- Updated on August 13, 2020
Module 10 (Part 5). Buteyko breathing exercises
Finally, we have arrived at learning what goes into a whole breathing session of the main Buteyko breathing exercise for those people who do not have contra-indications:
Heart disease (aortic aneurysms; angina pectoris; arrhythmia; atherosclerosis (plaque build-up); cardiomyopathy; ciliary arrhythmia (cardiac fibrillation); chest pain (angina pectoris); high cholesterol; chronic ischemia; congenital heart disease; congestive heart failure; coronary artery disease; endocarditis; extrasystole; heart murmurs; hypertension; hypertrophic cardiomyopathy; tachycardia; pericarditis; post-myocardial infarction; stroke)
Migraine headaches and panic attacks
Respiratory disorders involving lungs (asthma, bronchitis, COPD, emphysema, cystic fibrosis, pneumonia, tuberculosis; pulmonary edema; etc.)
Presence of transplanted organs
Brain traumas and acute bleeding injuries
Acute stages (exacerbations) of life-threatening conditions (infarct, stroke, cardiac ischemia, severe asthma attack, metastasizing cancer, septic shock, multiple organ failure, near-death experience, etc.)
Insulin-dependent diabetes (type 2 diabetes)
Loss of CO2 sensitivity
The most common Buteyko breathing session has the following structure:
Initial Pulse Test – Initial CP Test – RB (for 3-5 minutes)
– Intermediate CP – RB (for 3-5 minutes) –
– Intermediate CP – RB (for 3-5 minutes) –
– Intermediate CP – RB (for 3-5 minutes) – Pulse Test – 2-3 min rest – Final CP Test
The total duration of one session can range from 12 – 20 minutes (if you have sessions with strong air hunger or intensive sessions) or up to 30-35 minutes (with light air hunger).
As you can see, the periods of reduced breathing are 3-5 minutes long. They are followed by intermediate CPs. Their purpose is to remind you about air hunger. Note that it is normal that intermediate CPs are shorter than the initial CP (because they are done when you already have air hunger). The duration of the RB periods depends on the duration of intermediate breath holds and the CP:
When the CP or breath holds are short (e.g., less than 30 s), choose 3 min for RB.
When the CP or breath holds are between 30 and 60 s, choose 4 min for RB.
When the CP or breath holds are more than 60 s (up to 90 s), choose 5 min for RB.
When should you practice breathing exercises?
A. When you have unpleasant symptoms due to hyperventilation (wheezing, chest tightness, anxiety, cold hands and feet, constipation, insomnia, headaches, etc.).
B. As a part of your daily program or routine (and this is what the daily log is for) to increase the CP.
What are the main indications of success for one breathing session?
1. The most important indication is your easier or lighter breathing after the session. Your final CP should be at least 5 s greater than the initial CP. You should view your CP increase as your main goal for any session. (Remember, the final CP is typically measured 2-3 mins after finishing the RB. But you can also measure it 10-30 minutes after the session and the CP should still be higher than it was initially).
2. The pulse (or heart rate) usually drops by about 2-3 beats per minute or more after the session (occasionally it can increase, especially if you drink coffee before the session). Hence, you need to monitor the heart rate drop and experience this effect for most of your sessions.
3. The arms and feet will get warm about 2-3 minutes after starting the RB.
Most of my students are able to get the RB right from the first session and they consistently experience all 3 major signs of success described above: warmer hands and feet soon after starting the RB, and a higher CP and lower pulse after the session. (A small number of people may consistently have a higher CP and higher pulse after correct breathing sessions). Also, note that caffeine and chocolate can increase your final pulse.
These breathing exercises are useful when you experience all 3 signs in 90% of all your breathing sessions. For example, assume that you completed 10 breathing sessions. Then you can analyze your daily log. If you got all 3 signs in 9 sessions out of 10, this is an excellent result. If you got 7-8 sessions right, it is still not bad, but you should figure out what was wrong with the remaining 2-3 breathing sessions. If you succeed only in 6 or fewer sessions, you should stop these breathing exercises and find some fundamental reason for your failure. Do not waste your time on something that does not improve your body oxygenation and the CP.
Since 2011, I found that it is much easier for my students to learn how to practice with the DIY breathing device first and then learn the Buteyko exercises. In my view, it is the optimum approach to breathing retraining: start with the DIY device, get up to about 20-25 s at least, and then learn RB and other Buteyko exercises.
If there are no improvements
Practice shows that these three major signs (higher CP, lower pulse, and warmer hands and feet) are all present or absent together. Hence, when you have already done several breathing sessions, it will be clear if you get them or not. If they are not present, you need to stop and think about the causes. Even if only half of your breathing sessions are successful (all 3 signs are there), it is necessary to search for the causes.
Most likely, something is wrong with one or more of the initial parameters of the exercises. Here is a check-list of questions:
• Do you have a comfortably cool environment? Remember you should not feel warm during exercises. If your CP is less than 20 s, keep yourself at a normal temperature or even slightly warm. If your CP is more than 20 s, keep yourself on the slightly cool side. If you are wearing too many clothes or practicing in overly warm surroundings, no progress should be expected. Also, direct sunlight – causing heating of one side of your body and mild cellular damage due to penetrating radiation – is another factor to avoid.
• Is the air quality good enough for you? If you are sensitive or allergic to any chemical or substance in the air, you will not be able to slow down your breathing. This trigger will increase the area and degree of inflammation, depleting your cortisol reserves and causing other negative effects. Try to do breathing exercises in ideal conditions: outdoors, in a park, the backyard of your house, in the kitchen with the windows open, etc.
• Do you always do exercises with no solid food in the stomach? Generally, as it was emphasized by Dr. Buteyko, water in the stomach does not intensify respiration.
• Are you sufficiently hydrated? Remember to drink water at first signs of thirst.
• Do you maintain correct body posture during the session? The higher your CP, the stronger the effect of correct posture on your breathing and CP. When your CP is about 25 s, poor posture will definitely prevent you from further CP increase.
• Do you take smaller inhalations during the RB? If you breathe more and do not have light comfortable air hunger, your parameters (the CP and pulse) will not improve.
• Do you only use your diaphragm for inhalations? If you are unsure, use the belt, as described above, so as to suppress any chest movements.
• How do you exhale air during the RB? Do you just relax your whole body, including all breathing muscles? Exhalations require relaxation only, but when your CP is low this element of the RB also requires attention.
• Do you experience light comfortable air hunger that is easy to tolerate and maintain for 12 minutes?
• Do you constantly remind yourself to relax all body muscles? If you focus too much on diaphragmatic inhalations and light air hunger, muscles, especially in the upper part of the body, can get tense making lighter breathing impossible. Being totally relaxed and having light air hunger are the most challenging parts of the Buteyko breathing exercises.
• Various fears (conscious, subconscious, and unconscious) lead to muscular tension. It can be impossible to slow down breathing when fears are present. Are you able to leave or separate all your irrelevant worries from your breathing retraining activities? In some cases, the reduction of anxiety (fears are indeed groundless) and different attitudes are more effective than relaxation exercises. Easier breathing and higher CPs will help you to have a much more realistic picture of the real world. Fears may also exist in relation to the exercises, the pauses, the feeling of air hunger, or some other attributes of the method, surrounding people or the whole environment. Do you have sufficient confidence, trust, and faith? If you have spent too little time on educational topics on breathing, these spiritual and psychological parameters of your motivation can suffer.
• If you are deficient in cortisol your parameters after the session will be almost unchanged. This is possible if you suffer from any inflammatory condition (asthma, bronchitis, various digestive problems, cystic fibrosis, cancer, etc.), adrenal exhaustion, severe and chronic stress and that your current CP is less than 20 s. Cortisol, in cases of deficiency, according to Dr. Buteyko and his colleagues, is vital for breathing normalization. No progress is possible unless you provide what the body needs to fight inflammation, infection, and stress.
• If you are severely obese, you will be stuck with a low CP (less than 20 s) for a longer time in comparison with people who have nearly normal weight. It will be difficult, during the breathing session, to increase your CP even by 1-2 seconds, but breathing exercises will reduce your hunger and provide you with energy. It is crucial, in such conditions, to follow the natural desire to eat only low-calorie foods. Very long walks and other light forms of physical exercise, with 100% nasal breathing (in and out), will greatly help you to progress faster.
• If you are genetically predisposed to cardiovascular problems, migraines, and panic attacks, you will experience unpleasant symptoms, like dizziness, mild headache, fog in the head, strange sensations of thirst, etc. Then you should be able to, or even can, notice that you feel better while doing the RB without breath holds. You should practice different breathing exercises with a very gradual CO2 increase.
Some questions and answers (from the e-book “Normal Breathing: the key to vital health”)
Q: My CP increases and pulse goes down after the breathing session, but my arms and feet remain cold. Is something wrong?
A: This usually happens in cases of chronic problems with circulation, Raynaud disease, etc., when the CP is less than 20 s. It is great that your CP is growing. Once you get more than 20 s CP, you will notice changes in your sensation of warmth in arms and feet.
Q: I can increase my CP by more than 5 s and my arms and feet do become warm. However, my heart rate often increases, especially in the morning, since I drink several cups of coffee. Should I stop drinking coffee?
A: Coffee helps many low-CP people to be more alert and function better. Hence, drink coffee, if it improves your life and performance. When your CP is at about 30-40 s, your desire to drink coffee will be naturally reduced or can completely disappear because your energy level, focus, and concentrations will greatly improve. Then, drinking coffee will start to produce negative effects on your daily life. The same relates to chocolate, cocoa, strong tea and other caffeine-containing products.
Q: Should I try to control my respiratory rate during a breathing session?
A: During one of Dr. Buteyko’s lectures for the staff members of the Moscow State University, he said, “But the breathing frequency is strictly individual: it depends on gender, age, weight, etc., and, as a rule, it is not limited. We prohibit the sick from thinking about it, otherwise, it would confuse them.” after continuous observation of patients, he also found that with time the breathing center automatically adjusts the breathing rate to the existing CO2 or CP level. With a higher CP, people breathe less frequently naturally. You can check this phenomenon, just ask your relative to measure your breathing frequency at night or when you are at rest.
Q: Why is it necessary to wait for 2-3 minutes to measure the final CP after the RB?
A: The goal of the session is to reduce your breathing and to breathe less during the next few hours. Hence, we should measure the after-effect of the session. If the student measures the final CP immediately after the RB, he or she is still experiencing air hunger, and the value would be smaller than after 2-3 minutes of rest. After sufficient rest with no breathing control, the CP reflects your improvements in oxygenation. Usually, the CP is measured after 2-3 minutes of rest, but one can measure the final CP even later ie. 5, 10 or even 30 minutes after the session.
Q: Can I do my first daily breathing session soon after waking up?
A: This depends on your evening (or morning) and actual CPs. For example, if you wake up and your CP is almost the same as the evening CP, you will not be able to further reduce breathing. However, if your CP is much less than the evening (e.g., you have 20 s CP in the evening, but only 10 s CP in the morning), then breathing exercises will help you to restore your oxygenation.
Q: I have little time for the breathing exercises. Can I start them without preliminary rest for 3-5 minutes? Does it affect my initial CP?
A: When a person is in a rush, the first CP is measured soon after various activities. That can reduce the initial CP.
Q: I try really hard and had over 10 breathing sessions, but my CP is 11-12 seconds and stays like a rock. What is wrong?
A: There are many explanations. You could be deficient in some essential nutrients, or cortisol-deficient, or suffer from severe obesity, it could even be that you have several serious health problems. In short, you require more professional help. You can send me your daily log and arrange to meet me for Buteyko online lessons.
Q: Sometimes I feel that my neck or jaws are too tense. Is small muscular tension a serious problem?
A.: There is an intimate link between any muscular tension and breathing. On the one hand, hyperventilation causes tense muscles as a normal and useful evolutionary response to a “fight or flight” situation. On the other hand, chronic hyperventilators are tense all the time. That can be observed in their posture, walking, and other activities. Being relaxed is a difficult problem for them and is something that they need to learn. Normal breathing, on the other hand, is characterized by normal CO2 concentrations. Since CO2 is a powerful relaxant of body muscles, reduced breathing leads to natural relaxation. That is also the reason that people feel calm and relaxed after the Buteyko breathing exercises.
From a practical viewpoint, it is indeed very important to eliminate all unnecessary muscular tension. For that reason, various relaxation exercises including; meditation, massage, yoga postures, Alexander technique, are all useful in breathing normalization.
Q: Can the Buteyko method help me with my poor body posture and prolapse of the colon?
A: Since Buteyko breathing normalizes blood flow and the oxygenation and tone of the large intestine, some people feel that breathing sessions naturally help to correct the curvature of their spines. They often experience a desire to sit, stay and walk with the correct body posture. Therefore, Buteyko breathing is a powerful method to correct the prolapse of the colon. Practice confirms this conclusion. Correction of a possible Mg deficiency can also greatly improve one’s posture and prolapse of the colon.
Q: I am very confused about one thing. Some people recommend doing many sessions throughout the day, others only two. Some recommend as many as I can, some say that too many are bad. I read in the book by James Hooper that the more I do the RB the faster my progress, but some people tell me that I cannot do more than 4 sessions a day? Why do they all seem to have different opinions? Shouldn’t the Buteyko method be always the same?
A: When we learn the method, we are different in respect to:
1) Hereditary parameters (the weak systems and organs of the body);
2) Actual or initial health states;
3) Abilities, possibilities and motivation to learn the method.
Depending on these parameters the optimum plan can be chosen.
However, there are common ideas. You can have RB – with light air hunger- all day (no pauses or only one CP, not MP or EP, per hour.) You can do short sessions, 10-15 min of RB (with 2 CPs) every hour (e.g., when the clock strikes the hour – start the session), but not more often. You can do long sessions (about 25-30 min with 6-7 CPs per session) every 2 hours, but not more often. However, even here there are restrictions. Pregnant women, during certain stages and with low initial CPs, should not follow these suggestions.
If you have hypertension, panic attacks, or migraines, it is better not to do CPs, but only RB (as explained above). In very rare cases, the relaxation of the diaphragm for exhalations is the optimum activity during the initial stages of health restoration.
Q: There are many activities and measures that can ensure good health. Eat right, exercise right, sleep right, engage in relaxation, maintain correct posture, use supplements, etc. Can I just lead a healthy lifestyle without paying any special attention to breathing?
A: If you are a healthy person and satisfied with the overall functionality of your organism (amazing vitality, excellent and short sleep, perfect digestion, etc.), then your breathing should be physiologically normal ie. your CP should be over 60 s. Such people breathe only through the nose; they do not sleep on the back; they enjoy physical activity; they like to eat healthy foods and have other health-promoting life parameters. Then you do not need any special breathing exercises.
However, if you are chronically sick and you are trying to restore your health using all natural methods (diet, exercise, relaxation, supplements, etc.), except breathing, it would take you much longer time, maybe years, in order to get healthy. The Buteyko method was specially designed for sick people so that they could quickly restore their normal breathing and regain vitality as soon as possible.
Q.: When should the last daily set of breathing exercises (before going to sleep) be done?
A.: People report that the effects of the last breathing session can be slightly different depending on, for example, the timing and type of this breathing session. Therefore, find your optimum parameters. Some people do this last set about 2 hours before going to sleep, while others just before bed. In addition, it is suggested to do the Emergency Procedure or the RB in bed, especially, if the bed is not warm enough, or if a student has cold hands or feet, or if a student is too stressed and anxious.
Note. On this site, you can get my PDF book “Advanced Buteyko Breathing Exercises” (about 124 pages, 12 USD). Read happy and great reviews of this book on Amazon.com. This book considers effects of overtraining, lost CO2 sensitivity, blunted CO2 sensitivity, “click” effect, “Steps” breathing exercise for walking, Buteyko breathing exercises during physical activity, etc.