No matter what the condition is called medically, or what the causes are, breathing disorders are not just traumatic for the sufferer but also for those who attempt to bring the situation under control. Researchers have continuously tried to find newer and more convenient ways to treat breathing problems and restore normalcy to interrupted or disturbed breathing patterns.
One such researcher was a man called Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko, an Ukranian physiologist who discovered a drug-free physical therapy in the ‘50s to treat breathing disorders, with special emphasis on asthma. Buteyko’s teachings later came to be known as Buteyko Breathing Techniques.
Since their early days in treating asthma, the Buteyko Breathing Techniques have since been extended to treat other health conditions, including sleep apnea.
What are the techniques all about and what are the underlying principles?
Essentially, this drug and medication free approach to restore normal breathing involves making the patient aware that normal breathing is always through the nose and not the mouth. It involves a set of simple-to-follow instructions and can be followed by both adults and children with the assurance of quick and satisfying results. The breathing techniques can be incorporated in the everyday activity of the practitioner and does not require any gadget or device to help the patient during practice.
The underlying principles or the three pillars forming the basis of Buteyko Breathing Techniques are:
- Nasal breathing
- Reduced breathing and
The premise of Butyeko’s techniques is the fact that hyperventilation is at the root of several health conditions, including asthma. It results in low carbon dioxide levels in the blood leading to lower bicarbonate levels in the body. The breathing techniques aim to ‘retrain the body’s breathing pattern’ which would eventually restore normalcy to hyperventilation-related breathing disorders.
Though Butyeko’s research was focused primarily on asthma, proponents of these techniques are of the opinion that they are effective in a wide range of other disease conditions (totaling to 150) including diabetes, reproductive disorders, allergies, bronchitis, coughs and snoring and mental problems which could be caused due to hyperventilation.
Buteyko Breathing Techniques: rationale of the approach
Nasal breathing exercises
These exercises are important for protecting the airways by humidifying, warming and cleaning of the inhaled air. Additionally, nasal breathing promotes carbon dioxide and nitric oxide concentrations within the lungs. Since most of the breathing distresses happen during the night, practicing nasal breathing exercises during the day help to alleviate the nighttime symptoms. Butyeko breathing techniques also call for actively pursuing nasal breathing during doing physical workouts.
To do nasal breathing exercises, you need to use your nose only for breathing and keep the mouth shut. While you breathe in, make sure that the chest does not move; only the hand that you have kept on the stomach. During exhalation, your stomach should come down to the normal position. As you breathe, keep a finger under the nose; the right way is when you do not feel any movement of air.
Reduced breathing exercises
Breath control is the key to most of the Butyeko techniques. Through practice, breath control becomes part of normal breathing, which in turn can help in providing relief to many breathing disorders, particularly, asthma. A particularly important reduced breathing exercise is called the Control Pause or CP, which is the time a person can hold his or her breath after exhalation. After practicing some of the reduced breathing exercises, several patients report in the increase of their CP which go hand in hand with the reduction of symptoms.
To do this exercise, you need to sit in an upright position and practice shallow breathing for about 3 minutes. Use a time to time your CP. With practice, your CP could rise to almost 60 seconds.
The other breathing exercise involves taking a normal breath and slow exhalation. Hold the breath for about 20 seconds but after this – do not take any deep breath. Keep on adding 5 seconds as you practice.
This part of the exercising technique focuses on the fact that altering lifestyle could vastly reduce chances of attacks of rapid breathing and the overall symptoms. Controlled breathing and remaining calm is the essence behind this theory.
Tips to get the best out of Butyeko breathing exercises
- Make it a habit to keep your mouth shut at night when you go to sleep. If necessary, use a tape. This will help in minimizing oral breathing.
- Using inhalers could impact the efficacy of Butyeko exercises.
- Do these exercises thrice a day. Add 5 seconds to breath holding with the gradual improvement of symptoms.
References & Resources:
- Obstructive sleep apnoea and breathing retraining
- Strengths, weaknesses, and possibilities of the Buteyko breathing method
- Sleep apnoea: A survey of breathing retraining