What is Buteyko Breathing

Named after Russian Dr Konstantin Buteyko[IG1] , the Buteyko Method consists of a series of breathing exercises and guidelines specifically designed to reduce over-breathing. Bringing our breathing volume towards normal levels results in the drastic reduction of common breathing-related issues and brings many additional health benefits such as easy weight loss, greater energy and better sleep.

Habitual over-breathing is primarily due to the elements of our modern lifestyles such as processed foods, lack of exercise, pollution, smoking, and excessive talking.

The simple fact is that many people breathe too much (clinically known as chronic hyperventilation), altering the balance and natural levels of gases in the blood, leading to numerous health problems, including asthma. Breathing volume can increase to as much as 2-3 times the norm, resulting in a variety of common complaints including weight gain, lethargy, difficulty sleeping, and poor concentration.

Typical characteristics of over-breathing are breathing through the mouth, noticeable breathing during rest, breathing using the upper chest, regular sighing, taking large breaths prior to talking, and breathing loudly during rest.  Developing a habit of breathing too much can have significant negative consequences for long-term health, as it reduces oxygen delivery to tissues and organs, and leads to the constriction of the smooth muscles surrounding blood vessels and airways. Please click here for more information regarding the science behind better breathing.

What does Buteyko Method Involve?

The Buteyko Method involves:

  1. Learning how to unblock the nose using breath hold exercises
  2. Switching from mouth breathing to nasal breathing
  3. Relaxation of the diaphragm and creating a mild air shortage
  4. Making small and easy lifestyle changes to assist with better long-term breathing methods

Progress is monitored by measuring your breathing volume and tracking your progress using a special breath hold test called the Control Pause (set a link to description on words Control Pause)

How to measure your Control Pause (CP);

  • 1. Take a small, silent breath in and a small, silent breath out.
  • 2. Hold your nose with your fingers to prevent air from entering your lungs.
  • 3. Count how many seconds until you feel the first signs of air hunger.
  • 4. At the first sign of air hunger, you will also feel the first involuntary movements of your breathing muscles. Your tummy may jerk. The area around your neck may contract.
  • 5. Your inhalation at the end of the breath should be calm.
  • 6. Release your nose and breathe in through it.

The following are important points to be aware of before we start:

  • 1. The breath is taken after gently exhaling.
  • 2. The breath is held until the first movements of the breathing muscles. It is not a measure of the maximum length of time that you can hold your breath.
  • 3. Your CP only measures your breath hold time. It is not an exercise to correct your breathing.

Remember that taking your control pause (CP) entails holding your breath only until the first involuntary movements of your breathing muscles. If you had to take a big breath at the end of the breath hold, then you held your breath for too long.

Essential rules to make progress

  • You will feel better each time your CP increases by 5 seconds.
  • If your CP does not change, you will not feel better.
  • Your CP should increase by 3 – 4 seconds each week.
  • The most accurate CP is taken first thing after waking. You cannot influence your breathing during sleep. As a result, this CP is the most accurate as it is based on your breathing volume as set by the respiratory centre.
  • Your CP as taken throughout the day will provide feedback of your asthma at that time.
  • Your goal is to have morning CP of 40 seconds for 6 months.

Three steps to increasing your CP:

Stop Big Breathing: a. Close Your Mouthb. Stop Sighing – swallowc. Apply gentle calm breathingd. Never hear your breathing during rest

Practice reduced breathing

Take physical exercise with correct breathing.

(Physical exercise is necessary to increase the CP from 20 to 40 seconds.)

Control Pause as a determinant of carbon dioxide tolerance (Peer reviewed medical papers investigating breath hold time)

 As far back as 1975, researchers Stanley et al noted that breath holding was a simple test to determine respiratory chemosensitivity and concluded that “the breath hold time/partial pressure of carbon dioxide relationship provides a useful index of respiratory chemosensitivity which is not influenced by airways obstruction.”

 Evaluation of breath holding in hypercapnia as a simple clinical test of respiratory chemosensitivity.Stanley, N.N., Cunningham,E.L., Altose, M.D., Kelsen,S.G., Levinson,R.S., and Cherniack, N.S.(1975).Thorax,30,337-343.

In another paper, Nishino acknowledged breath holding as one of the most powerful methods to induce the sensation of breathlessness, and the breath hold test “gives us much information on the onset and endurance of dyspnea (breathlessness).” The paper noted two different breath hold tests as providing useful feedback on breathlessness. 

The first breath hold test is the length of time until the first urges to breathe. This easy breath hold provides information of how soon first sensations of breathlessness take place, and was noted to be a very useful tool for the evaluation of dyspnea. The second measurement is the total length of breath hold time. This provides feedback of the upper limit of toleration of breathlessness and is influenced by behavioural characteristics such as willpower and determination. As the first test is not influenced by training effect or behavioural characteristics, it can be deduced that it is a more objective measurement.

Respir Physiol Neurobiol. 2009 May 30;167(1):20-5. Epub 2008 Nov 25. Pathophysiology of dyspnea evaluated by breath-holding test: studies of furosemide treatment.Nishino T.

Eighteen patients with varying stages of cystic fibrosis were studied to determine the value of the breath hold time as an index of exercise tolerance. The breath hold times of all patients were measured. Oxygen uptake (Vo2) and carbon dioxide elimination was measured breath by breath as the patients exercised. The researchers found a significant correlation between breath hold time and VO2 (oxygen uptake), concluding “that the voluntary breath-hold time might be a useful index for prediction of the exercise tolerance of CF patients.” 

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2005 Oct;95(2-3):172-8. Epub 2005 Jul 9 Relationship between breath-hold time and physical performance in patients with cystic fibrosis.Barnai MLaki IGyurkovits KAngyan LHorvath G.

Results from a study of 13 patients with acute asthma, concluded that the magnitude of breathlessness, breathing frequency and breath hold time correlated with severity of airflow obstruction and secondly breath hold time varies inversely with dyspnea magnitude when it is present at rest.

Rev Invest Clin. 1989 Jul-Sep;41(3):209-13. Rating of breathlessness at rest during acute asthma: correlation with spirometry and usefulness of breath-holding time. Perez-Padilla RCervantes DChapela RSelman M.

In other words the lower the breath hold time, the greater the volume of breathing of asthmatics at rest.

It is the author’s experience that CP is a very useful and accurate tool for determining relative breathing volume both during rest and physical activity. It is simple, safe, involves no sophisticated equipment and can be applied at any time. Overbreathing at rest can be determined by observation and length of CP. The lower the breath hold time, the greater the breathing volume. As breathing during physical exercise will increase proportionately to breathing volume at rest, it follows that breath hold time provides useful diagnostic feedback of breathlessness during exercise.

Easy breath hold versus maximum breath hold

When determining usefulness of breath hold tests, it is necessary to take into consideration subjective influences. In other words, individuals with strong will power can hold their breath for longer than those without. Therefore, breath hold time provides more accurate feedback if subjective influences can be removed.

Holding of the breath until the first involuntary movements of the breathing muscles provides more objective feedback on relative overbreathing.

In a study of 13 normal subjects who performed repeated breath holds, results showed that holding of the breath until the first respiratory sensations does not create a breath hold stress, and so is less influenced by training effect. Authors also noted that holding of the breath until the first breathing sensations is “inversely related to the slope of the hypercapnic ventilatory response curve,” and so provides a very useful diagnostic tool of breathlessness.

Clin Sci (Lond). 1996 Dec;91(6):755-61. Changes in the period of no respiratory sensation and total breath-holding time in successive breath-holding trials. Nishino TSugimori KIshikawa T.