Can Buteyko Breathing Improve My Asthma?

Breathing practice associated with improved well-being

Overhead view of woman lying down meditating.
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Buteyko breathing is a non-medical form of therapy which proposes to use specific breathing exercises to improve asthma and other respiratory disorders. It is similar in many ways to a form of breathing used in yoga, called pranayama, which also uses breathing exercises as a means to "treat" respiratory illnesses.

Buteyko breathing was developed in the 1950s by a Ukrainian physiologist named Konstantin Buteyko, who believed that numerous illnesses were caused by hyperventilation or a chronically increased respiration rate.

It is highly unorthodox belief with few medical supporters. Despite this, Buteyko breathing has been embraced by some as a form of breath control, improving respiratory function through the daily practice of nasal breathing, breath holding, and monitored inhalation and exhalation.

Benefits of the Buteyko Method

While there is no evidence that Buteyko breathing can improve lung function or alter bronchial responsiveness (the way in which the body responds to asthma triggers), some studies have suggested that it may alleviate symptoms of an attack and reduce—not replace—the need for a bronchodilator.

People who use the technique will often report having a better sense of well-being and an overall improved quality of life. This may be attributed, in part, to the positive association between "self-healing" and self-control. Asthma, by its very nature, is associated with the lack of control of one's own body.

By engaging in mindful breathing, a person can regain at least a portion of that control and, by doing so, will be less anxious when an attack does occur.

How to Perform Buteyko Breathing Exercises

To perform the exercises correctly, you will need a comfortable chair and quiet room. There should be as few distractions as possible, and the temperature should neither be too cold nor too hot.

Buteyko breathing is best performed either before eating or at least two hours after eating. The practice can be broken down into nine steps:

  1. You will begin all Buteyko breathing exercises by checking and recording your pulse and control pause time. The control pause time is simply the length of time you can hold your breath.
  2. Sit in a straight-backed chair which allows you to rest your feet comfortably on the floor. Sit tall in the chair so that your head, shoulders, and hips are perfectly aligned.
  3. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Feel the air moving in and out of your nostrils. If your mind wanders, return to your nostrils and refocus on that sensation.
  4. Relax your shoulders and any tension may be holding in your body, including your hands and face.
  5. To check the volume of air flowing through your nostrils, place an index finger under your nose.
  6. Now take shallow breaths, using your finger to gauge the rate of respiration. The moment you feel air hit your finger, start to breathe in again. This will reduce the volume of air flowing into your lungs while increasing the number of breaths. Try to maintain this for three to five minutes.
  7. If you find yourself gasping, it is because you've reduced your air volume too quickly. Slow down a little, and you will eventually find the rhythm to ease into shallower breathing.
  1. After three to five minutes, re-check your pulse and control pause time.
  2. Take a few minutes before starting again. Ideally, you would spend at least 20 minutes each day on this, repeating the breath exercise four times.

A Word From Verywell

While breathing exercises like this may improve your overall sense of health and well-being, they shouldn't be considered an alternative to any medically prescribed treatment used to manage your asthma.

Ultimately, the aim of treatment is to reduce the incidence and severity of attacks and to prevent the development of irreversible damage to your lungs. This requires regular visits to your doctor to monitor respiratory function and adjust treatment when needed.

Source:

Hassan, Z.; Raid, N.; and Ahmed, F. " Effect of Buteyko breathing technique on patients with bronchial asthma." Egy J Chest Dis Tubercul. 2012; 61(4):235-241

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