The Buteyko Breathing Method
The breathing re-education method that has elicited the most interest in recent years, and has the strongest evidence base for effectiveness, is the Buteyko Breathing Method. The Buteyko Method was developed in the 1950′s by a Ukrainian medical doctor and scientist called Professor Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko.
Professor Buteyko’s extensive research led him to the conclusion that many chronic diseases, including asthma, could be scientifically explained, in large part, as being a consequence of hyperventilation. He postulated that if he could retrain patients who hyperventilate (over-breathe), so that their breathing pattern reverted towards the norm, then he could reverse diseases such as asthma.
Professor Buteyko believed that carbon dioxide deficiency was a major cause of many chronic diseases. After years of experimentation, he developed a method to ‘normalize’ the breathing pattern. This approach has become known as the Buteyko Method. According to Professor Buteyko, his programme of breathing re-training (re-education) could be of benefit in many diseases.
During his research, Professor Buteyko became aware of and was encouraged by work previously done by a few eminent scientists, which supported his theory. These scientists included Joseph Priestly and Christian Bohr. Priestley is usually credited with the discovery of oxygen. Bohr first described the Bohr Effect by stating that haemoglobin’s oxygen binding affinity is inversely related both to acidity and to the concentration of carbon dioxide.
The fundamental principle of the Buteyko theory is that chronic hyperventilation (over-breathing) causes a loss of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the lungs and in the blood. A deficit of CO2 disturbs the body’s acid alkaline balance, causing constriction of blood vessels and smooth muscle, and poor tissue oxygenation. The goal of Buteyko breathing re-education is to reverse chronic hyperventilation and restore a healthy breathing pattern.
The Buteyko breathing method encourages breathing control as part of daily life, particularly at the onset of asthma or other breathing related symptoms. In the early stage of breathing re-education, patients are taught a structured daily routine of breathing exercises and breath holding techniques.
The main breath control technique of the Buteyko Method is reduced-volume breathing. It is particularly important that patients relax during reduced volume breathing to counteract their body’s natural tendency to increase respiration as a response to decreased tidal volume (i.e. the volume of air that is inspired or expired in a single breath during regular breathing).
In recent years there has been a tendency for some Western Buteyko method practitioners to teach breath slowing as an alternative means for reducing minute volume.
The Buteyko method also uses post-expiratory breath holding as a means of assessing and training an individual’s breathing. The method also places a lot of emphasis on the importance of establishing and maintaining nasal breathing at all times including during exercise, during sleep and even when the nose becomes blocked as a result of having a cold or allergic reaction.
The Buteyko Method also includes advice on posture, and health and lifestyle guidelines to support a functional breathing pattern.
A leading breathing therapy researcher (Dr. Rosalba Courtney) has expressed the view that it is unlikely that increased levels of carbon dioxide is the sole reason for the health improvements seen in patients who learn and practise the Buteyko method.
According to Dr. Courtney, the mechanisms of the Buteyko method are likely to be complex and to include psychophysiological, neurological and biomechanical mechanisms in addition to biochemical mechanisms centred on carbon dioxide.
The Buteyko Method is a programme and method to re-educate and normalize an abnormal ‘automatic’ breathing pattern. Its implementation results in improvements in such conditions as asthma, sleep apnoea, snoring, insomnia, COAD (chronic obstructive airways disease), COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), sinusitis, hay fever (allergic rhinitis), non-allergic rhinitis, rhinosinusitus, blocked nose, allergies, bronchitis, bronchiectasis, and anxiety conditions.