The Buteyko Method
Hundreds of thousands of people in the Western world have successfully applied the Buteyko method to resolve and relieve symptoms of breathing problems such as:
Named after Russian Dr Konstantin Buteyko, the Buteyko Method consists of a series of breathing exercises and guidelines specifically designed to reduce over-breathing. Bringing breathing volume towards normal levels results in the drastic reduction of common breathing-related issues and brings many additional health benefits such as greater energy and better sleep.
The simple fact is that many people breathe too much (clinically known as chronic hyperventilation), altering the natural levels of gases in the blood and leading to numerous health problems, including asthma. 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. As a result of this, breathing volume can increase to as much as 2-3 times the norm, resulting in a variety of common complaints including 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 view Patrick McKeowns TEDx talk for more information regarding the practical application of the Buteyko Method.
The Buteyko Method involves:
- Learning how to unblock the nose using breath hold exercises
- Switching from mouth breathing to nasal breathing
- Relaxation of the diaphragm and creating a mild air shortage
- Making small and easy lifestyle changes to assist with better long-term breathing methods
- Measuring your breathing volume and tracking your progress using a special breath hold test called the Control Pause (see below for more details)
How Over-breathing Affects the Body
Chronic hyperventilation creates a high breathing volume which puts extra strain on the body and affects an individual’s health and well-being in many different ways. When over-breathing becomes a habit, the body struggles to cope with an imbalance of blood gases and every system and organ in the body can be affected, including:
- The respiratory system: wheezing, blocked nose, loss of smell and taste, runny nose, post nasal discharge, breathlessness, coughing, chest tightness, frequent chest infections, frequent yawning, and snoring.
- The nervous system: poor concentration, dizziness, light-headedness, numbness, sweating, dizziness, brain fog, vertigo, tingling of hands and feet, faintness, trembling, and headache.
- The heart: a racing heartbeat, pain in the chest region, and a skipping or irregular heartbeat.
- The mind: anxiety, frustration, restlessness, irritability, tension, depression, apprehension, and stress.
Other general symptoms include: mouth dryness, fatigue, difficulty falling asleep, waking regularly at night, waking up tired, reduced productivity, embarrassment, bad dreams, nightmares, dry and itchy skin, sweaty palms, increased urination (including bed wetting or regular visits to the bathroom during the night), diarrhoea, constipation, general weakness, and chronic exhaustion.
“Chronic hyperventilation can affect any organ or system to different degrees.” – Dr. Claude Lum
Measure your Relative Breathing Volume with the Control Pause
The Control Pause test is central to the Buteyko Method as a measurement of how long you can comfortably hold your breath. This simple test helps to determine your sensitivity to carbon dioxide and susceptibility to breathlessness. As you continue to practise Buteyko Method exercises you will find that your measurement steadily increases and your symptoms of breathlessness decrease.
The Control Pause (CP) Test (from the book Close Your Mouth):
- Sit down and adopt a reasonably straight posture;
- Take a small breath in and let a small breath out (the breath should not be noticeable);
- Hold your nose on the exhalation. Your lungs should be mostly empty but not completely devoid of air. Holding your nose is necessary to prevent air entering into the airways;
- Count how many seconds you can comfortably hold your breath before you need to take a breath in. (Please note that this is not a test of how long you can hold your breath using willpower, but simply until you feel the first physical urges to breathe.)
- Release your nose and breathe in through it;
- Continue to breathe normally through your nose. Your first intake of breath after the Control Pause should be no greater than your breath prior to taking measurement. If you need to take a big breath after measuring the Control Pause it is a sign that you have held your breath for too long.
The level of carbon dioxide in the body determines the length of time the breath can be held; a higher level of carbon dioxide corresponds to a longer breath hold. Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the blood helps to reduce the symptoms of over-breathing and lower breathing volume to a normal level. A lower breathing volume also assist with general health, sports performance and is a natural appetite suppressant, leading to easy weight loss.
What is the Significance of the Control Pause (CP)?
The Control Pause test helps to determine breathing volume and tolerance to carbon dioxide in the blood. Carbon dioxide is required in the blood in order to release oxygen to muscles and organs. Over-breathing reduces carbon dioxide levels and therefore decreases oxygenation of the body.
When CP is low, breathing volume does not match the body’s metabolic requirements, which results in an increased severity of hyperventilation-related symptoms. If your Control Pause is less than 20 seconds it is highly likely that you will regularly experience symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, breathlessness, blocked nose, fatigue, and sleep-disordered breathing.
The closer your CP is to 40 seconds, the better the match between breathing volume and metabolic requirements, and the greater the oxygenation of the body. It is common for people in the Western world to have a Control Pause of between 5 and 15 seconds, indicating a prevalence of habitual over-breathing. By practising the Buteyko Method using books, DVDs, or with the tutelage of a Buteyko practitioner, you will be able to increase your CP until you have reduced or completely eradicated the symptoms associated with over-breathing. Every time your Control Pause increases by five seconds you will experience significant changes to your health and enjoyment of life.