Dr. Buteyko believed that the symptoms asthmatics experience were due to a defensive mechanism of the body against hyperventilation or chronic over-breathing and the resulting loss of carbon dioxide (CO2). Symptoms such as airway constriction and excessive mucous production are created to limit the loss of carbon dioxide.
Dr. Buteyko believed that the indiscriminate use of bronchodilators contributed to the further depletion of CO2 from the body. Normalizing breathing with the help of Buteyko Breathing, however, helps break the vicious cycle and asthma sufferers experience less asthma symptoms. As a result they are frequently able to reduce their use of medication and experience a greater sense of well-being.
Welcome to Buteyko Breathing!
The Buteyko Breathing Method (BBM) is a program that delivers education on correct nasal breathing, supported by effective breathing exercises which are taught to individuals or in groups over a period of 4-6 sessions.
It first became known in Australia in the early 1990s, for its ability to allow asthmatics to control and reduce the frequency of their asthma symptoms. It may also be helpful in the treatment of anxiety, sleep apnoea, rhinitis and respiratory problems other than asthma, and to correct mouth breathing in children with dental overcrowding (crooked teeth).
Buteyko Breathing is a complementary technique and can be practised while taking prescription medication.
The technique focuses on relaxed, nasal, diaphragmatic breathing, with breath holding and progressive breathlessness resilience exercises. The exercises need to be practised daily for best results, until breathing normalises. This might take a few months, depending on severity of the problem. It can also be used when symptoms are experienced.
No specific equipment is required, and the exercises can be practised anywhere, anytime!
The technique was developed in Russia in the 1950's by a Russian doctor, Dr. Konstantine Buteyko (1923-2003), from whom the technique gets its name. In 1981 the Russian authorities officially recognised the method as beneficial and approved it for use as a treatment for asthma throughout the former Soviet Union.
Early Asthma Studies outside Russia
Medical trials published in Australia in 1994 showed that asthmatics taking part in the trial experienced reduced symptoms and their need for reliever medication by 90% and inhaled steroids by 49%. Since then thousands of Australians have successfully learned the Method.
Later in 1994, the Method was introduced to the UK and since 2008 the British Guidelines for the Management of Asthma have endorsed Buteyko Breathing for the control of asthma symptoms, so that GPs and asthma nurses can recommend it to patients. The guidelines grade research on Buteyko as a “B” classification – indicating that there are high quality clinical trials supporting the efficacy of the technique in reducing both asthma symptoms and bronchodilator usage.
The Buteyko Breathing Method – in a nutshell:
Many unpleasant symptoms, such as narrowing of airways and excessive mucus production, can be caused by “over breathing” or “habitual hyperventilation”.
The BBM gives people a natural, drug free alternative to symptom management. It can either be used on its own or in conjunction with prescription medicines, depending on the severity of symptoms. The BBM is based on the laws of physiology and comprehensive scientific research.
In normal, relaxed breathing most of the work of breathing is done by the diaphragm. At rest, normal breathing is done through the nose, involves little visible movement of the chest and only light visible movement of the diaphragm (your stomach moves in and out).
Inappropriate breathing resembles the manner of breathing we use when under stress or when we exercise, such as breathing through the mouth and using the chest, shoulder and neck muscles especially while being at rest. It may also involve frequent sighing, yawning and irregular breathing. Inappropriate breathing can lead to chronic over-breathing or hyperventilation.
On average, we should be breathing about 4-6 litres of air per minute. However, asthma sufferers, for instance, may be breathing as much as 15-27 litres of air per minute! The better your breathing the less breaths you need to take, with 12 breaths per minute being about the upper limit of breaths taken.
What happens when we hyperventilate?
The many roles of carbondioxide (CO2)
The body needs enough CO2 to allow oxygen to spread into the brain and other organs. If CO2 levels are low (hypocapnia), oxygen is bound strongly with our red blood cells instead of reaching our organs, and this causes oxygen starvation in the tissues. (Bohr Effect).
CO2 is a natural bronchodilator. It relaxes smooth muscle cells which surround our airways, small blood vessels and intestinal tract. This is experienced as easier breathing, a drop in blood pressure, relief of headaches, and an easing in abdominal cramping.
The body uses CO2 to regulate its acid / alkaline balance, which affects the immune system and nervous system, in particular. Low CO2 for asthmatics means a greater susceptibility to infections.
Heart: palpitations / a racing heart, pain in the chest, skipping or irregular heartbeats, elevated blood pressure
Respiratory system: wheezing, breathlessness, coughing, chest tightness, excess mucus, hay fever, frequent yawning, snoring and sleep apnoea.
Gastrointestinal: reflux, heartburn, excessive air swallowing and associated purping
Also: dry mouth, fatigue, bad dreams, dry itchy skin, sweating, spasms, increased urination, bed wetting, diarrhoea, constipation, chronic exhaustion
Retrain your breathing with the help of Buteyko Breathing, normalise carbon dioxide levels and get relief from the many symptoms related to low carbon dioxide (hypocapnia) and chronic hyperventilation.
Science & Studies
The evidence base for the effectiveness of breathing training, such as Buteyko, has recently improved, with positive reports from several large controlled trials. More recent studies state that breathing exercises such as Buteyko breathing can help people reduce medication and improve quality of life:
“Most randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of the Buteyko breathing technique demonstrated a significant decrease in β(2)-agonist use while several found improvement in quality of life or decrease in inhaled corticosteroid use.”
Respir Med. 2008 May;102(5):726-32. doi: 10.1016/j.rmed.2007.12.012. Epub 2008 Jan 31.
A randomised controlled trial of the Buteyko technique as an adjunct to conventional management of asthma.
Cowie RL, Conley DP, Underwood MF, Reader PG.
"Six months after completion of the interventions, a large majority of subjects in each group displayed control of their asthma with the additional benefit of reduction in inhaled corticosteroid use in the Buteyko group. The Buteyko technique, an established and widely recognised intervention, or an intensive programme delivered by a chest physiotherapist appear to provide additional benefit for adult patients with asthma who are being treated with inhaled corticosteroid."
Slader CA, Reddel HK, Spencer LM, Belousova EG, Armour CL, Bosnic-Anticevich SZ, Thien FC, Jenkins CR. Double blind randomised controlled trial of two different breathing techniques in the management of asthma. Thorax 2006;61(8):651-6.
Göhl O, Pleyer K, Biberger G, Taube K, Müller C, Worth H. Empfehlungen zur Planung und Durchführung des körperlichen Trainings im Lungensport. Pneumologie 2006;60(11):716-23.
Cooper S, Oborne J, Newton S, Harrison V, Thompson CJ, Lewis S, Tattersfield A. Effect of two breathing exercises (Buteyko and pranayama) in asthma: a randomised controlled trial. Thorax 2003;58(8):674-9.
2003, NZ MeD Journal
McHugh P, Aitcheson F, Duncan B, Houghton F. Buteyko Breathing Technique for asthma: an effective intervention. N Z Med J 2003;116(1187):U710.
1998 Med. J Austr.
Bowler SD, Green A, Mitchell CA. Buteyko breathing techniques in asthma: a blinded randomised controlled trial. Med J Aust 1998;169(11-12):575-8.
468. Opat AJ, Cohen MM, Bailey MJ, Abramson MJ. A clinical trial of the Buteyko Breathing Technique in asthma as taught by a video. J Asthma 2000;37(7):557-64.
Brigitte is a member of Buteyko Practitioners International and you can read more about the Buteyko breathing method at Buteyko Clinic International