Buteyko breathing is an accepted treatment to improve asthma symptoms, but according to the doctor who developed the method, Buteyko breathing also helps other long-term health conditions including high blood pressure and stress.
What is Buteyko breathing?
Buteyko breathing was developed in the 1950s by a Russian doctor, Professor Konstantin Buteyko. It involves a combination of slow breathing exercises and relaxation techniques which are designed to harness nitric oxide in the nose and lungs to widen airways and blood vessels. This increase in nitric oxide is triggered by under breathing, which causes carbon dioxide levels to rise.
Buteyko breathing exercises involve a controlled reduction in breathing, known as slow breathing and reduced breathing, together with breath holding techniques such as the Control Pause and Extended Pause.
Breathe through your nose
The Buteyko method promotes breathing through your nose at all times, while keeping your mouth shut. The benefits of nasal breathing are that the nose warms, filters and humidifies the air you inhale, and stimulates the production of nitric oxide, a substance that dilates airways (to improve asthma symptoms) and dilates blood vessels to help lower blood pressure.
Buteyko breathing exercises
To focus on breathing in-and-out through your nostrils, sit comfortably, with an upright posture – imagine a string attached to the top of your head pulling you up straight as your upper body relaxes. Don’t hold your shoulders tense. Breathe in slowly and gently through your nostrils, and out slowly and gently through your nostrils at your own rhythm. From now on, regularly check that you are breathing in and out through your nostrils, all the time.
If your nose is blocked, the Buteyko method suggests a technique called tipping to clear blocked nasal passages. To do this, breathe in gently through your nose and, after breathing out, close your mouth and hold your nose. While holding your breath, tip your head backwards and forwards 6 times. Then, release your nose and, keeping your mouth closed, breathe in slowly through both nostrils. Repeat this technique whenever your nose feels blocked. You can also try pinching your nostrils together for a few seconds to help clear your nasal passages.
The Buteyko method promotes shallow rather than deep breathing. Some people with high blood pressure tend to persistently breathe too quickly, so they exhale too much carbon dioxide gas. This leads to lower than normal levels of carbon dioxide and nitric oxide in their blood, and can cause blood vessels to constrict so blood pressure rises.
When you have a habit of over breathing, you will find it difficult to hold your breath as long as you should. Buteyko practitioners use an exercise called the Control Pause (CP) to monitor your level of hyperventilation. This is the length of time you can comfortably hold your breath after breathing out normally.
To measure your Control Pause, take two gentle breaths then breathe out normally (don’t try to empty your lungs) and time how many seconds you can hold your breath until the very first sign of discomfort. At this point start breathing again through your nose. Don’t be tempted to hold your breath for longer than is comfortable. You should feel able to resume normal breathing without any effort and without having to breathe more deeply or more frequently than normal.
Many people have a Control Pause of below 20 when they first start the Buteyko method, but this will improve as you become more proficient in the breathing exercises. A CP of 30 is acceptable but your goal is a CP of at least to 40, and preferably 60 or more, which is classed as excellent.
Buteyko also uses a technique called the Extended Pause, which allows you to control feelings of air hunger as you hold your breath enough for carbon dioxide levels to increase slightly. This is believed to help dilate your airways and blood vessels. When you close your nose and mouth, the carbon dioxide in your blood builds up to trigger a desire to take a breath.
The Extended Pause exercise starts in the same way as the Control Pause exercise above, but this time, when you feel the first need to breathe in, you hold your breath for a few seconds longer so you develop a feeling of slight air hunger that is sustained over a short period.
To do this, breathe in gently, then let out a little bit of air so your lungs don’t feel full, or empty, but just comfortable. Pinch your nostrils closed and hold your breath, with your mouth closed. Now, simply hold your breath until you feel the desire to breathe in. This is your Control Pause time. But instead of inhaling, hold your breath for two seconds longer before you start breathing in gently through your nose again.
Do this two or three times every day. With practice, you can build up to holding your breath 5 or more seconds longer than your Control Pause time – but only hold your breath to a level that allows you to resume normal, gentle breathing. If you have to gasp for air, this is counter-productive and goes against the principles of breath control.
Another way to learn to control your breathing is to use the RESPeRATE device.
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