The Buteyko approach to better breathing
This breathing technique is mainly known for how it benefits some asthma sufferers. However it has been proven beneficial for a wide variety of breathing difficulties including chronic (on-going) hyperventilation, cardio-vascular illnesses, skin conditions, etc. in addition to the breathing irregularities which can develop as a result of on-going anxiety, panic, anger, etc.
Why consider it?
Regular use of Buteyko Breathing is aimed at normalising the body’s oxygen/carbon dioxide levels. So it can gradually eliminate the hyperventilation pattern – not just the overt, highly distressing form but also the more insidious ‘hidden’ hyperventilation that many of us develop as a result of poor breathing or speaking habits or prolonged tension.
It can help loosen up the physical breathing system – relieving tension in the chest, abdomen, throat, diaphragm and shoulders.
It is a practical and helpful technique that can sometimes produce noticeable benefits within a few days – and this helps restore confidence in one’s own ability to handle anxiety and anxiety-related symptoms.
The self-help use of Buteyko Breathing should be approached with a degree of caution and cautious experimentation, especially if you have medical conditions (in which case check with your family doctor.) It’s also both useful and wise to read of some of the online material (see links below). The ideal is to seek out a qualified Buteyko Practitioner and learn through individual coaching or through attending group classes in Buteyko Breathing.
Certainly the method of breathing appears to have many beneficial effects. It is relatively new to the West although it has been thoroughly researched over almost 50 years in Russian.
More information on Buteyko Breath Control
Although it is a self-managed, drug-free and non-invasive approach Buteyko is still not endorsed by many western medical establishments nor, even more surprisingly, by many asthma ‘self help’ associations.
For more information I recommend:
(1) Christopher P. Drake’s site is an excellent information site from someone who has long been involved in the spread of the Buteyko from Russia to the West:
(2) One book from this site: http://www.normalbreathing.com/ which is Oxygenate yourself: breathe less, also called The Small Book. Artour Rakhimov trained under Professor Buteyko’s wife and his material is exceptionally thorough. The Small Book is an excellent introduction. If you like it you could then try his Big Book which contains more background information and research references. This website is a treasure trove of valuable information on the Buteyko Method and it’s roots in the research done at Novosibirsk, Russia’s third-largest city.
(3) Rakhimov’s site also explains how to use the excellent and well-researched Frolov Breathing device. Incidentally, if you decide to buy one get it direct from Russia through eBay – much cheaper this way.
(4) The Buteyko Institute of Breathing & Health is an established Buteyko associations:http://www.buteyko.info/. They have a searchable online database of qualified practitioners.
(5) Two books by Alexander Stalmatski, a colleague of the late Professor Buteyko, Freedom from Asthma and Freedom from Insomnia. Both are readily available from UK bookshops and, of course, from Amazon. (You would need to get both of these because the first gives excellent background information on how and why we develop breathing difficulties and the second contains clearly outlined exercises for self-use. )
How to use Buteyko Breathing to deal with stress-related symptoms
This is an adaptation of the Buteyko method that has worked very successfully for some people. As mentioned already, the ideal would be to learn Buteyko Breathing from a trained instructor – but there are not many of them and the fees charged do appear quite high.
The key principle is to breathe less i.e. to breathe less frequently and less deeply.
For many people this will run counter to the normal inclination to breathe more deeply. In addition, this principle runs counter to the usual yoga-based breathing methods in which the aim is often to get rid of carbon dioxide and oxygenate the system.
However the research and clinical practice of Professor Buteyko and his colleagues since the late 50’s indicates that most of us are doing too much breathing and are, in practise, breathing out too much carbon dioxide. And, ironically, if we get rid of too much carbon dioxide we actually absorb less oxygen – so all of our deep breathing to oxygenate our system is in vain. This is because of a scientific principle called the Bohr Effect,
Experiment with Buteyko Breathing
If you would like to experiment with using Buteyko Breathing to calm yourself
- Find a comfortable place to sit quietly and relax for a few minutes. It may help if you use a couple of Sigh Breaths followed by Easy Breathing (These are not Buteyko methods but are merely to help you prepare for Buteyko Breathing if you are particularly stressed.)
- Pay attention to your breathing. If you are in a stressed state it will likely to erratic, deep and slightly gasping, or you may be doing some intermittent breath-holding.
- Now begin to gradually allow your breathing to become slower and slower. And more shallow. Initially this may be difficult to do for more than a few seconds at a time – aim to train yourself over a few weeks to tolerate quite shallow breathing for a few minutes at a time. What you are doing, in the Buteyko Method, is developing an ability to tolerate slight ‘breath hunger’. It must be introduced very, very gradually. For example, if you find yourself gasping or gulping or beginning to breathe even a little more deeply during your practise then you are over-doing it.
That’s it. With diligent and sustained practise you should be able to make your breathing more shallow whenever you find yourself becoming stressed or agitated.
Why does it work? Mainly because you are building up your reserves of carbon dioxide once again. And carbon dioxide is our natural tranquilliser.
Take your time getting used to it. Allow a month or two to become comfortable with it.
by Reg Connolly