To meet everything and everyone through stillness instead of mental noise is the greatest gift you can offer to the universe.
—Eckhart Tolle

As contrary as the title may sound, the Buteyko breathing method is actually a very simple set of tools and techniques used to correct chronic patterns of hyperventilation, or overbreathing.

Buteyko breathing is modeled on the research and physiological findings of Ukrainian Dr. Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko, who developed a system of breathing retraining in the late 1950s that has been used successfully in Russia, Australia, and internationally (New Zealand, Great Britain, Thailand, the United States, Canada, Europe) to treat thousands of individuals afflicted with chronic respiratory, nervous, cardiovascular, and immunological illnesses.

Chronic “hidden” hyperventilation is now being recognized as one of the underlying causes of all disease. Normal breathing, as measured in liters of airflow in and out of the lungs per minute, is approximately four to six liters. Chronic overbreathers can get up to fifteen to seventeen liters per minute on a regular basis; during an acute asthma attack, the airflow can increase up to twenty-four to twenty-six liters. At these rates, a vicious cycle is established that encourages contraction of the bronchi, inflammation of the airways, and a severely decreased efficiency of oxygen release into the bloodstream. Asthma and respiratory disorders are on the rise, and it is estimated that up to 90 percent of people in the Western world are afflicted with chronic hyperventilation syndrome.

The Buteyko breathing method seeks to break the cycle of hyperventilation by normalizing ventilation through a series of eucapnic (normal amounts of carbon dioxide) exercises aimed at increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) levels.

There is a myth in our modern world that CO2 is a waste gas; in truth, it is only a waste gas in excess, as it is in fact essential for the utilization and release of oxygen in the body. CO2 is a natural bronchodilator, as it relaxes the smooth muscle of the airways as well as decreasing inflammation. Hyperventilation leads to a loss of CO2, which affects pH and ultimately every system of the body. By increasing CO2 levels, oxygenation and circulation are improved.

The most efficient means of regaining optimal CO2 is by slowing the breathing rate and depth. Breathing in and out always through the nose will ensure a healthy maintenance of CO2, as rapid exhaling through the mouth depletes CO2 more rapidly than any other factor. CO2 is retained via specialized cells in the paranasal sinus during exhalation. Consistent abdominal breathing will allow for optimal diaphragm movement up and down with each breath, no matter the size or depth. A classic Buteyko breath analogy is “less is more.”

It is estimated that about 85 percent of the work of maintaining normal pH in the body is carried out by the respiratory system; the lungs regulate carbon dioxide, which is the primary acidic component of the blood. The kidneys respond via their regulation of bicarbonate, which is the alkaline component. These two organs, the lungs and the kidneys, work together to keep this delicate balance of internal equilibrium.

Stressors such as dehydration, nutritional deficiencies, overstimulation of our senses with constant noise, lights, temperature regulation, and illness all contribute to overbreathing since breathing is the place where our body automatically speeds up to compensate. Human beings have created an external “world out of balance,” as reflected in planetary changes that are taking place. We have internalized this world out of balance by our increasingly frequent dysfunctional breathing patterns.

Learning to breathe properly and integrating eucapnic breathing exercises into one’s life on a daily basis can result in a dramatic improvement in health and significantly reduce the amount of medication used for chronic conditions.

When (eucapnic) Buteyko exercises are practiced regularly and correctly,

* circulation and metabolic rate improve
* the immune system is strengthened
* high and low blood pressure begin to normalize
* rapid pulse begins to lower, including atrial fibrillation
* diabetic complications improve, and weight normalizes
* insomnia becomes a vague memory of the past
* energy and alertness, inner calm, mental clarity, and
concentration are improved.

Often, conditions that are not the focus of attention also improve or become eradicated. These have included chronic fatigue, infertility, hormonal problems, thyroid conditions, erectile dysfunction, tinnitus, digestive complaints, constipation, menopausal conditions, cramps, migraines, headaches, autoimmune diseases, and tumor growth.

The exercises are easy to learn, even for children as young as five years old.

Remedial breathing, with eucapnic techniques as a foundation, encompasses the Wise Woman traditional model of healing, where common sense, plants, whole foods, compassionate listening, simple ritual, and living in synchronicity with Earth’s natural rhythms support and nourish health and wholeness. The Wise Woman tradition is the world’s oldest healing tradition. Its symbol is the spiral. Illness and injury are doorways of transformation. Each one of us is inherently whole, yet seeking greater wholeness; perfect, yet desiring greater perfection. Body, feeling, thought, and spirit are inseparable and intertwined—the embodiment of deep healing at the source, beginning with the breath.

The three primary facets of remedial breathing are

* optimal breathing
* eucapnic—Buteyko breathing exercises
* health and wellness–oriented lifestyle (breathing, nutrition, hydration, rest, exercise).

Using the Wise Woman tradition model, the first step in remedial breath training is noticing the following:

* Do you breath primarily through your nose or mouth?
* Does your belly move with your breathing?
* Are your inhalations and exhalations equal?
* Can you hear yourself breathe?
* Is your breathing irregular and interrupted throughout the day by sighs and yawns?
* Do you often feel as if it’s hard to get a breath?
* How was your health and well-being as a child?

Nasal and abdominal breathing are the hallmarks of optimal breathing. Successful remedial breathwork practice depends on connection with the physical body. Put your hands on your body, and feel the movement of breath—stay connected. Eucapnic breathing brings us back home to the body.

Exercise: Go for a walk, and breathe only through your nose both during inhalation and exhalation. Use the comfortable rhythm of the breath to govern your pace. Count how many steps you take for one complete cycle of inhalations and exhalations. Speed up your pace until you feel the need to open your mouth to breathe; if you do so, you will bypass the body’s own perfect breathing apparatus (the nose), and your body will switch over to anaerobic (lacking oxygen) metabolism. Instead, keep your mouth shut and slow down until nasal breathing is comfortable again—this will maintain a healthy aerobic (using oxygen) state. Then pick up your pace and repeat.

Breathing is the source of life energy, and breathing correctly is preventative medicine. The Buteyko breathing method offers us one of the greatest tools to retrain our breathing toward a goal of increased physiological health and well-being and repair of physiological damage already done. All it takes to master the method is patience, plenty of slow time, commitment, and a willingness to go beyond our comfort zones to experience our true selves, where no emotion, psychological trauma, or intellectual story exists. It gives us an opportunity to embrace fully the present as we quietly observe and slow our breathing and as we learn to embrace and enjoy the pauses between the breaths. Breathing efficiently is at the heart and foundation of wellness.

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Health. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Health”, visit

Author's Bio: 

Dorisse Neale, respiratory educator, registered nurse, mother, dancer, and herbalist, has been involved in the wellness movement for over thirty years. An early member of the Holistic Health Association and the American Holistic Nurse’s Association, her experience ranges from critical care/emergency nursing to midwifery and home-based natural health care. Dorisse has traveled, lived, taught, and published internationally and has pioneered the Buteyko breathing method in North America. With graceful enthusiasm, Dorisse offers a new paradigm of health—wellness versus illness—inviting individuals to reclaim optimal health via the respiratory system through workshops and events for ages 5–105. She is the founder of BreathDance—Wellness Through Breathing, based in Asheville, North Carolina (