The Buteyko Breathing Method
The Buteyko Breathing method is a clinically-proven, natural, safe and effective breath retraining program. Hadas Golan, MS CCC-SLP, discusses the Buteyko Breathing method and how it may help you control stress and anxiety, asthma, sleep apnea and even enhance your athletic performance.
Hadas Golan, CCC-SLP
Hadas Golan, MS CCC-SLP is a speech pathologist and registered Buteyko educator and trainer. She is a founding member of the Buteyko Breathing Educators Association (BBEA). Having suffered from asthma since childhood, she decided to take the Buteyko course in 2006 and is now free of any asthma-related drug or symptom. Hadas practices at BMC in the Department of Otolaryngology, specializing in voice disorders and the care of professional voice.
Melanie Cole (Host): Do you have asthma or suffer from stress and panic attacks? Well, the Buteyko Breathing Method may just be the all-natural answer you have been looking for. My guest is Hadas Golan. She’s a speech pathologist and registered Buteyko educator and trainer with Boston Medical Center. Hadas, what is the Buteyko Breathing Method and how can it help many different conditions?
Hadas Golan, CCC-SLP (Guest): Well, Buteyko is a name. He was Dr. Konstantin Buteyko, was a Russian doctor and he developed this method in the 50s, so I will tell you a little bit about him. Part of his research was to determine the ideal composition of oxygen of cosmonauts going out of space, but as a medical doctor, he spent hours at the bedside of sick people and observed that the sicker they became, the larger volume of air they needed to breathe and that bringing the volume of air back to normal; led to the elimination of their symptoms and control of their disease process. So, that kind of raised a question in his head. Do they breathe like this because they are so sick or is their heavy breathing feeding back to their sickness? So, then he experimented with his own – he had kind of severely high blood pressure, so by slowing down and quieting his breathing, he managed to normalize his high blood pressure. And after that, he did a lot of research on other health conditions and how they are affected by breathing and developed this breath normalization program that has been shown to dramatically improve symptoms of asthma and other conditions.
Melanie: How long does it take to see results from this type of method?
Hadas: The results can be really fast, like I have people with asthma symptoms come into my office and leave with no symptoms. However, it’s about changing the breathing pattern and that takes a longer time. So, initially people learn to control their symptoms and they continue to practice breathing exercises and they have some other guidelines to follow and slowly but surely, the more their breathing normalizes which I can explain more kind of about the objective of what they are practicing; then kind of the fewer symptoms they even experience. But improvements happen fast, not full recovery, but improvements happen fast.
Melanie: Well, since this is an all-natural thing, and it is non-medication based, do we worry if it’s been clinically tested and approved? Has it been?
Hadas: Yes. But breathing in a relaxed manner slowly from your nose is safe. And especially in the hands of a qualified practitioner and it was tested for asthma in the west in several clinical trials that showed really very impressive results like people with asthma reduced their bronchodilator use by more than 90% and without any deterioration in lung function tests which is very nice and they also reduced steroid medication 50% compared to the control group that had physiotherapy breathing exercises and they didn’t experience any improvements or decrease in medication.
Melanie: Aside from allergies or asthma, what other conditions might be treated by the Buteyko Method?
Hadas: Well, so again, it is best known as treatment for asthma and that is what was studied, but it is also used as supportive therapy for people with chronic mouth breathing, nasal symptoms like polyps and just congestion, runny noses, allergies, COPD, and sleep apnea and snoring and stress related disorders, panic, anxiety, etc. And its principle and techniques have been used increasingly to improve athletic performance. So, even I work a lot with healthy people actually who want to perform better.
Melanie: Then tell us a little bit about how it works Hadas, what do you do? How is it something that we learn? What do you do with your patients? Walk us through what a little lesson might look like.
Hadas: Well, so I have to really take you back and kind of explain what the problem is according to Dr. Buteyko and then what we are trying to do. I’ll start with just what he observed, how people are over breathing. So, he proposed that many health conditions and symptoms are caused by hyperventilation. And hyperventilation is not only what you see when people are in panic. Actually, the definition of it is breathing in excess of your metabolic needs so that you get depleted in carbon dioxide. Now most people, including health professionals, believe that the purpose of breathing is to get enough oxygen or as much oxygen as possible like take a deep breath, you say that all the time, right. And they are really not aware that we need to actually maintain the correct balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide. It is not just one gas is good and one gas is bad. It’s really too much or too little of each of the problems. And when people are breathing too much, like more than the actual task requires; they become depleted in carbon dioxide and this is important because we regulate our biochemistry through breathing. And even people who do pay attention to their breathing, don’t perceive issues like mouth breathing or excessive yawning and sighing and using the upper chest for breathing or fast breathing as a problem.
But it is actually important and there are actually norms for breathing like according to medical textbooks, for example, we breathe four to five liters of air per minute and each breath is half a liter. That’s not a lot. So, that comes to anywhere between nine and fifteen breaths per minute. Now people with asthma or snoring or anxiety, have been shown in studies to breathe twelve to fifteen liters of air per minute when they don’t have symptoms. Asthmatics, when they have symptoms they breathe 27 liters of air per minute and reducing the volume to nine liters after doing Buteyko in one study has shown that they reduced their need for bronchodilators as I said before by more than 90%.
So, I’m talking here about sick people, but also just with daily chronic stress; if you see someone who is stressed, typically you can see that they are using their upper chest, they are breathing through their mouth. If you really look at their breathing, it’s shallow, it’s fast and occasionally they take these bigger breaths, so the breathing kind of calls attention and they sigh a lot. So, that’s really over breathing. So, what we teach in Buteyko, is to reverse that. And so, you are more aware of your breathing habits and for example you don’t sigh because it is just a bad habit.
Melanie: Hadas, walk us through how somebody can start learning this method.
Hadas: Alright. So, what we are trying to do is really reverse everything that I just described. So, the first and very basic thing is just to breathe from your nose. Just by doing that, you are breathing less, and the breathing is more in control and regulated and there are many, many reasons – good, very good reasons why we should breathe from our nose in and out. So, that’s a very basic thing for Buteyko. For some people, it is very easy. For some people, that’s really not so simple and just trying to do that will trigger anxiety. So, then you just give yourself time and try little by little to just close your mouth and breathe gently from your nose, so you don’t try to suck the air in or force it out. It has to be comfortable and gentle. So, you just train yourself slowly to do that. And then the exercises really are just – we teach these slow effortless, gentle breathing using the diaphragm so a lot of this is just to relax the upper body, it allows the stomach to be soft and just kind of find this passive breathing that you are just sitting there in good posture, like you have to be tall, but comfortable. So, there is no tension. So, you can release muscle tension and allow the breathing to become more gentle and slow and soft and low in your body, not in the upper chest. And when you do that, you may even notice a little hunger for air. That’s a sign that your CO2 is building up because CO2 is the stimulus of breathing. And as the breathing becomes lighter, actually circulation improves as well as oxygen delivery to the tissues.
We also give some advice on how to exercise, how to speak, a little bit less food. Everything is related to how we breathe. But that’s the program. And it requires motivation and perseverance. Because it takes some practice and a lot of awareness to your breathing throughout the day.
Melanie: So, just tell the listeners the take home message from the Buteyko Breathing Method and why you think it’s important for people to learn.
Hadas: Well, so most importantly, breathe gently from your nose and slowly and that’s the right way to really kind of – it’s the best way to correct your physiology and manage your daily stress and stay healthy and even prevent all these diseases that are more and more associated now with breath.
Melanie: Thank you so much for being with us today Hadas. This is Boston Med Talks with Boston Medical Center. For more information, you can go to www.bmc.org that’s www.bmc.org. This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening.