One of the most powerful practices I’ve experienced to fight anxiety, boost energy, and improve overall general health has been the Buteyko Breathing Method.
During the 1950s, a doctor from the Soviet Union began developing the principles of the Buteyko breathing technique.
Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko was a physiologist interested in respiration and hyperventilation. Specifically, how breathing rates directly affect numerous body functions.
Over the years, scientists have studied the Buteyko method with varying degrees of seriousness. But recently, there’s been a resurgence of interest because of hundreds of personal success stories detailing life-changing health benefits because of Buteyko.
Professor Konstantin Buteyko
What is Buteyko? The term Buteyko comes from Professor Konstantin Buteyko, a Russian doctor who studied breathing, specifically, over-breathing. Increased respiratory rates have profound short-term and long-term effects on the human body.
Early in Konstantin’s scientific career, he monitored the breathing of terminally ill patients. This is where he observed a simple yet profound fact.
Buteyko spent hundreds of hours observing sick and dying patients. He began to detect patterns relating to increased breathing and the health of patients deteriorating. As the breathing rate of each patient sped up, death was near.
Along with this realization, Buteyko himself also suffered from serious hypertension. As he was given only a year or two to live, he began researching his own illness. His early conclusion did not leave much hope for reversing his condition.
Deep Breathing and Respiration
As his condition worsened, he pondered if his deep breathing was causing his troubles. Buteyko decided to reduce the rate of his breathing, and suddenly his kidney, heart, and head pain ceased. As a quick test, he began deep, rapid breathing, and the symptoms returned almost immediately.
It was here that Dr Buteyko concluded healthy breathing might be the only prescription that could help him survive.
One of his greatest discoveries was the relationship between respiratory rate and vitality. Dr Buteyko understood that breathing could not alone cure any single ailment, but it could absolutely be the cause of much sickness.
Simple, Yet Profound Conclusions
For decades, Konstantin Buteyko studied the single idea behind breathing and wellness. This led him directly to carbon dioxide and how our body responds to the gas and how it exhales it. Much of his research led him to a few simple conclusions.
The Russian physician developed profound theories surrounding breathing disorders. The basis of his prescription would be nasal breathing instead of mouth breathing – and slow, shallow diaphragm breathing.
“It has transpired that the truth is on the side of the eastern medicine which as always, said that diseases occur as a result of diseased breathing. The essence of my technique is however in decreasing the depth of breathing.” – Dr. Konstantin Buteyko
Buteyko Breathing Method
Could it be that simple? Is Buteyko really just slow, shallow, and effortless breathing through the nose using the diaphragm? Could increasing Co2 levels be the beginning of good health and longevity?
There’s much to learn about why proper breathing is so important, but learning the basics of how to breathe is much simpler.
There are entire courses on the process of Buteyko breathing, and I would highly recommend them to anyone who wants to improve their overall health. Here’s a summary of just a few main points from the Buteyko breathing method.
1. Nose Unblocking for Buteyko Breathing
A few of the basic Buteyko exercises involve first unblocking your nose for proper use. If you don’t breathe from your nose regularly, it will become blocked over time.
So the first step is to determine if your nose is blocked and work to unblock it. There are specific exercises you can do to unblock your nose.
2. Engauge the Diaphragm
Next, Buteyko’s breathing techniques focus on breathing volume. Specifically slowing down the rate of inhale and exhale while using your diaphragm.
So many people are not engaging their diaphragm while breathing, only short and rapid breaths through their lungs.
Chest breathing only through your lungs can be problematic and lead to forming bad habits. Upper chest breathing is usually rapid, short, and heavy breaths. One of the main causes of rapid chest breathing is an increased heart rate, as your body cannot fully relax.
3. Carbon Dioxide Tolerance
The habitual stress placed on the body from fast, heavy breaths can go unnoticed by many people. Upper chest breathing through your mouth quickly forms into chronic hyperventilation. Dysfunctional breathing brings too much oxygen to the body and reduces carbon dioxide.
One of the biggest reasons people over-breathe is because they truly think more oxygen in the body is better.
Too much air, and therefore too much oxygen, is not better for your body. This is counter-intuitive, but studies have shown more oxygen is not better.
Buteyko begins by giving people the understanding that your everyday breathing habits matter a great deal to your health.
4. Breath Holds and Buteyko Breathing
After forming solid breathing habits through the nose using the diaphragm, Buteyko breathing focuses on a series of breath control exercises, and breath holds to develop a tolerance to carbon dioxide.
When you have a low tolerance to Co2, your body will trigger your brain to breathe more rapidly. As detailed in the Bohr Effect, when you increase your tolerance to carbon dioxide, your body won’t be caught in the vicious cycle of over-breathing.
By using breath holds, you can extend the length of each inhale and exhale comfortably. Developing a habit for longer, slower breathing is a key function of Buteyko breathing.
Over several weeks as you build a tolerance to carbon dioxide, slow, calm, and proper breathing will be automatic. You will transform from habitual over-breathing to habitual smooth, quiet breathing.
The Control Pause
The control pause is an important exercise to gauging your breathing health. Start by breathing normally, then after exhale, pinch your nose and begin a timer.
Someone in good breathing health should be able to go for 40 – 60 seconds before they have the urge to take a breath.
Many people can only last 15 – 20 seconds before the urge to breathe is too great. The control pause test indicates the level of carbon dioxide tolerance, which is vital for proper breathing.
The good news is the control pause can be practiced. With a series of breathing exercises, you can train your body to prolong the time when it signals the need to take a breath.
Buteyko Breathing for Asthma Symptoms
The Buteyko Breathing Method or Buteyko Breathing Technique can improve asthma symptoms, along with several other health ailments.
Researchers are clear that Buteyko is not a cure for asthma control but a technique to alleviate asthma attacks and complement prescribed medications or inhalers.
The British Thoracic Society recently published a paper citing breathing exercises and dysfunctional breathing reduction techniques, including the Buteyko Method, for modest improvements in symptoms of asthma, quality of life, and reduced bronchodilator needs for adults with asthma.
Studies such as this from the BTS are huge leaps forward for breathing as effective medical care.
The more concrete evidence through scientific studies proving methods from professor Buteyko, the greater the chance for a medical doctor to recommend to asthma patients. This is vital for our society as a whole.
Fight Anxiety With Buteyko Breathing
Along with fighting asthma symptoms, asthma attacks, hay fever, and other respiratory conditions such as sleep apnoea, Buteyko has been proven to reduce anxiety, panic attacks, increased stress levels, and even high blood pressure.
During stressful conditions breathing becomes faster, mouth breathing through the upper chest is engaged, and more erratic and noticeable heavy breathing is common. These are all conditions that can be purposefully altered to reverse the harmful effects of stress.
To relax the body, we want to slow down breathing, breathe from the stomach and diaphragm rather than the upper chest, and quiet our inhales and exhales. Smooth, gentle, and calm breaths work to downshift our heart rate.
This also switches our autonomic nervous system from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic, which is responsible for rest and relaxation.
If there was one attribute from Buteyko that I’ve personally experienced with profound evidence, it’s this reduced anxiety.
Since practicing Buteyko and the techniques for proper breathing, my resting heart rate has dropped considerably, and my anxiety has been enormously reduced.
Boost Energy With Breathing Techniques
Not only is it possible to reduce stress and anxiety with the Buteyko breathing techniques, but it’s also possible to boost energy.
By forming the habit of nose breathing at night while you sleep, you can dramatically transform your sleep quality. I can attest to this by waking up alert and feeling refreshed after learning to reduce my breathing volume with Buteyko.
People who suffer from sleep apnea usually have a low tolerance for carbon dioxide.
Fast breathing through the mouth while you sleep, will send your body into a vicious cycle of too much oxygen, not enough Co2, and non-existent tolerance for pauses while breathing.
Naturally, when you are constantly huffing and puffing while you sleep, your body never enjoys the parasympathetic (rest and recovery) stage. Deep sleep is altered, REM sleep is disrupted, and you wake up tired like you never slept a wink.
There’s no doubt that disrupted breathing while you sleep contributes to low energy during the day. You are in danger of chronic fatigue syndrome. It’s a vicious cycle that you must break for a chance at having an energetic quality of life.
Improve Overall Health
There are so many health benefits to proper breathing, and scientists are only now beginning to discover its full potential.
Proper respiratory health can positively affect circulation, organ health, lung function, sleep quality, fitness performance, alertness, and the list goes on and on.
I’ve noticed that practicing breath holds, breathing techniques, and carbon dioxide tolerance is an overall “solid” feeling in my belly.
The feeling is something difficult to explain, but before I began experimenting with breathing health, I had an almost constant “fluttering” feeling in my stomach. I imagine this “buzzing” was anxiety, which would sometimes overpower all my other senses.
By increasing my carbon dioxide levels through breath-holding, I began a tolerance and changed my entire physiology.
Profound Personal Health Improvement
I’ve also noticed improved circulation. In the past, I was notorious for constantly cold fingers and feet.
One guess as to why my circulation has improved is that carbon dioxide expands blood vessels enabling blood to move around the body more freely. I’m no scientist or health professional, but this is exactly what it seems I’ve experienced.
Looking back, it was almost debilitating at times, but I fought my way through it somehow. I don’t have the correct scientific studies or terminology to explain or justify my experience.
Still, I can summarize it this way, learning to breathe properly has been life-changing, to say the least. I’ve experienced significant changes in a wide range of health-related issues. All were improved by my breathing habits.
Buteyko Breathing Association
There are plenty of places to turn if you want to learn more about proper breathing health and Buteyko specifically.
The Buteyko Breathing Association has tons of great resources. Clinical trials are underway at dozens of labs covering a wide range of physiology and breathing effects. Top experts in the field continue to inform the public about the importance of proper breathing, picking up where Dr. Buteyko left off.
Clinical practice of breathing health is expanding, and hopefully, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Patrick McKeown is another highly trained expert in the field and offers a variety of useful breathing guides.
Patrick works with clients around the world to help improve athletic performance and improve dysfunctional breathing patterns. He also suffered terribly from asthma, but he learned about proper management of asthma and nearly cured himself of the ailment through proper breathing.
I’m not a doctor, and I give zero medical advice. My only recommendation is to continue the exploration into the power of the breath.
If you’re reading this, it means you’ve started your journey. We are only at the very early stages of discovering the possibilities of breathing health.