Buteyko Breathing Therapy (BBT) is a non-pharmacological approach to the management of asthma and other breathing-related problems. It is a training course for patients with asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or hyperventilation-related problems that focuses on reducing the frequency and severity of their symptoms. By learning simple exercises in voluntary breath control, people are re-trained in how to breathe in order to help them mitigate their condition.
The impetus behind this approach has come principally from the work of a Russian physician, Dr Konstantin Buteyko, after whom the therapy is named. While working with patients with respiratory disorders in the 1950s, Buteyko realised that there was a relationship between hyperventilation (over breathing) and ill health. He observed a correlation between patients’ breathing rate and the severity of their illness, and reasoned that their condition could be improved by deliberate breath control. The success of the method he developed was such that his technique was eventually approved for general use in the USSR.
The essence of Dr Buteyko’s teaching may be summed up by the two words ‘breathe less’. For those who habitually gasp for air during an asthma attack, this may sound like strange advice, but there is a sound scientific reason for it: beyond a certain point, the more oxygen that is breathed in, the less actually gets to the cells and tissues that need it – a phenomenon known as the Bohr effect.
Although BBT is primarily a breathing technique, it also looks at other potential influences on a person’s health, such as diet, physical and emotional issues, and general lifestyle.