The Buteyko Institute Method of breathing training was originally known for its role in the management of asthma. The primary aim of the program is normalisation of the breathing pattern. With breathing training, many clients may experience a decrease in symptom frequency and find that application of the breathing techniques they learn in the course may help them to overcome symptoms. Symptom improvement and medication reduction have been demonstrated in published Buteyko studies.
What is asthma? According to Professor Konstantin Buteyko's theory, asthma is not a disease; it is a collection of symptoms, which may include bronchoconstriction, inflammation of the bronchial airways and excess mucous.
Why do these symptoms occur? Many people who get asthma will recognise these scenarios.
- You are running late for an appointment. You start to feel anxious. Your pulse rate rises. You huff and puff your way to the top of the stairs. You arrive at your destination breathless and tight chested.
- A child's birthday party. A bag of balloons. You look around for ANYONE else who will blow them up for you because you know that if you attempt it you will have asthma in no time.
- You arrive at the doctor's office for an appointment. You are asked to perform three Peak Flows. You blow as hard and fast as you can into the tube. An unpleasant experience. He asks you to repeat the test. This time you start coughing. You repeat the test for the third time. Your chest feels tight; you are breathless and feel exhausted.
Each of the three scenarios outlined above involve a change in breathing pattern with a sharp increase in the rate and/or depth of breathing. This is called hyperventilation. Put simply - breathing more than the body requires for the current level of 'metabolic' activity. When this occurs it causes an imbalance in the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide within the lungs and blood. If the level of carbon dioxide becomes too low it is called 'hypocapnia'.
Why does it matter if we breathe out too much carbon dioxide?
There is an optimal level of carbon dioxide which our body needs for optimal functioning. A deficit of carbon dioxide in the body may result in a range of symptoms.
- Carbon dioxide is a natural smooth muscle dilator or relaxant. When we have too little carbon dioxide, smooth muscle may go into spasm. Smooth muscle is wrapped around the bronchioles in the lungs and arterial blood vessels. Constriction of smooth muscles lining the bronchioles may produce the chest tightness of asthma. Constriction of smooth muscle in arterial walls may contribute to hypertension (high blood pressure), angina and conditions resulting from reduced circulation.
- Less oxygen is released from the blood to the cells and tissues (Bohr Effect and the Oxy-Haemoglobin Dissociation Curve). This can be experienced as breathlessness.
- Mast cells, responsible for part of our immune response, may become super-sensitive to perceived allergens, releasing increased amounts of histamine, producing inflammation.
- Over-breathing may dry out the airways possibly leading to inflammation and increased mucous formation
How can the Buteyko Institute Method of breathing training help?
The BIM aims to assist people to normalise their breathing pattern. When the breathing pattern stabilises and the breathing rate returns to a more normal level, a range of body functions may improve as breathing becomes more efficient. Smooth muscle around the airways may relax and oxygen delivery to the cells may be optimised. In addition, histamine and mucous production may reduce, helping to reduce inflammation of the airways.
With instruction in the BIM, many clients learn to alleviate most asthma symptoms using the breathing exercises. This may enable a reduction in bronchodilator usage (reliever puffers such as Ventolin). Asthma management may be improved as fewer symptoms are experienced and therefore less medication is required for optimal control.