Buteyko method and asthma


What is it?

Based on the research of Prof Konstantin Buteyko, a Russian professor of physiology, the Buteyko method involves the individual learning of a new pattern of shallow breathing.

The principle is that asthmatics and sufferers from other breathing conditions such as hyperventilation (panic attacks) deplete their stocks of carbon dioxide by over breathing. Carbon dioxide is required to move oxygen from the blood into the cells and tissues of the body. Shallow breathing increases the amount of carbon dioxide, which in turn oxygenates the body.

What does it treat?

Although primarily used in this country as a treatment for asthma, the Buteyko method has also been used to treat high blood pressure, heart conditions, eczema, diabetes, migraine, hay fever and other allergies. It has also shown some success in helping people to stop snoring. Practitioners believe that children with asthma who do not have a lifetime of bad habits to unlearn, may achieve results more quickly.

A first timer's experience (38-year-old artist and mother of two): "The session began with the Buteyko method teacher asking me for a history of my asthma, as well as taking my general medical history. I also filled in a questionnaire on my current state of health - both physical and psychological. I am just recovering from a bad chest infection and my breathing hasn't been great for quite a while. Filling in this questionnaire confirmed for me quite how bad I have been feeling.

"The Buteyko method teacher (who is also a chiropractor) then explained the method to me. He explained how, when they feel out of breath, asthmatics often begin to hyperventilate in an effort to gulp air. Instead, the idea behind Buteyko is to stop breathing for an instant, close your mouth and begin breathing through your nose.

"Under his instruction, I began to breathe through my nose. I sat on a chair with my hands on my chest, breathing through my nose. My initial reaction was one of panic, but gradually I moved beyond this. Once I became assured that I could breathe this way, I found it easier.

"The Buteyko practitioner said that I was taking about 30 breaths a minute, whereas I really could get by with only two. I felt he understood the asthmatic psyche. He then went on to show me to how take a pause from breathing by holding my nose. Then, I lay on my back with my knees bent and my hands on my chest. Again, I was shown how to breathe through my nose. By the end of the session, I was a lot more relaxed. I felt I was breathing more easily and that I might return for another session to learn the method more fully."

An advocate's view:

Joseph Murray is 11 years old. "I first got asthma last October and began taking inhalers (both preventers and relievers). Over the next few months, my doctor said that I was getting better and better, breathing stronger and getting a higher score on the peak flow monitor. So, I stopped taking my preventer inhaler and only took the reliever when I really had to. "One night when I was in bed, I got a very bad asthma attack, and the next day I got three more attacks. I was very worried and didn't know what to do. I lost my confidence after that. I had no energy and couldn't play football or sing in the choir like I used to. I went back on my inhalers but also started to learn the Buteyko method.

"I learned the different types of breathing and practise them now for about three minutes a day after school. Also, I lie on the floor for 15 minutes with my eyes closed when I come home from school each day. Now, I can keep up with my friends, do my football training and go to my singing rehearsals. I still take my inhaler (preventer) but I try to do the breathing exercises if I feel an attack coming on.

"I still take my inhaler (reliever) to football and I may need a puff now and again. But, I feel more confident that I will be able to cut down on my inhaler and do the breathing exercises instead."

The medical view:

Dr Muiris Houston, Irish Times Medical Correspondent, says: "Asthmatics should never substitute breathing methods for medication. A person with severe asthma who stops taking regular medication could be putting his or her life in danger. The scientific principles behind the Buteyko method are soundly based. However, I am not aware of published studies proving its efficacy in any medical condition."

The Buteyko Association of Ireland can be contacted at Ballinvella, Lismore, Co Waterford (01-2849019). Currently, there are two qualified teachers of the Buteyko method in Ireland. Sessions cost between £35 and £50 each, and a series of three is usually recommended initially