What is the Buteyko Breathing Method?
The Buteyko Breathing method is a way of breathing created by Konstantin Buteyko. It focuses on slowing down the rhythm and rate of breathing. The goal of slowing down the breathing is to increase the carbon dioxide in the body. This provides the body with a better ratio of carbon dioxide to oxygen. Buteyko breathing for asthma symptoms has been reported to be very effective. I’ve experienced relief using this method from my own asthma symptoms.
According to Konstantin Buteyko, a Russian medical doctor, people who suffer from asthma and other related diseases hyperventilate, or over-breathe, and release too much carbon dioxide from the body. Low levels of carbon dioxide in the body is known as hypcapnia, which can be caused by hyperventilation. Hyperventilation is excessively fast and deep breathing. To compensate for hyperventilation and low levels of carbon dixoide, bodies have developed corrective mechanisms to limit the release of carbon dioxide. The tightening of the bronchial muscles and the over production of mucus in the airways is one of these mechanisms. These are very common symptoms of asthma.
Buteyko’s breathing technique has been known to correct the hyperventilation and subsequent decreased level of carbon dioxide. When done correctly, Buteyko practitioners claim, the breathing method can lead to a reduction in the reliance of asthma medicines for the relief of symptoms. This is something that I have noticed in my own practice of Buteyko breathing exercises.
Breathing through the nose, rather than the mouth can help to alleviate the symptoms of asthma. Mouth breathing dries the airways and makes them more sensitive and prone to increased mucus production.
The Buteyko breathing method gained attention in 2009 when Jane Brody, who writes the Personal Health column in the New York Times, described the experience of a friend of hers with severe asthma. Her friend was able to cut back to using less than one puff of her inhaler each day. After just three months of breathing exercises, he was able to discontinue taking the oral medications for asthma altogether.
Low Carbon Dioxide Levels Lead to Problems with Airways
Dr. Sterling in 1968 wrote “The Mechanism of BronchoConstriction Due to Hypocapnia in Man.” This was published by the Clinical Science Journal. In this article, Dr. Sterling suggests that a deficiency of CO2 creates an over-excited state of the cholinergic nerve. This nerve is responsible for the smooth muscles in the bronchi. When this nerve is over-excited, it leads to the constriction of the bronchi and the smaller air packages. This turns into the classic symptoms of asthma, wheezing, coughing and high heart rate. The production of mucus makes it worse.
Buteyko suggested that asthma is caused by alveolar hyperventilation. His first medical article about this was published in 1964. Butyeko observed the central role of breathing too much in the progress and degree of asthma. Buteyko and his medical colleagues also discovered that asthmatics can get fast, drug free relief from asthma symptoms if they practiced shallow and reduced breathing.
Another doctor, Dr. Herxheimer, independently suggested that hypocapnia is the cause of bronchial asthma in 1946.
Development of Allergies and Bronchial Asthma
If we want to cure asthma, we have to know how asthma attacks develop.
Chronic low carbon dioxide values in the bronchi create constriction in the airways. Additionally, chronic hyperventilation makes immune reactions abnormal. The immune system tends to become sensitive when there are low carbon dioxide values. As the immune system responds to intruders from the outside, it weakens the responses to a variety of pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria.
Hyperventilation is a defense reaction which is part of the fight or flight response. Therefore, hyperventilation should mean a state of increased alertness and emergency for the whole organism, including the immune system.
As the immune system is becoming hypersensitive to intruders and normal conditions. Events like breathing cold air or inhaling dust particles now trigger an inflammatory response in asthmatics. This in turn produces excessive mucus, a sense of anxiety or panic and more hyperventilation and a further constriction of the airways.
Prevention with Buteyko Breathing Exercises
Countering hypocapnia can help to prevent asthma attacks by taking the body out of this hypersensitive state that happens through chronic hyperventilation.
Buteyko breathing exercises have demonstrated through controlled tries that after 3-6 months, asthmatics required three to nine times less reliever medication, two times less steroidal drugs, and had a significantly improved quality of life. They reported significantly improved symptoms of asthma.
Breathing retraining requires a constant regulation of breathing due to the negative effects of some modern lifestyle risk factors. Modern lifestyle risk factors include sedentary jobs, consuming high amounts of carbohydrates and poor sleeping habits. Sleeping on your back or snoring can reduce the efficacy of the Buteyko breathing exercises.
Asthmatics are most likely to experience acute attacks or even die during the early morning hours. This is because nighttime breathing can be poor if you are breathing incorrectly at night.
Many Buteyko breathing practitioners encourage mouth taping at night in order to eliminate the negative impacts that can occur from poor breathing while sleeping.
Buteyko breathing practitioners also encourage sufficient physical activity to ensure that the breathing is reset properly. It is recommended that people have at least two hours of physical activity with nasal breathing only each day. This is helpful in maintaining the new pattern of breathing and preventing any further asthma symptoms.
How does it work?
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Buteyko breathing techniques are fairly simple to learn and can be easily picked up through online courses or a book. It is encouraged to visit a Butyeko breathing practitioner or clinic if you are suffering from a serious disease.
There are a number of Buteyko breathing clinics around the world. You can go to one of them to learn the techniques.
The Buteyko breathing method basically involves breathing out fully and then pausing your breathing in order to slow it down. The exercises should be done multiple times per day to retrain your body to breathe slower and only through the nose.
The first exercise that you will learn in the Buteyko breathing method is the control pause. This requires you to breathe out and then time how long you can comfortably hold your breathe before you feel the urge to take another breathe. This gives you a general idea of how much oxygen is in your body.
Once you know your control pause, you will want to improve upon that. Ideally, you want to be able to comfortably hold your breathe for about sixty seconds in order to eliminate diseases. Asthmatics typically start with a control pause around twenty seconds. Those who have chronic asthma and allergies are around 30 seconds. People who suffer from seasonal allergies are typically around 30 seconds. Once you can achieve a control pause of 40 seconds, you will have no symptoms of sinusitis, rhinitis, hay fever or asthma.
From my own experience, when my control pause reached 40, I was able to easily fend off colds during the cold and flu season as well as eliminate the majority of my seasonal allergies.