Buteyko Breathing Exercises
The following Buteyko breathing exercises are the essence of the Buteyko Method. This is the back-to-basics of learning to correct breathing volume and use our diaphragm. It is how we should be breathing every minute, every hour, every day.
There are two parts to this exercise, and they all ﬁt together. Learn the ﬁrst part, then move to the second. In time, as your CP increases, you can return to this exercise.
Since food affects your breathing, it is best to practice this exercise on an empty stomach or at least not straight after eating. This is by far the most important exercise, as it trains you to be aware of your breathing volume, to permanently change your CO2 levels and to relax the muscles involved with respiration.
Adopt a correct but comfortable posture. Correct posture involves sitting up straight with both feet under your chair. Sit in the horse rider position at the edge of the chair with your back straight and your knees lower than you hips. Correct posture is very important in helping to reduce your breathing. If you are slouched, you will compress your diaphragm, increase the tension that you experience and increase your breathing volume.
The diaphragm is our main breathing muscle. It is a dome-shaped sheet of muscle that separates our thorax from our abdomen. Diaphragmatic breathing is more efﬁcient because the amount of blood ﬂow in the lower lobes of the lungs is greater than in the upper. The fast, shallow breaths of people who chronically hyperventilate results in less oxygen transfer to the blood and a greater loss of CO2. Fast, shallow breaths also activate the sympathetic nervous system, resulting in more tension. Diaphragmatic breathing can be easily learned.
Part 1: Relaxation of respiratory muscles
• Sit up straight. Lengthen the distance between your naval and sternum (chest). Forcing yourself into a “straight position” is not necessary, as this only increases tension.
• Place one hand on your tummy (just above your navel) and one hand on your chest.
• Focus on the movements of your lower hand. While sitting up straight, gently push your tummy outwards. Don’t make any changes to your breathing at this point. This exercise is primarily to encourage diaphragmatic movement. Alternatively, you can lie on your back with both knees bent.
• As you breathe in, gently push your tummy outwards at the same time. Breathe as if you are breathing into your belly. Do not let your tummy get too big as this might cause dizziness.
• As you breathe out, gently draw your tummy in.
At this point, don’t be concerned about how you are breathing. Continue to do this for just a few minutes. When you feel you can move your tummy in and out easily at will, proceed to the next stage, which is to incorporate tummy movements with breathing. The above exercise is very helpful in releasing tension from the area around your tummy. When your mind is stressed, your tummy muscles get very tense. Stress in the mind almost always appears in the tummy. Your mind might tell you that you are not stressed but your body will be honest with you.
Deliberate tensing and relaxing of these muscles by drawing in the tummy and gently pushing it out are great for relaxing this area. It is of vital importance to have a relaxed tummy. In addition, encourage the area around your tummy to relax by imagining the tension and stress dissolving.
• Breathe in. Gently push your tummy out.
• Breathe out. Gently pull your tummy in.
Note that they move in opposite directions from each other. The reason why the tummy moves outwards is because when you breathe in, or inhale, your diaphragm contracts and moves downward. This increases the space in your chest cavity, and your lungs expand into it. On the other hand, the tummy moves inward during an exhalation because the diaphragm moves upward and takes pressure from the abdomen.
Part 2: Bringing reduced and diaphragmatic breathing together.
When students ask us what is more important, we say that reduced breathing is primary and tummy breathing is secondary. At the same time, the two work together as it is a lot easier to reduce breathing volume by changing the breathing pattern to diaphragmatic. To bring the two together:
• Sit up straight, as described above.
• Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your tummy.
• Bring attention to your breathing.
• As you breathe in, gently guide your tummy out. Use your mind and awareness to keep your chest movements to a minimum.
• As you breathe out, gently pull your tummy in, again keeping your chest movements quiet.
• As you breathe with your tummy, concentrate on making your in-breath smaller.
• With each breath, take in less air than what you would like to. Make the in-breath smaller or shorter. Feel the shorter breath with your hands or imagine your chest as a large glass. Only breathe in enough air to ﬁll the glass three-quarters full.
• Reduce your volume of breathing by encouraging your entire body to relax. As you feel your body relaxing, your breathing will reduce automatically.
• Breathe out with a relaxed exhalation. While breathing out, allow the natural elasticity of your lungs and diaphragm to play their role in the exhalation. Imagine a balloon deﬂating by its own accord.
• As your in-breath is smaller and your out-breath is relaxed, visible movements will slow down. Aim to quieten your breathing. A typical session may involve reducing your breathing movement by 30% to 40%.
• If your stomach gets tense, jerky or “hard,” then the degree of air shortage is too great. Instead, relax for a moment. When your tension dissolves, return to gentle reduced breathing.
• The goal is to feel a need for air that is tolerable. Maintain this tolerable “air hunger” for three to ﬁve minutes at a time.
We are often asked how to know when this exercise is being done properly. The answer to this is:
“When you are reducing your breathing when you feel a distinct but non-stressful need for air.”
Your need for air should be distinct but not stressful. If your need for air is not distinct, then reduce your movements further. If your need for air is too stressful, then breathe a little more and allow your body to relax.
Now you have mastered relaxing your diaphragm combined with a reduced need for air. Every breath that you take throughout the day should be diaphragmatic and quiet.
Anger, anxiety and stress originate from chaotic and fast breathing. In Japan, children are taught from a young age to diaphragmatically breathe and keep their breathing calm when they get angry. When you are under stress, immediately pay attention to your breathing. Stress and anger go hand in hand with heavy and irregular breathing. To observe this, watch your breathing the next time you get stressed or are angry.
– Small breath in. Relaxed breath out. Small breath in. Relaxed breath out. Small breath in. Relaxed breath out.
– A small breath simply means taking a smaller or shorter breath than what you would normally take. A relaxed breath out tends to be slow.
Don’t worry too much about your rate. Ideally, it should not increase but it may when your CP is less than 20 seconds. If your rate increases, calm and slow your breathing. As your CP increases, your rate will naturally decrease.
Change your breathing from this:
Noisy, loud, big, erratic, irregular, effortful, tense, inefﬁcient breathing.
Reduced breathing serves two purposes: the ﬁrst is to improve oxygenation of the brain and the second is to take attention away from the head and to the body. Both together are powerful tools for reducing thought activity and anxiety.