A few years ago (I won't say how many so as not to reveal my age ;), when I was studying physiology in the table of physiotherapy diplomacy, I was very clear: we breathe to get oxygen into our body and evacuate the carbon dioxide we produce by oxidizing what we eat for energy. CO2, carbon gas or carbon dioxide was bad and we had to expel it. All the exercises I learned back then to help respiratory patients were based on seeking maximum oxygen intake.
When I went to work in France, this vision began to Change. In one of the clinics where I worked I discovered what the syndrome was hyperventilation. Back then, and perhaps still today, this syndrome was not well accepted by a large part of the medical body. It turns out there was a part of asthma sufferers who could spend seasons without medication without any major problem, but which overnight presented intense and hard-to-control symptoms: shortness of air, short inspirations, hissing, headaches, vision problems, dizziness… When the patient was suspected of having hyperventilation syndrome, we passed him the Nijmegen test (which measures anxiety), and basically he instructed him to breathe less and more despatitely, introducing apneas during breathing.
That's when I first heard about the Method Buteyko, looking for how symptoms that resembled could be better controlled asthma without having to leave everything in the hands of the medication.
Currently few people have heard of this method, although it has been in place in different countries for decades (Russia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States and Australia, above all). This method was born in Russia, in the 1950s, with the hand of the Professor of Ukrainian physiology Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko.
Their goal was to improve the breathing of people with chronic respiratory pathologies, including asthma. Over the years, has continued to be studied and there are some scientific articles (see references to evidenced that the Buteyko method manages to improve asthma symptoms and/or decrease the amount of medication that asthma should take patients who follow him.
Breathe less, but Best
Before we dely into how the Buteyko method works, we're going to look at a feature that all people with asthma have. Yes we look at how people with asthma breathe, we'll realize that your breathing is usually fast and shallow. They often breathe through the mouth and mostly use their chest to breathe, forgetting that it's the diaphragm the muscle main breathing.
When we inspire, what interests us is that oxygen enters in our blood, and when we breathe we get rid of excess gas carbonic produced by the oxidation of fats and carbohydrates we have previously ingested. Now, if we breathe too much and/or too much quickly, we will have a tendency to evacuate too much carbon gas. For what our body is fine we need to have a minimum of carbon gas in blood, to keep the pH neutral. So, in some cases what they need certain people with respiratory diseases are breathing less, not more.
The consequences of breathing too much may include:
- Dilatation blood vessels and airways.
- Increase Histamine levels (and consequently, increased reactions allergic).
- Consequences in the respiratory system: wheezing, dyspnoea, coughing, chest opressure, frequent yawns, snoring, sleep apnea.
- Consequences nervous system: dizziness, lack of concentration, sweating, vertigo, tingling in hands and feet, weakness, tremors, headaches.
- Consequences for the heart: accelerated heartbeat, irregular heartbeat.
- Consequences for the mind: some degrees of anxiety, tension, depression and stress.
What can we do to lessen these symptoms?
Breathe less and/or produce more carbon dioxide. Do exercise, for example, helps increase carbon dioxide levels, being one of the reasons why playing sport is highly recommended if you have asthma. To breathe less it is interesting to use the method Buteyko.
What is Buteyko Method?
The Buteyko method is based on measuring the control pause and about 6 different exercises (some with variants) in which apneas have a very important role. The control pause provides information about patient symptoms and also progress in the practice of exercises. They measure the seconds when you can be out of breath and without feeling that we the air is missing. If we get to 40 seconds we certainly won't have any asthma symptom. If it's below 10 seconds then it might be that we have severe symptoms.
An example of an exercise proposed by the method would be the Following:
Put your index finger under your nose. Close your eyes. Notice the air temperature on your finger as you exit (warm) and when you enter (fresher). Exercise is about trying to notice less and less change in the air temperature above the finger and also in noticing less the passage of the Air. This way what we're doing is getting to change a breathing that could be fast and that could mobilize too much gas carbonic outwards, in a softer, shallower breath. For that really is beneficial we should feel a little desire to breathe deeper, but managing this need we would be rehabilitating the body to healthier breathing.
Article published to the magazine "Eroski Consumer" through the Lovexair-Respiratory Sick Foundation.
Shut your mouth: Buteyko Breathing Clinic Self-Help Manual (Patrick G McKeown, 1 December 2014)
Living without asthma – The Buteyko method (Andrey Novozhilov, 24 September 2007)
1 Buteyko breathing techniques in asthma: a blinded randomised trial
Simon D Bowler, Amanda Green and Charles A Mitchell
Medical Journal of Australia 1998; 169:575-578
2 Buteyko Breathing Technique for
asthma: an effective intervention
Patrick McHugh, Fergus Aitcheson, Bruce Duncan, Frank Houghton
Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 12-December-2003, Vol 116 No 1187
3 "Health Education: Does the
Buteyko Institute Method make a difference?"
Jill McGowan, Education and training consultant in Asthma Management.
Thorax Vol 58, suppl III, page 28, December 2003.
4 A Randomised Controlled Trial of
the Buteyko Technique for Asthma Management
Robert L. Cowie, Diane P. Conley, Margot F. Underwood Patricia G. Reader
Respiratory Medicine May 2008 (Vol. 102, Issue 5, Pages 726-732)
5 Study explains success of Buteyko Megan How. Australian Doctor, p 20, 11 May 2001
6 Prevalence of dysfunctional
breathing in patients treated for asthma in primary care: a cross sectional
M Thomas, RK McKinley, E Freeman, C Foy
British Medical Journal 2001; 322:1098-1100 (5 May 2001)
7 Bronchodilators appear to increase
inflammation, potentially worsening asthma, heart failure, and lupus, study
J Allergy Clin Immunol 2006
8 Breathing exercises for asthma: a
randomised controlled trial.
M Thomas, R K McKinley, S Mellor, G Watkin, E Holloway, J Scullion, D E Shaw, A Wardlaw, D Price, I Pavord
Thorax 2009; 64:55-6