- The Buteyko Breathing Method is a powerful approach for reversing health problems associated with improper breathing, the most common of which are over breathing and mouth breathing, including poor sleep, sleep apnoea and anxiety
- When you stop mouth breathing and learn to bring your breathing volume toward normal, you have better oxygenation of your tissues and organs, including your brain
- You breathe to remove excess CO2, but it’s still important that your breathing volume is normal, to maintain ideal CO2 levels in your lungs. Lack of CO2 constricts your blood vessels and detrimentally affects your heart function
- The heavier you breathe, the less oxygen that’s actually delivered throughout your body due to lack of carbon dioxide, which causes your blood vessels to constrict
- Processed foods, which tend to acidify your blood in an attempt to maintain normal pH, will make you breathe heavier. This is because one of the roles of carbon dioxide, which is in your blood, is to regulate pH
Buteyko Breathing Method Can Improve Your Health and Fitness
This is the simplest, most inexpensive yet effective natural strategy to help you optimize your health, and it doesn’t get any simpler or more affordable than learning to breathe properly.
The Buteyko Breathing Method—named after the Russian physician who developed the technique—is a powerful approach for reversing health problems the most common of which are over breathing and mouth breathing.
When you stop mouth breathing and learn to bring your breathing volume toward normal, you have better oxygenation of your tissues and organs, including your brain.
Factors of modern life, including stress, processed foods, and lack of exercise, all increases your everyday breathing.
Typical characteristics of over breathing include mouth breathing, upper chest breathing, sighing, noticeable breathing during rest, and taking large breaths prior to talking.
Dr. Buteyko discovered the method as a result of trying to address his own dangerously high blood pressure at the age of 26.
His expected life span was about one and a half years,His systolic over diastolic was 220/110, which is indicating very high blood pressure… An idea came to him that possibly how he was breathing was contributing to his high blood pressure.
So, he started learning how to calm down his breathing to bring it toward normal. The aches and pains of different symptoms that he had then reduced quite quickly.
It was on that basis then that he looked to the theoretical research that was available at the time. And then he started applying it to his patients. That’s how he developed the method.”
How the Buteyko Method Might Benefit Your Health
Besides asthma and hypertension, there are many other areas where the Buteyko Method is useful, such as anxiety and sleep apnoea.
How you breathe affects the oxygenation of your organs. The detrimental effects of mouth breathing, hyperventilation and over breathing are well-documented. Up to 50 peer reviewed papers of the importance of nose breathing can be found on the Buteyko Clinic’s website.
The Buteyko Method is built upon the premise that you survive on food, water, and air. Naturally, the quality of each is of utmost importance, but when it comes to air, few consider the quantity of air they breathe as a having such an enormously profound health impact.
“Modern life has a significant influence on how we breathe.” Most people would say, ‘There’s nothing wrong with my breathing. It’s natural to breathe.’ Of course, it is.
However, there are quite a few influences on your breathing, including, for instance, stress. Because as you get stressed, your breathing increases. If you’re in long-term stress, your body habituates a heavier volume of breathing,”
Interestingly, processed foods, which tend to acidify your blood in an attempt to maintain normal pH, will also make you breathe heavier. This is because one of the roles of carbon dioxide, which is in your blood, is to regulate pH.
Besides water, raw fruits and vegetables have the least impact on your breathing, followed by cooked vegetables.
Processed, high protein and high grain meals have the greatest adverse effect on the way you breathe.
The Buteyko Method teaches you how to bring your breathing volume back toward normal or, in other words, to reverse what’s called chronic hyperventilation or chronic over breathing. When your breathing is normal, you have better oxygenation of tissues and organs, including your brain.
Nasal congestion and runny nose are the most common causes of mouth breathing. This in turn is associated with increasingly troublesome problems, including:
- Poor sleep and insomnia
- Mood disorders
- Snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea
- Anxiety Disorders
The Effects of Nitric Oxide
Nitric oxide is found in your nose, so when you breathe through your nose, you carry a small portion of the gas into your lungs. Nitric oxide plays a significant role in homeostasis, or the maintaining of balance within your body. Nitric oxide is also:
- A significant bronchodilator (i.e. opens up your breathing tubes)
- An antibacterial agent that helps neutralize germs and bacteria
- A vasodilator (i.e. dilates blood vessels to help the circulation of blood oxygen)
This is one of the amazing aspects of Buteyko therapy. As you breathe exclusively through your nose and abandon mouth breathing, your nose starts to water and you frequently have to blow it. But amazingly your nasal passages eventually expand quite dramatically and it becomes much easier to get all your air through your nose rather than your mouth.
This is true even for high intensity exercises like. It may take a few months to work up to it, but once you are there you will rarely if even need to breathe through your mouth again, even under the most extreme circumstances.
Asthmatics typically breathe through the mouth. They also tend to breathe heavier and have a higher respiratory rate than non-asthmatics. There’s a feedback loop going on here, in that the heavier breathing volume that’s coming into your lungs cause a disturbance of blood gasses, including the loss of carbon dioxide (CO2). Contrary to popular belief, carbon dioxide is not merely a waste gas. Although you breathe to get rid of excess CO2, it’s very important that your breathing volume is normal, in order to maintain a certain amount of CO2 in your lungs.
“If you’re breathing too heavily, you lose carbon dioxide, and smooth muscles surrounding your airways constrict. Another factor from an asthmatic point of view is dehydration of the inner walls of the airways. It’s a combination of these factors that cause the airways to constrict.
Heavy breathing is causing the loss of carbon dioxide. And carbon dioxide also helps to relax smooth muscles surrounding your blood vessels. So, it’s not just the airways which constrict when you’re breathing too much, but it’s also the blood vessels.”
As your airway constricts, there is a natural reaction to breathe more intensely as a compensatory mechanism. However, this causes even greater loss of carbon dioxide, and cooling of your airway causes it to close even more. In other words, asthma symptoms feed back to the condition and make it worse.
You can test this out by taking five or six big breaths in and out of your mouth, as though you were blowing up a balloon. Most people will begin to experience some light-headedness or dizziness. While you might reason that taking bigger breaths through your mouth allows you to take more oxygen into your body, which should make you feel better, the opposite actually happens.
This is because you’re getting rid of too much carbon dioxide from your lungs, which causes your blood vessels to constrict—hence the light-headedness. So, the heavier you breathe, the less oxygen that’s actually delivered throughout your body due to lack of carbon dioxide, which causes your blood vessels to constrict.
“Also, when you breathe too much, your red blood cells hold on to the oxygen and don’t deliver so readily to where it is needed throughout your body.
“In order for oxygenation to take place, we need the presence of carbon dioxide. Heavy breathing causing the loss of CO2 is not only causing blood vessels to constrict, but it’s also causing a greater affinity of the red blood cells with oxygen.
… If you were to look at the basic premise of breathing, we should not hear our breathing during rest. We should see very little movement from the chest and tummy. Ideally, most of our breathing is diaphragmatic, but we shouldn’t see it. The mouth should be closed, breathing should be regular, and breathing should be effortless.”
How Breathing Affects Sports
The way you breathe also affects your heart. Typically, athletes who experience cardiac arrest or heart attack don’t fit the model of a person with heart problems. Most are in the prime of health. However, many athletes do breathe very heavily, for obvious reasons.
“Heavy breathing, which is causing a loss of carbon dioxide, is causing reduced blood flow to the heart,” . “The heart is experiencing less blood flow… and less delivery of oxygen. The heart, like any other muscle, also needs oxygen to perform properly. In the event that the heart is having insufficient blood flow and insufficient oxygen, it can alter the electrocardiogram readings, including and causing arrhythmia.
Arrhythmia is when the pulse gets out of control and gets too fast. If the pulse gets completely chaotic, the heart may stop, which will cut circulation off to the rest of the body, including the brain. So it’s really important for all of us that our breathing is normal, not only elite athletes or those people who are involved with athletics.”
“When you subject your body to a reduced partial pressure of oxygen, as is the case during high-intensity training… you’re going into anaerobic metabolism, so you’re working without air.
What happens is that your spleen, which is an organ located just under your diaphragm (it’s basically your blood bank), it contains about eight percent of the total red blood cell count. But if you’re doing high-intensity exercise or involving breath holding during exercise, the arterial saturation of oxygen is dropping. The spleen will sense this drop of oxygen, so it will release more red blood cells into circulation.
Now, another factor is that your kidneys, during high-intensity exercise and during breath-hold exercise, become slightly hypoxic; there’s reduced oxygen in the blood. In response to that, your kidneys will synthesize a hormone called EPO, which stimulates the maturation of red blood cells in your bone marrow.
So, the benefits of high-intensity exercise and also incorporating breath-holding into walking, for instance, will lead to improved oxygen-carrying capacity in red blood cells. We’ve heard of many athletes who have to do this unethically and illegally. But we should really tap into our body’s natural resource, because our body has everything that we need, if we know how to guide it.”
This is why training at high (oxygen deprived) altitudes can be effective for athletes.
Exercises to Reverse Your Mouth Breathing
Fortunately, it’s actually quite easy to address mouth breathing.
- Take a small gentle breath in through your nose, and a small gentle breath out through your nose.
- Then, hold your nose while gently nodding your head up and down; holding your breath for as long as possible.
- Release your nose to breathe through your nose again.
- Wait for about 30 seconds to a minute, and then repeat the exercise.
“If you hold your breath or do that exercise about six times, you will start experiencing nasal decongestion. When breathing volume is brought toward normal, the nose will remain free of congestion,”
Keep in mind that while it is a perfectly safe exercise for the vast majority of people, if you have any cardiac complaints, such as high blood pressure, are pregnant, have type 1 diabetes or experience panic attacks, then please do not hold your breath beyond the first urges to breathe
A useful tool with Buteyko breathing is a simple concept called the control pause.
The control pause provides feedback about your relative breathing volume. To obtain an accurate measurement you need to rest for 10 minutes before doing this exercise:.
- Take a small, silent breath in through your nose and allow a small silent breath out through your nose.
- Hold your nose with your fingers to prevent air from entering your lungs.
- Count the number of seconds until you feel the first definite desire to breathe.
- At the first definite desire to breathe in, you may also feel the first involuntary movements of your breathing muscles. Your tummy may jerk and the area around your neck may contract.
- Your inhalation at the end of the breath should be calm.
- Release your nose and breathe in through it.
Remember that taking your control pause entails holding your breath only until you feel the first involuntary movements of your breathing muscles, or the first stress of your body telling you to “breathe.”
If you had to take a big breath at the end of the breath hold, then you held your breath for too long and so do the exercise again after a brief rest.
A very good control pause amounts to 40 seconds, and a good control pause amounts to 30 seconds. A control pause of 25 seconds indicates room for improvement, while a control pause of 15 seconds or less is indicative of symptoms such as respiratory complaints (asthma, wheezing, coughing, chest tightness or nasal problems), sleep disordered breathing (insomnia, fatigue, snoring, or obstructive sleep apnoea) or anxiety complaints (excessive worrying, high stress levels, poor concentration) or any other condition resulting from chronic over breathing.
The good news is that you will feel better each time your control pause increases by five seconds, and the first step to increase your control pause is to learn to breathe through your nose both day and night.
My Experience with Buteyko Breathing
I don’t believe I was a mouth-breather during normal activities, but during high-intensity exercise I was hyperventilating to the max through an open mouth. It was my perception that this was the best way to maximize my oxygen intake. But my perception and understanding of reality was completely wrong.
However, after learning about the Buteyko Method, I gradually began trying to keep my mouth closed during intense exercise. It’s pretty easy to do the first two intervals, but after that it becomes progressively more difficult
But now, with an improved appreciation of the importance of this technique, I persevered and decided I would build up gradually. So with some persistence and over a matter of a month or so, I was actually able to complete all of my Peak Fitness exercises, with my heart rate above my maximum of 162, with my mouth closed.
Previously I thought this would be impossible for me to ever achieve. I have been doing this for several months now and can very comfortably breathe through my nose and not feel I am gasping for air. It really was a very remarkable improvement from my perspective and I am very glad that I tried it again and persisted.
I did notice initially however that my nose would get runny. I had to blow my nose when done. But eventually I reached a point where the runny nose and the need to blow my nose completely vanished, and I was simply breathing easier.
Again, doing the exercise to unblock your nose (above) will help to get over this congestion.
Anyone who is able to walk at a reasonably fast pace is able to exercise with their mouth closed, according to Patrick. However, for those individuals who are quite breathless during their normal exercise, are pregnant, or have any cardiovascular complaint, it is recommended to go easy and to slow down the pace in order to maintain nasal breathing.
During physical exercise, the rule of thumb is to not push yourself beyond the point that you are unable to maintain nasal breathing. If you feel the need to open your mouth, then slow down and recover.
Breathing Exercise to Quell Panic Attacks and Anxiety
Another breathing exercise that can help if you’re experiencing anxiety or panic attacks, or if you feel very stressed and your mind can’t stop racing is the following:
- Take a small breath into your nose; a small breath out;
- Hold your nose for five seconds in order to hold your breath, and then
- Release to resume breathing.
- Breathe normally for 10 seconds.
- Repeat the sequence four times
This sequence helps retain and gently accumulate carbon dioxide, leading to calmer breathing and reduces anxiety. The urge to breathe will decline as you go into a more relaxed state.
How Do You Know When You’re Breathing Correctly?
Place one hand on your chest and your other hand just above your navel, to tune into how your body behaves when you breathe. Then, gently slow down your breathing, decreasing the size of each breath as you go along.
The objective is that either you’re tuned in to the rate and the rhythm of the breath and you make it less than what it was before you started, or you bring a feeling of relaxation. As you bring a feeling of relaxation to your body, your breathing diminishes.
You need to get to the point that you feel a tolerable need for air. The crucial thing here is to develop an air hunger, which simply means that there’s a slight accumulation of carbon dioxide in your blood which sends a signal to your brain saying ‘breathe’.
When you have air hunger for about three or four minutes, you will start experiencing the effects of an accumulation of CO2:
(1) Keep an eye on your body temperature. You’ll often find that your hands are warmer. Your face may be warmer. Your body may be warmer.
(2) Your eyes may go slightly glassy.
(3) Your nose may run a little bit.
(4) You may have increased saliva in your mouth—a sign that the parasympathetic nervous system has been activated.”
The Buteyko method is about bringing your breathing volume toward normal, which helps neutralize the effects of stress.
The more you practice bringing your breathing volume toward normal, the more the respiratory centre within your brain becomes programmed to maintain this normal rate of breathing—even during exercise.
Why Light Breathing Is Good for Your Health
Compared to an average untrained person, an athlete will breathe much lighter during a bout of exercise.
Furthermore, normal breathing volume in any medical textbook is between four, six, or seven litres of air per minute, which translates into 12-14 breaths.
Clinical trials involving asthmatics show they breathe between 10-15 litres of air per minute and people with chronic heart disease tend to breathe between 15-18 litres of air per minute.
“When you think about this, this means that light breathing is good,” “So, an individual sitting down is going to have light breathing when they’re relatively healthy. An individual, who may be not feeling well, has different complaints or conditions, breathes heavily.”
Part and parcel of this is your tolerance to carbon dioxide. When your body and brain have a normal tolerance of CO2, your breathing will be light and smooth as your body is not constantly trying to get rid of too much CO2.
Contrary to popular belief, the primary stimulant signalling your body to take a breath is not lack of oxygen; rather it is an excess CO2.
“Oxygen only drives your breathing when oxygen levels drop to about 50 percent, and that would be quite an extreme situation. So, your body breathes to get rid of the excess gas, CO2,”
That said, you always need a certain amount of CO2 for normal functioning. If you have normal CO2, you will have a good tolerance to it, which translates into a higher breath-hold time. Also, when you exercise, your body generates more carbon dioxide, and if you have good tolerance to CO2, your breathing will remain much lower than someone who has a poor tolerance to CO2.
Another Reason Why You Want to Limit the Amount of Air You Breathe
There have been a number of studies that show this type of breathing provides similar benefits to that of altitude training, which has been used by elite athletes for some time now to give them a competitive advantage.
The beautiful aspect of Buteyko breathing is that you get very similar benefits without the inconvenience or hassle of travelling to the mountains..
This is good because there is a dual purpose to oxygen, and while it is certainly necessary for life, excessive amounts will prematurely accelerate oxidative damage and aging.
So the key is to use the absolute least amount that you need and avoid excessive amounts of it.
This way you won’t need to rely on your body’s own and even supplemental sources of antioxidants to counteract the damage that excessive oxygen can cause to your tissues.