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Does Buteyko breathing really work?

Does Buteyko breathing really work?

Developed by Russian doctor Konstantin Buteyko in the 1950s the Buteyko Method is a system aiming to restore the levels of healthy CO2 in the body through breathing exercises. It has been found beneficial among individuals with cancer, high blood pressure, anxiety, asthma, allergies, snoring and sleep apnea.

I got certified as a Buteyko instructor in 2017 and in this article I answer some of the most frequently asked questions on the Buteyko Method (BM).


The Benefits

What are the benefits of practicing the BM?

By restoring optimal levels of CO2 in the body the BM promotes healthy function in our cells, tissue, organs and systems.

Our body’s organs depend on sufficient supply of oxygen to function. Due to the Bohr effect this can only be achieved through healthy levels of CO2 – as CO2 & O2 work synergistically. To that extent optimal organ function relies on healthy levels of CO2.

Knowing that, it may come as no surprise that K. Buteyko noticed early in his career as a doctor, a lot of chronically ill patients breathing poorly.


How does the BM improve breathing?

The way we breathe depends on our posture and our respiratory biochemistry. The Buteyko Method focuses on the later, through exercises that aim to restore optimal levels in the 3 blood gases: Nitric Oxide, Carbon Dioxide and Oxygen.

No matter how good your posture is if you breathe like an asthmatic armadillo you will suffer the consequences.

The benefits of the Buteyko training can be amplified however when combined with yoga.


Can the BM help with asthma or other respiratory issues?

The Buteyko Breathing has been found in research to benefit adults (ref1, ref2) and children (ref) with asthma as well as those with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (ref). These findings however, do not pay justice to the numerous cases of individuals that have benefited from the practice.

Once someone understands the logic behind the Buteyko Method he will not seek further proof to believe in its importance.


The Criticism

How long does it take to see results from practicing the BM?

Positive results from the Buteyko practice in most cases are evident within 2-3 weeks. In my experience there are 3 reasons this is not always the case:

1 Breathing is not compromised at first place.

There are instances when the symptoms of other imbalances overlap with those of dysfunctional breathing. If you implement a breathing protocol without any breathing issues chances are you will see little to no benefit in your symptoms. For that purpose an initial assessment is important.

2 The exercises practiced are not appropriate.

For any protocol to have an effect, it needs to provide the appropriate stimuli. If you follow a Buteyko exercise which is too easy for you, chances are you will not see much effect from it.

3 Compliance is poor.

Sometimes 90% (or even 99%) is not enough. While some individuals will see results by adopting 50% of the recommendations others will need to be 100% compliant.


Are there any risks or side effects associated?

NO. The reason is very simple. The cornerstone of BM is to incrementally increase the exposure of an individual to CO2 so he becomes more tolerant to it over time. Our body is very sensitive to CO2 and thus will resist its build up way before it reaches moderate levels (used in lab experiments), let alone dangerous levels. Anyone that argues otherwise has not done any breathwork and speaks theoretically.


Is it a complete breathwork system?

The Buteyko Method has 2 primary weakness as a breathing system:

1 Not addressing sufficiently breathing biomechanics.

2 Not incorporating enough exercises at a high Heart Rate.

That is due to the fact that K. Buteyko worked primarily with sick individuals. Oxygen Advantage includes some breathing exercises relevant for athletes.


Are there any scientific studies or research supporting the effectiveness of the BM?

Research on asthma (ref) and Eustachian tube dysfunction (ref) has indicated that the Buteyko Method and the Control Pause are beneficial for patients with compromised breathing.


The Application

Can it be combined with other forms of exercises or training?

Absolutely. I will argue that, for best results the Buteyko Method HAS TO be combined with one or more physical exercises. Which one depends on one’s status of physical health and the goals. Good candidates are: yoga, pilates and cardiovascular training.


How can I get started?

The best way to get started with the Buteyko Method is understand the principles and adopt a 10-20 mins protocol appropriate for your level of respiratory capacity and goals. If the exercises you adopt don’t meet the above 2 critical you are unlikely to see any benefits.


My opinion in a nutshell