Buteyko Technique

The Buteyko breathing technique involves teaching people with breathing problems simple exercises using voluntary breath control, with the intention of reducing the frequency and severity of their symptoms.

The impetus behind this approach has come principally from the work of a Russian physician Dr Konstantin Buteyko, after whom the technique has been named. Although mainly centred on specific breathing exercises, the programme also pays attention to diet, physical exercise and emotional factors.

In May 2008 the updated British Guidelines for the Management of Asthma endorsed the Buteyko technique for the control of asthma symptoms, so that GPs and asthma nurses can now recommend it.  The new guidelines grade the research on Buteyko as a 'B' classification - indicating that there are high quality clinical trials supporting the efficacy of the therapy in reducing both asthma symptoms and bronchodilator usage.

What is the Buteyko technique?

Buteyko is a system of breathing techniques based on clinical evidence that people with breathing problems tend to 'over-breathe'. The technique aims to restore the natural balance of breathing by teaching people how to breathe less. This is achieved by:

  • Learning to improve control over the respiratory muscles
  • Gradually increasing tolerance to the feeling of breathlessness
  • Understanding how external factors can affect breathing
  • Learning how to relax the muscles involved in breathing

The Buteyko technique is holistic in the sense that it tries to take into account all aspects of an individualâ??s physical and mental condition within the context of their lifestyle, environment and diet.

What is the Buteyko technique commonly used for?

The Buteyko technique is used to improve the health of people with asthma and those with other breathing related problems such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), sinusitis, rhinitis, panic attacks and snoring.

Buteyko is used alongside other approaches, in particular conventional medicine.

The fundamental aim of Buteyko is to improve the quality of life of those suffering from breathing problems. In order to achieve the best possible results an individualised programme is taught, guided by the personâ??s own aims.

What will happen when I see a Buteyko teacher?

A Buteyko teacher will guide you through the process of learning the breathing exercises and advise you on how best to manage your condition. Most people will need 4 - 6 sessions, each lasting around an hour, to fully understand and properly practise the techniques. The optimum frequency of lessons is weekly, but sessions may initially be more frequent.

On your first visit, your breathing and general health will be assessed. You will then be taught Buteyko techniques, graded according to your condition, aiming to help you to breathe in a relaxed effortless way. The lessons focus on learning and practicing these techniques.

The breathing techniques themselves are not physically demanding and the majority of the programme is carried out sitting comfortably in a chair. You will also be encouraged to undertake some form of regular daily exercise (such as walking) and to use particular breathing styles while you exercise.

If your teacher feels it is helpful, he or she may advise on changes to your diet to assist in restoring normal respiratory function.

For many people stress and emotion can play a part in bringing on symptoms. As part of the programme you will be taught techniques to quickly manage your breathing pattern. This can prevent the situation where anxiety and disordered breathing combine to make symptoms worse.

You will be asked to practise exercises at home between sessions; it is important to understand that if you do not do this practice you are much less likely to see improvements in your health. The good news is that by following the Buteyko programme the majority of people notice a significant improvement in their condition within a couple of weeks.

As Buteyko is about changing your breathing in everyday situations, no special clothing is necessary. Sometimes women prefer to wear trousers rather than a skirt.

What precautions should I take?

Please ensure your teacher is registered with the Buteyko Breathing Association (see below 'How do I find a Buteyko Teacher').

Your teacher will ask you to complete a confidential questionnaire, make sure you give details of past and present treatments for any medical problems. Buteyko is inherently safe, but there are some conditions where we would not advise using Buteyko at all; and other conditions where a cautious approach is required.

What will it cost?

The Buteyko technique is taught in some hospitals and GP surgeries.

If you are seeing a teacher privately, a lesson will cost around £35 - £60, most people will need 4-6 lessons.

How do I find a Buteyko teacher?

Contact the Buteyko Breathing Association (BBA) for a list of registered teachers or ring  01277 366906.

Written by Janet Brindley
Buteyko Breathing Association


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