Buteyko Breathing

Background to the Method

The Buteyko Method was discovered by Russian Doctor Konstantin Buteyko on the 7th October 1952. Over the following decades he refined and applied his program. He sadly passed away on the 2nd May 2003.

As a young doctor, Buteyko’s work involved sitting for hours at his sick patient’s bedsides to monitor their progress. Over time, he noted that as his patients health deteriorated, their breathing got heavier. A thought struck him that possibly this heavy breathing which causes a disturbance of various gases within the blood including the delivery of Oxygen to tissue and organs was having an impact on his patient’s health.

After teaching himself to correct his breathing volume thus enabling him to recover from hypertension, he instructed his patients to become aware of their breathing and to stop breathing such a large amount or in other words to breathe less than what they were used to. He began to observe that his patients got better quite quickly with some of them completely recovering from their conditions.

Buteyko is one of the first people in the world to recognize and apply correct breathing volume as a way to help ones health. His method is unique in that it is the only breathing exercise developed which measures relative breathing volume. The Control Pause as it is called (see below) involves measuring the breath hold until one feels the first urges to breathe. The significance of the Control Pause is also explained below.

Many people in the western world breathe too much (clinically known as chronic hyperventilation) and it is primarily due to our modern lifestyles. The difficulty in diagnosing chronic over breathing is that while the breathing volume can be as much as two to three times the norm- it is hidden. However, typical characteristics of an over breather include mouth breathing, regular sighing, large breaths prior to talking, breathing loud during rest etc.


What is taught during the Buteyko Method?

The aim is to recondition patients breathing to normal levels. This involved:

  • Learning how to unblock nose naturally using special breath hold exercise
  • Switching from mouth breathing to nasal breathing.
  • Breathing exercises to bring breathing volumes to normal levels. (By relaxation of the diaphragm until an air shortage is felt.)
  • How to participate in physical exercise without hyperventilating.
  • Special exercises to stop coughing and wheezing.
  • Small lifestyle changes are necessary to assist with this, thus facilitating the road to full recovery.


Some of the symptoms of overbreathing:

“Chronic hyperventilation can affect any organ or system to different degrees.” – Dr. Claude Lum

  • The respiratory system in the form of 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 in the form of poor concentration, dizziness, light-headed feeling, , numbness, sweating, dizziness, brain fog, vertigo, tingling of hands and feet, faintness, trembling and headache
  • The heart; typically a racing heartbeat, pain in the chest region, and a skipping or irregular heartbeat.
  • The mind, including some degrees of anxiety, frustrated/restless/irritable, tension, depression, apprehension and stress.
  • Other general symptoms include mouth dryness, fatigue, difficulty falling asleep, waking up at night, waking up tired, reduced productivity, embarrassed, bad dreams, nightmares, dry itchy skin, sweaty palms, increased urination such as bed wetting or regular visits to the bathroom during the night, diarrhoea, constipation, general weakness and chronic exhaustion.

Fifty years on, the Buteyko method has gained momentum and accredited practitioners can be found in a number of countries throughout the Western world.


Measure your relative breathing volume with the Control Pause.

Central to the Buteyko method is a measurement of how long you can comfortably hold your breath for.

Try it for yourself: (taken from the book Close Your Mouth)

  • Sit down and adopt a reasonably straight posture.
  • Take a small breath in and a small breath out. (small means that it is not noticeable)
  • Hold your nose on the ‘out’ breath, with empty lungs but not too empty. Holding your nose is necessary to prevent air entering into the airways.
  • Count how many seconds you can comfortably last before you need to breathe in again. Release your nose and breathe in through it.
  • Your first intake of breath after the CP should be no greater than your breath prior to taking measurement; you should not hold your breath for too long as this may cause you to take a big breath after measuring the CP.

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.


What is the significance of the CP (comfortable breath hold time)

If the morning CP is less than twenty seconds then;

Depending on genetic predisposition, symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, breathlessness, exercise induced asthma, snoring, colds, chest infections and fatigue may be present.

If the morning CP is between 20 and 40 seconds then;

Main symptoms have gone but it is possible to develop symptoms if exposed to a trigger.

If the morning CP is greater than forty seconds then;

No symptoms are present.

If the morning CP is forty seconds for six months;

Asthma free

Please note that the morning CP is the most accurate measurement of progress.

The Comfortable breath hold time is indicated by CP. The lower the breath hold, the greater the breathing volume and the greater your symptoms. For example, a very severe asthmatic will have a control pause of less than ten seconds. Corresponding to this is large volume breathing often through the mouth.

An asthmatic with a CP of 40 seconds will never experience wheezing, coughing, breathlessness or associated symptoms. In this situation, it is very difficult to detect ones breathing as it is so quiet, calm and gentle.

How effective is the Buteyko Method?

The Buteyko Method has been subject to five trials in the western world. In all trials, results concluded a significant improvement to quality of life with 70% less asthma symptoms such as wheezing, breathlessness and coughing. A 90% less need for reliever medication and a 50% less need for preventer steroid medication within three to six months.

The trials also demonstrated a direct correlation between breathing volume and reduced symptoms and need for reliever medication. Another factor was the fact lung function was maintained the same after the trial. Taking into account that preventer medication was halved with no deterioration of lung function, this was indeed very positive.

The conclusion of Gisbourne trial (1) as published in NZ Med J is as follows;
“BBT is a safe and efficacious asthma management technique. BBT has clinical and potential pharmaco-economic benefits that merit further study.”

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