Getting Started

by Peter Kolb

While the Buteyko method introduced into the west has been getting excellent results, it does not entirely accord with Professor Buteykoís recommended practice. During two weeks he spent in New Zealand in December 2000, he demonstrated the Buteyko technique as it should be practiced.


Firstly, it needs to be understood that breathing too much is a bad habit that leaves you with a debilitating shortage of carbon dioxide and bicarbonate. It usually results from long term, undischarged stress. Any stress makes you breathe more. If this is sustained over a long time period it becomes a habit. The physiology behind this habituation process is well understood. Buteyko therapy aims at reversing this, by habituating to less breathing. You do this by developing and sustaining a feeling of a slight shortage of air over a long time period. This gradually restores your carbon dioxide and bicarbonate levels back to normal.

Maximum Pause

While it is possible to stifle an asthma attack with a long and uncomfortable breath hold know as a maximum pause (MP), this procedure does not reverse your asthma and does not retrain the respiratory center to pace your breathing correctly. Professor Buteyko is emphatic that the maximum pause has no therapeutic value in restoring healthy breathing, which is the aim of his therapy. It is also dangerous for people with various disorders such as hypertension, heart disease, epilepsy, kidney disease and diabetes. It can also destabilize your breathing, making it worse. Unfortunately the maximum pause has been introduced into a westernized version of the Buteyko technique, much to the annoyance of the Professor.

An understanding of the physiology behind the Bueyko method leaves no doubt that the maximum pause cannot improve your breathing.


Professor Buteyko is firmly opposed to the DIY/self-help approach. The Buteyko technique relies 100% on patient compliance for effectiveness. Learning it from a script is like learning Yoga or martial arts from a book. Most people will experience changes in their bodies as their CO2 levels rise. These changes vary from one individual to another. Buteyko practitioners help you deal with these changes, keep you motivated and ensure that you do the breathing exercises correctly. Support for your Buteyko practitioner enables him to continue his work of bringing the technique to other sufferers.

Nevertheless, very few people around the world have access to a Buteyko practitioner. So here are some basics to help get you started.


Do not make any changes to medication. Steroids must be taken as prescribed. Because of carbon dioxide shortage asthmatics often donít make enough Cortisol (natural steroid) and must have supplements. Steroids are not just anti-inflammatories but they are needed by the body and without the right amount it can be almost impossible to get breathing back to normal. Your doctor will be able to review your need for steroids when you stop having asthma symptoms.

Bronchodilators must be taken only when needed. As you progress, discuss with your doctor the possibility of weaning yourself off long acting bronchodilators and replacing them with short acting ones. That will give you more control over using them when needed. You should find that within days you will be able to overcome asthma attacks with reduced breathing and wonít need the bronchodilators. Nevertheless, you must always carry them with you for emergencies.

Nose breathing

Always breathe through your nose. If your nose is blocked perform the following exercise: After breathing normally (do not make any exaggerated breathing manoeuvre), hold your breath for as long as is comfortable, and then gradually resume very gentle breathing. It may help to pinch your nose, nod your head a few times or do some other form of exercise. In stubborn cases or when the blockage is due to a cold, you may have to try a few more times.

To avoid breathing through your mouth in your sleep, you might like to experiment with a little light medical paper tape to keep your mouth closed. Mouth taping at night is not recommended by Professor Buteyko, but most people find it extremely valuable. If you do, protect your lips with suitable cream, use a low tack tape (some are quite aggressive), and make sure you fold a tab or handle at each end for rapid and easy removal. Do not go to sleep with tape on your mouth if this causes any form of anxiety.


Make sure youíre comfortable before starting the exercises. Remove unnecessary clothing since the improved blood carbon dioxide will dilate blood vessels in the skin, thereby warming you up.


To get your posture right stand with your back to a wall, heels, shoulders head and bottom touching the wall. Now drop your shoulders. Keep this upper body posture when sitting.


While maintaining your posture, relax all the muscles in your chest, neck, shoulders, arms, tummy and particularly the diaphragm. Itís a good idea to tense them up a bit first before relaxing them so that you can properly identify them and make sure they are all relaxed.

Normal Breathing

Take off your shirt and stand in front of a full length mirror. Watch your chest and tummy for breathing movement. Make sure that your chest does not move at all, and only the upper part of the tummy moves, between navel and breast bone. The second thing to check for is that the tummy moves out with each in breath and not the other way around. Many people get this wrong. Your out-breath must be free, relaxed and unforced.

Reduced breathing (RB)

Your aim is to develop a feeling of slight hunger for air, sustain this over a period and do this frequently. In fact, this should become a habit so that you do it all the time until you have achieved your health goal.

Try to feel your breathing and become aware of your breathing pattern. Now try to maintain this pattern while taking in just a little less air on each breath so that you develop a slight hunger for air. Initially try to sustain this for two minutes, then five and then ten.

If you follow all the steps correctly, then you should feel really calm, good and even a little sleepy. If you already practice relaxation techniques, yoga etc, you can combine them with reduced breathing.

Measuring your breathing

Hyperventilators breathe more than normal in order to achieve lower than normal blood carbon dioxide levels. It follows that if you have to breathe more than normal, then you will also not be able to hold your breath as long as you should. Professor Buteyko has cunningly used this principle to measure your blood carbon dioxide by testing how long you can hold your breath.

You start the pause somewhere in your normal breathing cycle. This is how you start the pause: Look up with your eyes and at the same time pinch your nose and start a stop watch. Just before it starts to get uncomfortable, stop the stop watch and resume normal breathing. You should be able to resume normal breathing without any effort and without taking deeper or more frequent breaths.

Some precautions:

The time in seconds is called a Control Pause (CP). Asthmatics typically have a CP of 5 - 15 seconds. (But not everyone with such a low CP has asthma.) Your aim is to achieve a CP greater than 40 seconds, although for perfect health Professor Buteyko recommends a CP of at least 60 seconds.

Doing a Set

When at rest, correctly seated, comfortable and relaxed and after breathing normally for at least five minutes you are ready to do a set. A set consists of

Pulse - CP - Reduced breathing - 3min normal breathing - Pulse - CP

First measure your pulse and then do a CP. Record the results on a table. Then do reduced breathing for ten minutes. Breathe normally for three minutes, then take your pulse again and take another CP. If youíve done your reduced breathing correctly your pulse should go down and your CP should go up. Sometimes the pulse remains the same. If it goes up youíre not doing it correctly.

After three days you should be able to do around 8 to 10 sets a day. You can then start integrating reduced breathing into your daily life. Ideally you should aim at doing reduced breathing all day.

That takes care of the exercises. Here are a few helpful hints to help your recovery.

If any of these recommendations make you dizzy, sick, anxious or give you palpitations, stop immediately. If possible see a Buteyko practitioner.

Four reports have been written detailing the experiences of individuals attending a Buteyko class as it was introduced into the west. The medthods that were taught do not conform to Professor Buteyko's recommended practice. However, they have been included since people have found these reports useful.

Just click on any of the four names to read their accounts.

Janet and Anne
Gerard O'Neill
Mark Reardon
Gali Nachmann


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