Buteyko Breathing & Asthma

The Buteyko method is an easily learned breathing technique, that was discovered by a Russian doctor called Dr Konstantin Buteyko, in the 1950?s.  It took time to gain acceptance in Russia, and an even longer time to disseminate throughout the world, but the results of this controversial breathing practice are astounding and its popularity is now growing widely.

The Buteyko method can be defined as a method of altering the breathing, by:

  • reducing the rate of your breathing (by slowing it down),
  • decreasing the depth of your breathing (by taking in less volume per breath) and,
  • ensuring that breathing always take place through your nose.

These simple changes made to your breathing cycle dramatically and permanently improve or eradicate a multitude of health conditions, such as:

  • Asthma & emphysaema
  • Sleeping disorders – sleep apnea, insomnia & snoring
  • Blocked noses and nasal polyps
  • Allergies
  • Rhinitis
  • Sinusitis
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Buteyko explained that these conditions are actually set in place by dysfunctional breathing patterns that we have become accustomed to, that being, breathing too much air. Breathing too much is known as  hyperventilation (hyper = too much and ventilation = breathing).

This is not classically how we perceive hyperventilation, but this over-breathing begins to have a lasting and dramatic effect on how oxygen and carbon dioxide are distributed within the lungs and body. The condition is correctly termed Chronic Hyperventilation Syndrome (CHVS) and the Buyteko method reverses this condition providing dramatic relief of symptoms in all the above mentioned disorders and more.

We are used to thinking of oxygen as being the most important gas in the ventilation process of the body, and conversely see carbon dioxide as a waste product that we should quickly get rid of. However, while it is true that oxygen is the gas we require to make energy from, carbon dioxide is the gas that actually decides how much oxygen is made available for use by the tissue of the body. It does this by affecting the way oxygen bonds in the blood and there is a scientific principle called the Bohr effect that can explain it.

It works like this:

Environmental air consists of two main ventilation gases in the following proportions:

  • Oxygen at 21%
  • Carbon Dioxide at 0.03%

Lung air (contained in the little balloons at the end of the lungs called alveoli) consists of these same two main ventilation gases,but in different proportions:

  • Oxygen at 16% (only about 20% difference between lung and environmental air)
  • Carbon Dioxide at between 3-6% (note the vast increase in Carbon Dioxide – on average 150 times more concentrated than in environmental air!)

It is the concentration of carbon dioxide in the lung’s alveoli that makes the decisions how the oxygen is used.

Air is taken into the lungs and fills the alveoli (which are like little firm balloons). The oxygen in the alveoli, diffuses into the blood stream and then bonds to its carrier molecule called Haemoglobin, and then becomes known as Oxy-Haemoglobin. The bond between the oxygen and Hemoglobin is very pliable and can be made more sticky, whereby the oxygen struggles to break free and feed the tissues, or less sticky, whereby the oxygen breaks free with ease and feeds the tissues.

The key to this bonding ‘stickiness’ is the concentration of carbon dioxide in your body, at any given time, and the concentration of carbon dioxide in your lungs is affected by the rate at which you breath.

We lose more carbon dioxide and moisture whenever we breath too much and when we hyperventilate or over-breathe in this way (even on a subtle level), we decrease the concentration of carbon dioxide in our lungs. The lower the concentration of carbon dioxide in our blood, the stickier the bond between oxygen and Haemoglobin and the less oxygen is released to the tissues for use.

In summary:

  • Hyperventilation leads to;
  • lower carbon dioxide concentration in the lungs (about 3%), which leads to;
  • a stickier Oxyhaemoglobin bond, which leads to;
  • less oxygen available for the cells, which leads to;
  • an altered breathing response by the body.

The body must thus work out a way to increase the amount of available oxygen in the blood, and it does by trying to increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the lungs, and if it cannot alter the breathing rhythm to do this (because the breathing setting in the brain is set wrong), then it does this by constricting the airways which holds more air back and increases carbon dioxide levels. It uses spasm, mucous and inflammation, or a combination of these, to achieve this goal and the effect is that less carbon dioxide is breathed out, the concentration increases in the lungs and the Oxyhaemoglobin bond is made less sticky and more oxygen is available for the tissues.

When we have these closed and tight airways however, we develop a psychological and learned fear response with associated adrenaline release that tends to make us want to breath deeper and faster to get more air in, but this response only compounds the problem as more carbon dioxide is breathed off, making the Oxyhaemoglobin bond more sticky, and the body responds by making more spasm, more mucous and more inflammation than before. Once our nasal airways have constricted to an unpleasant level to try and slow the air, we begin breathing through our mouths and then we lose even more carbon dioxide and the body must constrict the airways even more. A vicious cycle has set in and our breathing centre in the brain becomes accustomed to lower levels of CO2.

But there is another way that the body could respond, and herein lies the wisdom of the Buteyko method.

It works to adjust the pliable breathing centre in the brain and this reset the breathing rate through conscious awareness.

So, the Buteyko way to increase the carbon dioxide concentration in the blood and make the Oxyhaemoglobin bond less sticky, is to teach the body to regulate the breath encouraging restoration of normal nose breathing to further create a balance of gases in the lungs.

The Buteyko principles in a nutshell.
The Buteyko technique aims to restore your normal breathing pattern. You are taught how to:

  • breathe through your nose, and a technique is first explained how to unblock your nose (see this video to learn how).
  • focus on less air moving in and out (low volume), as opposed to irregular breathing.
  • slow the rate at which the air moves through your nose (low breathing rate) if necessary, and to focus on what muscles are used for breathing as well as looking at posture, speech, diet and exercise.
  • learn a series of specific Buteyko excercises to restore normal breathing. Read more about the specific Buteyko excercises taught on course here.

That is really the crux of the Buteyko theory, though obviously there is more to know, and during the course you will learn how to effectively achieve these goals, as well as address other contributing issues towards bad breathing.

The Control Pause
Dr. Buteyko developed the Control Pause (CP) as a simple and reliable measure of the level of carbon dioxide CO2 level in the lungs. Basically the lower the CP, the less oxygenated and healthy the body.

Progress of the Buteyko technique can be measured by using the CP. Once of the most reliable ways to do this is to take the first CP (control pause) of the day, before eating or drinking anything. The first CP of the day can only comparable to other peoples when both are medication-free.

The improvements in respiratory diseases and sleep conditions are quickly realised and startling in effectiveness.

In asthma, a permanent reduction in ‘preventer medication’ use e.g. inhaled steroids, and ‘reliever medication’ use e.g. Ventolinand asthma symptoms, of over 90% is seen within days to weeks, and continues even 6 months after learning Buteyko. This was recorded in a recent two year study by Dr Jill McGowen – Buteyko UK, and supported by New Zealand and Australian studies.

Courses in Buteyko:
From Dr McGowen’s website: “The Method is taught on an individual assessment basis. It is necessary to identify accurate lung function to enable the practitioner to devise a programme of exercises according to the client’s ability, and degree of severity of the condition. Due to the fact that the response to the breathing retraining is so rapid, requires the method to be taught in five 90 minute sessions over five days. This allows for ongoing assessment and adjustment of the exercise programme to individual need.The Principles of the programme give education on:

  • · Nose Clearing –
  • · Volume of Breathing –
  • · Posture –
  • · Identifying Symptoms –
  • · Managing Symptoms –
  • · Managing Infections / Viruses –
  • · Sleeping –
  • · Dietary Requirements –
  • · Individual Personalized Programme]”

You can also find more detailed information about Buteyko from these websites:

Three ways exist whereby you can view introductory seminars of the Buteyko technique:
1) At Buteyko where there are segments from the DVD as recommended above. You may find the self help programme offered at www.buteykoworks.comto be quite helpful.

2) You Tube has a set of video segments by a Buteyko teacher called Jenn(ifer) Stark that are worth watching:
Segment 1
Segment 2
Segment 3
Segment 4
Segment 5

3) And then there is an excellent seriers of You Tube segments by an Australian Buteyko teacher called Paul O’Connell:
1 – Buteyko Seminar Opener 1 of 17
2 – Professor Konstantin Buteyko – Video no longer available
3 – Buteyko and breathing
4 – Australia selected
5 – Brisbane Clinical trial
7 – Paul O’Connell personal experience
8 – Changing your breathing
9 – Observed results
10 – Breathing through the nose
11 – Possible causes
12 – Preventers and relievers – medications
13 – Posture and Sleeping
14 – Sleep apnea
15 – Buteyko and Sports performance
16 – Closing Seminar
17 – After seminar questions
For support, join the Buteyko Yahoo group. Here is the description of the group:

“Buteyko Support Group for discussing the use and comparing experiences with the Buteyko Breathing Therapy.

Professor Konstantin Buteyko is the Ukrainian medical scientist who developed the Buteyko method for reversing Chronic Hyperventilation Syndrome (CHVS). This is an extremely common disorder giving rise to a multitude of bizarre symptoms. It is hardly ever diagnosed, having been ignored by most of western medicine for over a century.

The Buteyko method is absolutely and dramatically effective on all “forms” of asthma, which supports Professor Buteyko’s theory that asthma is caused by chronic hyperventilation. The reasoning behind this is explained on our independent non-commercial web site.

The purpose of this group is to provide support for those people who are undergoing Buteyko therapy and to explain the theory behind this treatment.

Prospective Buteyko therapy users, Buteyko therapists and people simply seeking more information are also welcome.”