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What is the Buteyko Method?

The Buteyko Method

Buteyko Method (Buteyko Breathing Technique)

The Buteyko Method first arrived to Australia and the UK from Russia in the early 1990s. Early on the method was popular with adults and children suffering from asthma. Over the past number of years, the Buteyko Method has shown to be efficacious in helping improve a number of breathing related problems including:

  • Respiratory: asthma, rhinitis, hayfever
  • Neurological: Anxiety, stress and panic attacks
  • Childhood development: dental health, craniofacial development and ADHD
  • Sleep disordered breathing: insomnia, snoring, central sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea

Developed in 1952 by Ukrainian Dr Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko, (Bhew-tae-ko) the Buteyko Method is a breathing technique designed to improve functional breathing patterns. While breathing is an involuntary activity, it is subject to change by stresses of everyday life, processed foods, excessive sitting and talking, lifestyle choices and environmental factors.

Functional breathing involves breathing in and out through the nose. The breath is light, regular, effortless with the primary movement from the diaphragm.

On the other hand poor breathing is generally upper chest breathing, often through the mouth. The symptoms most commonly reported by people with poor breathing patterns include the inability to take a satisfying breath, disproportionate breathlessness during rest or physical exercise, frequent yawning or sighing, or the feeling of not getting enough air. Irregular breathing is often a feature of poor breathing patterns. However, breathing patterns in these individuals can also be regular from time to time which makes detection difficult.

The Buteyko Method involves exercises to decongest the nose, switch to nasal breathing along with exercises to restore functional breathing patterns. Progress is determined by a special breath hold test called the Control Pause (see below for more details)

The application of the Buteyko Method is very direct and students should experience notable improvements to their breathing and health within a few days.  Expected benefits include easier breathing, deeper sleep, more energy, reduced asthma and nasal congestion along with increased feeling of calm. Exercises are simple and taught to all adults regardless of age or health and all children over five years of age.

Breathing patterns have a profound impact on health. Poor breathing patterns literally cause the airways to narrow, and blood circulation and oxygen delivery to be reduced.

To experience the powerful effects of Buteyko breathing, view Patrick McKeown’s Tedx talk.

 

How Poor Breathing Habits Affect the Body

Researchers have listed up to 30 common symptoms and conditions contributed to by poor breathing patterns.  These include asthma, wheezing, coughing, blocked nose, chest tightness, snoring, sleep apnea, dizziness, irritable bowel syndrome, panic attacks, anxiety, stress and general exhaustion.

 

Measure your Relative Breathing Volume with the Control Pause

The Control Pause (CP) Test (from the book Close Your Mouth):

  • Sit down;
  • Take a normal breath in and out through the nose;
  • Pinch nose with fingers to hold the breath;
  • Time it in seconds until you feel the first definite desire to breathe;
  • Resume breathing through your nose;
  • Your breathing at the end of the control pause should be normal.

While the role of breathing is biochemical, biomechanical and psycho physiological in nature, there is a simple test to provide feedback of how well you breathe. Called the Control Pause, the test involves having a normal exhalation through the nose, pinching the nose to hold the breath and timing how long in seconds it takes to reach the first definite desire to breathe. The goal is to reach a control pause of 40 seconds. Less than 25 seconds is strongly suggestive of breathing pattern disorders. Students of the Buteyko method will continue to experience asthma, nasal congestion, fatigue, anxiety and panic attacks until their control pause as taken first thing in the morning is at least 25 seconds. One achieves a higher control pause by breathing only through the nose and practising the various breathing exercises. With good attention to the breathing exercises, symptoms should reduce by 50% within two weeks.


If you were to observe and monitor the breathing of a random group of people as they sit together in a room, noticeable differences would be evident. Some people might breathe through their noses, while others might breathe through their mouth. Some will have gentle, slow and quiet breathing, while others will be taking much louder, larger breaths. Some people sigh habitually every few minutes, while others display a regular breathing pattern. Some may use their diaphragm to breathe into the tummy, while others breathe from the upper chest.

Since breathing is a natural process and so vital to life, it begs the question: why do we all breathe so differently? The answer to this is that our breathing habits are greatly influenced by lifestyle, environment and genetic predisposition. The best way to understand how breathing patterns can be altered over time is to think of a person who has developed a habit of eating too much. In times of stress, this person may turn to emotional eating, using food as a crutch to help them relax. But if they continue eating in this way over a period of weeks or months, their body soon adapts to habitual over-eating and begins to demand more food than they need. Similarly, sitting at a desk, watching TV and playing video games, eating processed foods, excessive talking along with stress and anxiety are all factors influencing breathing. When the body is exposed to these perpetuating factors for extended periods of time, the body becomes accustomed to a larger volume of breathing, along with all its negative manifestations.