into the small farming community of Ivanitsa (about 150km from Kiev) in 1923. In 1946, he enrolled into the First Medical Institute in Moscow to train as a medical doctor. In the late 1940’s Buteyko (medical student) made an observation that has since changed the treatment and lifestyle of tens of thousands of asthmatics worldwide.

Buteyko noticed that the condition of patients in the acute respiratory ward deteriorated when breathing rate increased. He also noticed that those who reduced or normalised their breathing rate began to recover. In 1953 Dr. Buteyko was given a practical assignment that involved monitoring patients’ breathing, and spent many hundreds of hours recording their breathing. It was during this time that Professor Buteyko discovered that incorrect and deep breathing caused a wide range of health problems.

There after, most of his professional medical life was devoted to researching, studying respiration and refining his breathing method that has helped thousands of people throughout the world to overcome their asthma and other breathing conditions.

For the next 30 years Dr Buteyko researched hyperventilation (over-breathing) and the effect it has on the human body. Buteyko’s research describes why people hyperventilate, why it continues to self-perpetuate and how to reverse the cycle. The technique has been accepted as mainstream treatment for asthma and it has been taught to over one million people in the Soviet Union alone.
An Australian who was hospitalised during a trip to Russia, was treated with the Buteyko technique. His condition improved dramatically and he subsequently arranged for one of the Russian Practitioners to go to Australia to teach the technique there. The Buteyko method is now widely used in Australia and New Zealand and is becoming known in America, Great Britain and other parts of Europe.
Since 2008, the British Guideline on the Management of Asthma 2008 grants permission for British health professionals to recommend Buteyko, stating that the method “may be considered to help patients control the symptoms of asthma”.

My clinic has seen some amazing results with several asthma patients, and I’ve been a fan of the Buteyko breathing method for many years. When in clinical practice (retired in Nov. 2019), I  regularly referred patients to a Buteyko specialist in New Zealand called Glenn White.


Many People “Over” Breathe

Breathing is one activity that has a most profound effect on your parasympathetic nervous system, and most people will be quick to tell you that deep breathing is the correct way to induce relaxation, and that to practice deep breathing on a daily basis is most advantageous during times of stress and anxiety. Many people in fact over-breathe (hyperventilate), and many believe that deep breathing is one of the best ways of stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) when in fact it stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight), the stress response.

Deep breathing is not the right way to breathe; Buteyko in fact states (after studying respiration and its effects on human health for 50 years) that “the essence of my method is in decreasing the depth of breathing”.

Buteyko found that hyperventilation is the primary cause of many medical conditions and thus his program is based on slowing down breathing rates to within normal parameters. The Buteyko program includes guidelines for correct diaphragmatic breathing and learning to breathe in and out through the nose only.

The reason that slow breathing is so effective is that during times of stress, heart rate and respiration rapidly increase as the sympathetic nervous system takes over. Correct breathing (which helps to balance the correct oxygen/carbon dioxide level) helps convince the body there is no immediate danger and allows the parasympathetic nervous system to regain control.

Dysfunctional Breathing Re-Training

The Buteyko breathing method is a strategy to retrain dysfunctional breathing based on the theory that many diseases result from an abnormal breathing pattern. To be more specific, conditions such as asthma, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, panic disorders, high blood pressure, etc. are believed to be the body’s responses (a defence mechanism) to hyperventilation or in simple terms; over-breathing.

The Buteyko theory is based on the understanding that over-breathing disturbs the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our lungs, according to Professor Buteyko, more than 200 different chronic diseases are essentially just one, which he called “the deep-breathing disease”. By simply decreasing the depth of breathing, thus allowing carbon dioxide in the lungs to reach the desired level of 6.5, breathing normalises and symptoms can disappear.

Though most people may think of it as a poison, carbon dioxide may, in fact, be the “breath of life”.

If you want to really learn how to breathe properly and overcome excessive yawning, coughing, sneezing, sniffing, sighing or any one of a host of breathing related problems then I can highly recommend that you get in touch with your local certified Buteyko practitioner. This technique requires only a small amount of practice each day and will soon become second nature. Although I am personally not a Buteyko practitioner, I’ve worked with many patients with this technique in my clinic and can vouch for how effective it is. It can change your life!

What is the Buteyko Method?

The method is a program of education and simple breathing exercises that enables you to control and reduce the frequency of your asthma symptoms. The program encompasses the Buteyko breathing exercises, as well as a comprehensive description of Asthma and how to manage it.

The treatment is based on bringing the breathing to normal levels and thus eradicating over-breathing (hyperventilation) and reversing the need for the body’s defence mechanisms. These defence mechanisms, according to the theory, include spasm of the airways, mucus production (in the chest, nose, throat and ears), and inflammation (swelling) of the bronchial walls. The Buteyko method’s message is that when asthma sufferers learn to alter the volume of air they habitually inhale, their asthma attacks can be significantly reduced and the use of asthma drugs and apparatus can be reduced or entirely eliminated by 90% or more.
Clinical trials show Asthmatics enjoyed an improved quality of life with reduced Asthma symptoms, as well as a 96% reduction in reliever use and a 49% reduction in preventer medication three months after adopting the Buteyko method. Buteyko Asthma Education experience in teaching this method suggests that these results are achieved by almost all Asthmatics who follow the program.

The Buteyko Method’s first priority is safety

Buteyko does not suggest asthmatics discard their prescribed medication. Course attendees are instructed to use their reliever medication on an “as needed” basis, and to reduce preventer medication only under doctor’s supervision.

Buteyko Reduces Symptoms and Drug Dependency in Four Ways:  

  1. Using special breathing exercises to normalise breathing and reduce the frequency and severity of attacks.
  2. Monitoring the condition accurately and using the Buteyko Breathing Method when it is becoming worse.
  3. By practicing a natural and effective method to overcoming attacks.
  4. Learning about what your medication actually does, and how to use the smallest amount for the greatest effect.

The Buteyko method is not a “cure” for Asthma. Neither is the alternative most asthmatics face, a lifetime of drug dependency. Unlike the medication option, Buteyko has no known side-effects and does not require an ever-increasing medication intake to control the condition. Buteyko works to reverse the underlying cause of asthma – chronic hidden hyperventilation. The Buteyko theory is that the basic cause of asthma is a habitual, hidden over-breathing (literally, taking in too much air when breathing).

Dr. Paul Ameisen

Dr. Paul Ameisen is an Australian doctor who has been able to make a study of over 8,000 patients treated so far in Australia, and his book, Every Breath You Take, was the result of six years of research into the Buteyko method and the results it has achieved for asthma sufferers. The results are astonishing and suggest a direct link between our breathing patterns and our level of health. In 1995 a randomised double blind placebo controlled study on the Buteyko method was run in Brisbane, from the data given the reduction in beta2-agonists (e.g. Ventolin™) was a staggering 96% and the reduction in steroid inhalers was 49%.

The trial showed that the Buteyko method reduces drug usage profoundly without exacerbating the disease and without deterioration in lung function. In 2000 another trial took place in New Zealand, and again, amazingly there was an 85% reduction in beta2-agonists and a 50% reduction in steroid use amongst people who had used the Buteyko method for six months. Salbutamol was introduced to medicine in 1968, and unfortunately since its inception has become the “medical solution” to asthma, instead of looking into causes, drugs are once again the mainstay of treatment.

The British Guideline on the Management of Asthma 2008 has granted permission for British health professionals to recommend the Buteyko method. No other complementary therapy has ever been endorsed by this strict body for the treatment of asthma. By the early 1980s, Russian authorities were sufficiently impressed with Buteyko’s results to allow him a formal trial with asthmatic children in a Moscow hospital, and the results were impressive enough to persuade the State Medical System to approve the method for widespread Russian use.

Glenn White in New Zealand

glenn whiteIt is imperative that you work with a highly experienced and certified Buteyko practitioner if you want to get the best out of your Buteyko method. I have known Glenn White for many years and have had a few consultations with Glenn, he is legendary in New Zealand when it comes to teaching patients the correct way of applying Buteyko’s teachings. I have referred many patients to Glenn personally and have been most impressed with the results, those diagnosed with asthma were ably to lessen their dependence on ‘puffers’, and many could actually discard these pharmaceutical devices after learning how to learn to breathe properly. If you live in New Zealand, be sure to visit Glenn’s clinic in Auckland. You will be able to find an experienced Buyteyko practitioner in your part of the world by going to Google and doing an appropriate search. Glenn’s website is http://www.buteykobreathing.co.nz

Buteyko Breathing Exercises

Caution – this information posted here is educational only, it is important that you are instructed by a certified Buteyko practitioner to get the very best results from Buteyko’s method.

1.  Breathe in and out, both through the nose only. To reduce over breathing try to use your nose and not your mouth.
2. Tape the mouth up whilst sleeping. Don’t laugh! Unless there is some severe nasal condition, this should not represent any problem and should be adopted for the first few weeks at least to encourage nose breathing. Adults can easily adapt to this, but for children this concept frightens parents easily. However, doctors and Buteyko practitioners worldwide have not seen any harm come to children after recommending this practice for many years. Partial taping can be practiced until children and parents become more confident. Use a light, easily removable micro pore tape.
3.   Sleep on the left side. Avoid sleeping on the back. Sleeping on the back causes the    most over- breathing Professor Buteyko’s research has shown that sleeping on the left-side causes the least over-breathing.
4.  Increase your Control Pause. The control pause is described as the time it takes someone to breathe out normally, then to hold his/her breath in the out position until the very first signs of discomfort occur. This measurement is recorded then the person continues to breathe through the nose in a shallow pattern. Most people can only achieve 10 to 20 seconds, at rest. Some cannot even achieve one second, while others can easily achieve 40 seconds! The idea is too eventually to succeed in holding the breath in the out position for up to 50 to 60 seconds, until first difficulty is reached, to achieve the desired improvement. This is the measure of success with the Buteyko method. A person with a control pause of 15 seconds is breathing a volume of air per minute that is enough for 4 people. A person with a control pause of 30 seconds breathes for 2 persons; a control pause of 60 seconds indicates correct breathing, i.e., for 1 person. Some websites mention the “maximum pause”, see below why this is not a good idea.

Glenn White’s Expert Comment On The Maximum Pause:

The now outdated “Maximum Pause” stems from a practice used by Alexander Stalmatski in the early 90s to get quick results. It is now only practiced by a handful of practitioners that still adhere to his teaching.  A Maximum Pause could trigger a migraine, heart attack, epileptic seizure or hypoglycaemia in susceptible individuals so practitioners control its use very carefully. It was not condoned by KP Buteyko  and he took great pains in retraining BIBH practitioners in gentler and safer approaches during advanced practitioner training in NZ in 2000. The Maximum Pause should never be attempted without supervision by a qualified practitioner.

Holding your breath (the maximum pause) can result in a dramatic increase in PaCO2 (medical symbol for the partial pressure of carbon dioxide in the blood found in the arteries ) and trigger a hyperventilation response as the body tries to compensate. This can trigger the very symptoms we are trying to resolve and at the very least trigger a hyperventilation attack. In my breathing classes I stress the importance of controlled reduced breathing for 5 minutes immediately following any extended breath hold to override this response. Even with careful supervision clients can get it wrong.

I also preclude any with the following conditions from doing the Maximum pause unsupervised:  Diabetes I and II, those with severe cardiovascular disorders, epilepsy (including individuals with family history), OCD (for obvious reasons), panic/anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia.

The other factor with Maximum Pause exercises is that they are specifically designed to provoke a cleansing reaction.  Most Buteyko practitioners prefer to teach a more gentle approach that this. In fact very few Buteyko practitioners prescribe this exercise today and I would add that only a handful of the practitioners I know would be competent and qualified to guide their clients through the possible cleansing reactions maximum pauses can provoke.

Buteyko Breathing Benefits

  • Deal with stress and anxiety quickly and effectively
  • Enjoy more energy and a happier state of mind
  • Control the feeling of panic attacks
  • Safely reduce or eliminate medication in time
  • Sleep soundly through the night
  • Have a clear nose – experience the joy of being able to smell again
  • Eliminate snoring for a better night’s sleep for you and your partner
  • Monitor your condition without gadgets or machinery
  • Return to activities or places you love, but have avoided because of your health
  • Enjoy physical activity without fear of asthma attacks or other breathing problems
  • Improve your athletic performance, stamina and recovery time
  • Have freedom from symptoms related to chronic conditions
  • Reduce snoring, sniffing, wheezing, shortness of breath
  • Gain knowledge about your medication and its side effects
  • Eliminate sore throats and hoarseness
  • Reduce the incidence of headaches, earaches and stomach aches
  • Enhance exercise and sports performance, have more stamina
  • Greatly reduce your absentee rate at work or school

Nasal Breathing, NOT Mouth Breathing

The Buteyko method emphasises the importance of nasal breathing, which protects the airways by humidifying, warming, and cleaning the air entering the lungs. Many people breathe through their mouth however, do you? By keeping the nose clear and encouraging nasal breathing during the day, nighttime symptoms can also improve. Nasal breathing only during any physical exercise is another key element of the Buteyko method, and you will find that your performance will improve if you adhere to this.

Reduced Breathing Exercises

The main focus of the Buteyko method involves controlling your breath, and to consciously reduce your breathing rate and volume that is in contrast to deep breathing exercises recommended by most. Once you have spent time practicing and retraining yourself it will become instinctive and you won’t look back. The Buteyko method uses a measurement called the CP or controlled pause that means the amount of time you can hold your breath comfortably after you exhale, until you need to breath again.

The MP or maximum pause is the same, but with specially taught exercises that distract your brain, you learn to push out your controlled pause. Success comes as you are able to comfortably hold your breath in the out position for a minute or longer, and this will signify that you are breathing for one person. The less you can comfortably hold your breath for, the more you are over-breathing and the more people you are breathing for.

Personal Recommendation

I cannot recommend the Buteyko Method of breathing highly enough, it is suitable for many people and will help those with a wide variety of health problems. It has changed my life so much and has helped me sleep better, I rarely yawn or sniff anymore and my breathing and ability to relax has never been better. Be sure to make serious enquiries about this amazing therapy that may well have the same incredible benefits to your life as it has had with mine and to the countless patients I’ve recommended to Glen White in New Zealand, our country’s leading Buteyko breathing expert.

You may like to read more on Glenn’s website at http://www.buteykobreathing.nz

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