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The Buteyko (Shallow Breathing) Method for controlling Asthma

"it may help some people, but not enough research to be definitive."

Disclaimer: Asthma is dangerous. It can kill. Use your common sense. You are responsible for your own actions. I am not a Doctor, before you alter your medication, talk to one.

Not IT related, but I have mild asthma, and this helped me. Updated July 2013.

In the 10 years since I originally wrote this, the "official" medical position seems not to have changed - "it may help some people, but not enough research to be definitive."

The Buteyko "Shallow Breathing" method is a simple, easy way to help to help relieve the symptoms of asthma and other respiratory problems. This page explains the actual method in full. Unlike most other Buteyko sites, its not trying to sell you anything.

Its free, its easy, and it could make a real difference to your asthma in about 7 days.

The Buteyko Technique

"Buteyko" is a set of simple breathing exercises to help control asthma and other breathing disorders. Anyone can do it, and it only takes a week or so to master, and more than 50% of people with asthma will benefit from it.

Step 1 : The "Control Pause" Breathing Test

  • Take 2 normal breaths, then breathe out, and then see how long you can hold your breath for.
  • Your goal is to be able to hold it for at least 60 secs.

Step 2 : Shallow Breathing

  • Breathe, only using your nose, for 5 minutes. Take shallow breaths, using only your nose to breathe through. Keep your mouth shut.
  • Then, after the 5 mins, take the "control pause" test again to see if your count has improved. Its that simple.
  • Hint: if your nose is blocked up, try pinching your nostrils together for a few seconds. This helps clear your nasal passage.

Step 3 : Putting it Together

  • Repeat the "test - shallow breathing - test" routine 4 or so times in a row. It will take about 25 mins.
  • Repeat this training session 3 or 4 times a day, every day, for a week.
  • Don't worry if you miss a session or 2, but do carry on. Its increasing your 'control pause' test result that's the goal.
  • That's it. Its that simple. After a week, you should be able to breathe out and hold your breath for a count of over 60 secs., and hopefully, your asthma will be much better.
  • You do not need to go on an overpriced Buteyko course ... if you want to know more, read one of the books mentioned below.

Step 4 : Keep to the program

  • A good way to insure you stick to something, is to keep a log of your progress. Create a chart like this, using Excel for example, with 4 rows for each day, to record your progress, and the amount of medication you use.

    Date Time Test 1 Test 2 Test 3 Test 4 Comments
    Mon, 26-Jan 08 am 35 33 31 28 1 puff
      12 noon         missed (met Jill for lunch), 1 puff
      06 pm 39 31 37 35 1 puff of inhaler
      10 pm 29 27 31 33  
    Tue, 27-Jan 08 am 33 35 39 40 1 puff
      12 noon 38 39 37 42 3 puffs

How It Works

The following is Dr Buteyko's original hypothesis on how his breathing technique works. Current research suggests that is wrong.

Breathing is controlled by the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2)in the blood (not by the amount of oxygen).

Normally, when the amount of CO2 in your blood rises, you breathe. This replaces some of the CO2 with oxygen, and so lowers the CO2 level back to normal.

During an asthma attack, people panic and breathe too quickly. They actually over-breathe because they are breathing so rapidly, i.e. they are breathing in a far greater volume of air than normal.

This causes the amount of CO2 in the blood to fall too low. The body reacts by causing the airways in the lungs to narrow and reduce the amount of air inhaled in each breath... which panics the patient into trying to breathe even harder...

This technique will break this "negative feedback" cycle by teaching you to :

  • breathe more shallowly, i.e. decreasing the volume of air reaching the lungs with each breath.
  • tolerate a higher concentration of C02 in your blood.

With only a little effort, you can make a big difference to your breathing in only a little time.

According to the Buteyko theory, modern asthma drugs ("brown" preventers and "blue" inhalers) actually make the problem worse, by masking the body's self defensive behaviour. By stopping the 'breathe less' response, they only make the body try harder next time, that is, have a stronger asthma attack.

Think of it like this, if you put your hand in a fire it hurts, and you don't do it again. Modern asthma drugs are like pain killers, they only stop your hand from hurting, i.e. they address the symptom, not the cause of the problem. The symptom is the asthma attack, the cause is breathing in too much oxygen and having too little CO2 in the blood.

There are probably several root causes of the symptom that we call asthma. Some of these causes respond very well to this breathing technique, some do not.

Hence, if you follow this technique, there is a good chance than your asthma will improve, but there is a chance it will not. However, its easy to try, its free, and its not surgical and doesn't involve taking any drugs.

Further Reading

Amazon United Kingdom

Amazon United States


The Official View

Asthma UK, a UK Asthma charity, has this to say about the Butekyo technique :

Very little has been published in medical journals about the Buteyko technique... Two [Australian] studies ... found both positive and negative effects of the technique.

Asthma UK funded research ... of the Buteyko breathing method ...

It showed that for some people with asthma the Butekyo breathing technique helped to reduce their symptoms and use of reliever inhaler, but it did not improve their underlying condition. Buteyko breathing may help people adapt to their asthma and feel more in control of their treatment and may be worth trying for those ... willing to commit the time required.

More research is needed to identify if certain people with asthma benefit more than others.

Austrailia's Asthma Foundataion says:

Some studies have shown that for some people the Buteyko breathing technique can reduce asthma symptoms and the use of reliever medication. In some there was also a reduction in preventer use, but this tended to occur over a long time period. There is however no evidence showing any improvement in underlying lung inflammation or function, and no change in carbon dioxide levels. The improvements shown take time, and require daily exercises over weeks or months.

Conclusion: For some people ... learning this system of exercises leads to less use of reliever medication and fewer asthma symptoms.

Some Asthma Facts

  • Asthma rates are increasing in the west ... 10% of children in the UK have it.
  • Asthma rate don't vary within a country, but do vary between countries, e.g., the rate of asthma is the same in the inner city and in remote country areas, i.e. its not caused by pollution.
  • The number of deaths from asthma is greater now than before modern asthma drugs were invented.
  • The weather affects asthma admissions to hospital.

Some (Unproven) Asthma Theories

  • Asthma is caused by us being too clean, and our bodies immune system over-react to harmless substances e.g. as children on farms (with more bugs) have less asthma.
  • Asthma is caused by the over-use of antibiotics (same immune system theory as above)
  • Asthma is caused by certain plastics, e.g. in water bottles.
  • Asthma is caused by a virus.
  • Selenium, Vitamin C, Fish Oil supplements help (take your pick).
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