What is Buteyko Breathing and how will it help my patients?

Let’s do an experiment. Breathe deeply. What did you do? Did you breathe with your diaphragm and passively feel air go into the deepest part of your lungs or did you breathe as much air into your lungs as you could, maybe even using your accessory muscles? Did you breathe in through your nose or your mouth? When you exhaled, did you breathe out through your mouth, loudly? If you inhaled as much air into your lungs as you could, why? Probably because most people think that breathing deeply means to take as much air into your lungs as possible. To most people, deep breathing means taking big breaths.

“This was an exciting discovery.  Blood pressure could be controlled by changing breathing patterns!”

Deep breathing means taking the air into the deepest part of your lungs, where the there are more alveoli to receive it. You do this effortlessly with the diaphragm. If breathing is hard, you are not breathing effectively. When someone is breathing effectively you can barely see them breathe when they are at rest. When they are active they look refreshed and they are breathing through their nose all the time. Everything they do looks easy even when they are working at capacity
Shortly after WWII Konstantin Buteyko was a medical student in Russia. He was assigned to observe the dying process of terminally ill patients. He noticed the closer they came to death the harder they breathed. The people who survived the longest seemed to breathe with less effort.

Dr. Buteyko was stressed as are most medical students. His blood pressure was so high he was told that though he was a young man if he didn’t get it under control he was at high risk of stroke or heart attack. One night he was on duty in a hospital ward. His blood pressure was so high he had a headache. He decided to try breathing less, through his nose. His headache lessened and his blood pressure came down. He went back to breathing harder and his headache came back and his blood pressure went up. This was an exciting discovery. Blood pressure could be controlled by changing breathing patterns!

After he graduated from medical school, his mentor helped him set up a laboratory in Siberia to study breathing. He worked with many people, teaching them how to breathe effectively and recording the results. He researched the medical literature available at the time and discovered the Bohr Effect. In 1905 a scientist named Christian Bohr discovered that if the blood had low levels of CO2, there were also low levels of available hydrogen ions causing the blood to be slightly alkaline. This caused hemoglobin to bind more tightly to the oxygen, releasing less to the tissues, causing a cascade of negative effects in the body including contraction of smooth muscles, inflammation, and hyperventilation to get more O2 to tissues. However, the harder you breathe the more CO2 you lose and the more firmly the O2 binds to hemoglobin.

Dr. Buteyko defined hyperventilation as breathing more than a person’s metabolic need at any given time. He discovered that due to chronic stress many people hyperventilate much of the time leading to decreased CO2 levels in their blood, decreased availability of O2 to tissues and increased chronic illness. Most people who are chronically ill hyperventilate but are not aware that they are breathing too hard.

Dr. Buteyko devoted the rest of his life to developing and refining the most effective way to teach people healthy breathing. This way of breathing has become known as Buteyko Breathing and is taught by Buteyko Breathing educators all over the world. It takes practice and dedication to learn and implement Buteyko Breathing into your life but it is worth the investment. Breathing more freely when you have asthma while using your inhaler less often or not at all, feeling rested, sleeping more soundly and being less dependent on your CPAP, maintaining a healthy blood pressure with less medication, or breathing more easily all the time even when you have COPD is worth it to an increasing number of people.

Referring your difficult patients who have asthma, insomnia, sleep apnea, anxiety, hypertension or excessive inflammation for no apparent reason to a Buteyko Breathing educator will win their gratitude and make treating other conditions easier to treat. Qualified Buteyko Breathing educators undergo intensive training and supervised internship before becoming full members of the Buteyko Breathing Educators Association. Buteyko Breathing is consistent with the best of Naturopathic Medicine. It does no harm, works with the person’s natural healing abilities and uses that most natural of substances, air.

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