What is the Buteyko breathing method?
The Buteyko breathing method focusses on the rhythm and rate of breathing, aiming to slow down the breathing rate and regulate the rhythm.
According to the Russian medical doctor, Konstantin Buteyko, people with asthma and other related diseases hyperventilate (over-breathe) and release too much carbon dioxide from the body. (A low level of carbon dioxide in the blood is called hypocapnia, which can be caused by hyperventilation. Hyperventilation is excessively fast and deep breathing.) To compensate, he postulated, their bodies have developed corrective mechanisms to limit the release of carbon dioxide, like the tightening of the bronchial (airway) muscles and the production of lots of mucus in the airways, which are well known as asthma symptoms. (It should be noted, however, that there is currently no conclusive evidence supporting the role of hypocapnia in the development of asthma.)
The breathing technique that Buteyko developed is said to correct the hyperventilation and subsequent decreased level of carbon dioxide. If used correctly, Buteyko practitioners claim, the breathing method can lead to a reduction in reliance on the use of asthma medicines for relief of symptoms.
Some of those who practice Buteyko breathing also suggest that breathing through the nose, rather than the mouth, may also help improve asthma symptoms. The thinking is that mouth breathing may dry the airways, making them more sensitive and prone to increased mucus production.
Buteyko in Australia
The Buteyko method was introduced into Australia in 1990. Since then thousands of people have taken the course run by the Buteyko Institute of Breathing and Health. This is the body that regulates Buteyko Institute practitioner members in Australia and overseas.
Evidence for its effectiveness
According to the National Asthma Council’s Australian Asthma Handbook, Buteyko breathing has been reported to improve quality of life for some people with asthma and may reduce the use of reliever medicines (medicines used to relieve symptoms). However, Buteyko breathing has not been shown to improve lung function measurements. More research is needed on the benefits of Buteyko breathing for asthma.
How does it work?
There are a number of Buteyko breathing clinics around the world and each has its own approach to the method. Basically, it involves breathing out fully, and then trying to breathe out a little more — until it feels like your abdomen is being drawn back against your spine. Stay in this exhaled state for as long as you comfortably can, then allow the air back in again reasonably slowly. It must be approached gently — that is, no gulping or gasping. Finally, you breathe normally for a while. When ready, you start again at the first step — breathing out fully — and go through the process again.
People practising Buteyko aim to increase the length of time they can hold the exhaled position. They breathe through the nose and avoid taking deep breaths.
If you have, or suspect you have, asthma or related obstructive respiratory symptoms, discuss with your doctor any breathing methods you may want to consider. Do not attempt to practise the Buteyko breathing technique without first consulting your doctor. Under no circumstances should you stop taking or change the dosage of your asthma medicines without consulting your doctor.
Remember, Buteyko breathing is a complementary therapy. Complementary therapies are used together with your prescribed asthma treatments, to complement those treatments, not replace them.