How Do I Perform Buteyko Breathing?

Breathing Exercises to Breathe Better

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Question: How Do I Perform Buteyko Breathing?


The main goal of regularly preforming Buteyko breathing is to get you from over-breathing to breathing that is more calm. The following will outline one of the breathing exercises from Peter McKeown’s Close Your Mouth: Buteyko Clinic Handbook For Perfect Health.

Research has demonstrated significant improvements in quality of life as well as improved anxiety and depression.

Training exercises have also been associated with slightly improved self-reported asthma control, but not objective measures of control such as peak expiratory flow rate or decreased need for medication. Studies have been mixed with some showing benefit and others not. From the data that is available the exercises seem to improve quality of life so the exercises may benefit you if you feel asthma is adversely impacting your quality of life. One additional finding from one of the studies demonstrated that the quality of life improvements actually were sustained for 6 months without any additional training.

To perform exercises correctly, you need a comfortable chair, a comfortable room that is neither too hot or too cold, and a place where you will be free of distractions as long as you are preforming Buteyko breathing. Because digestion affects your breathing, it is best to preform the Buteyko breathing exercises before eating or waiting at least two hours after eating.

Preforming Buteyko Breathing Exercises

  1. Control pause and pulse check: You will begin all Buteyko breathing exercises by first checking and recording your pulse and control pause time.
  2. Posture: As with the other parts of Buteyko breathing, good posture is essential to preforming the exercises correctly and successfully reducing your breathing. A tall, straight-backed chair that allows you to comfortably rest your feet on the ground and allows you to sit tall with your back against the chair will get you into the correct position. If you don’t have a straight back chair imagine being vertically suspend so that your head, shoulders, and hips are perfectly aligned.
  1. Concentrate: Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Feel the air moving in and out of your nostrils and the different movements of your body when both inhaling and exhaling. While concentrating on your breathing may seem silly, you cannot change your breathing if you are not aware of how you breathe. it is normal to have your concentration wander. When you notice this just refocus on your breathing.
  2. Relax the shoulders: The shoulders are key to improving your breathing. Because tension causes you to raise your shoulders, which affects the amount of air you can take into your lungs. Try to stay as relaxed as possible and allow your shoulders to fall into their natural position with each breath. Relaxation will also help you decrease your breathing.​
  3. Monitor air flow: Check the amount of air flowing through your nostrils by placing your finger under your nose so it is parallel to the floor. You need to be able to feel the air exiting your nose, but it should not be so close that your finger is obstructing the nose.​
  4. Take shallow breaths: As you begin to feel air hit your finger on exhalation, begin to breathe in again. This will cause you to reduce the amount of air with each breath. You will notice that by doing this you will be increasing the number of breaths you take per minute, but this is OK as you are trying to reduce air volume with this exercise. The less warm air you feel on your finger, the more successful you are at reducing the volume of each breathe. Your goal is to continue breathing in this manner for 3-5 minutes.
  1. You may not be able to complete a full 5 minutes the first time you try this exercise. As with other exercises it will get easier with practice. If you take gasps of air, you are trying to reduce your air volume too quickly and you need to slow down. The goal is to get to the point that you can reduce your breathing for 3-5 minutes at a time.
  2. Control Pause and Pulse check: At the completion of your 5 minutes, or however long you are able to go in the beginning, you will again check your pulse and control pause.​
  3. Take a break: Before beginning the next 5 minutes of reduced breathing, take a few minutes to recover. In order to get the most benefit from Buteyko breathing, you will need to spend at least 20 minutes per day on this exercise. After practice, you may get to the point that you can preform this exercise during other activities at home or at work.​
  1. Exercise blocks: Each session will consist of 4 blocks of reduced breathing with you checking you pulse and control pause before and after each block of reduced breathing. Compared to the beginning of the session, your control pause should be longer and your pulse lower.

Are There Side Effects?

All medications have the potential for side effects. In terms of most asthma treatments we tend to think of local (think oral thrush after using an inhaled steroid) and systemic (think high blood pressure as a result of using prednisone). Most studies using breathing techniques have not demonstrated any significant side effects. However, breathing techniques should not be thought of as a replacement to your regular asthma treatment. Doing so will put you at risk for an asthma attack. Even though the risk of side effects is small, you should let your doctor know if you plan on incorporating breathing exercises into your asthma action plan.


McKeown, P. Close Your Mouth: Buteyko Clinic Handbook For Perfect Health. Buteyko Books: Unit Six, Calbro House, Tuam Road, Galway, Ireland, 2004.

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