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Originally published October 25 2005

Combat childhood asthma naturally with the Buteyko breathing method

by Jessica Smith

Childhood asthma is fast becoming an epidemic in the United States. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, close to one in 13 schoolchildren have asthma, with the numbers of new diagnoses rising sharply since 1980. Close to 4.2 million children had asthma attacks in the last year. For parents, it can be a heartbreaking condition; one that means their child will have to endure sleepless nights and may not get the opportunity to participate in some of the great milestones of childhood, like summer camp, sleepovers and Little League.

As reported on, there are several things one can do to help reduce the symptoms of asthma, such as eliminating dairy products and drinking more water. But there's another method that many parents are now learning, called the Buteyko method. Pronounced Boo-TEY-Ko, this collection of daily breathing exercises has gained an enthusiastic following among parents of asthmatic children and even adults suffering from asthma.

Parents and patients can find more information about the Buteyko method online through sites like http://www.buteyko, which has recently posted results from an Australian clinical trial on the effectiveness of the method. Those interested in practicing the technique should consult with a practitioner. In some cities, practitioners run clinics that may be a couple of hours a week for a few weeks. One can also look for a doctor trained in the technique, such as Dr. Daniel Heller, a naturopath who traveled to Russia to learn the method.

Dr. Heller suggests the technique to patients he thinks can benefit from it and then teaches it to them over several visits. Though he went to Russia to learn the technique from some of the original practitioners (including Dr. Buteyko's wife), he says learning the method can be very simple for patients.

"With Chinese medicine, there are people who study it for 50 years and they're still grappling with complex issues. With Buteyko, it's very simple, so it's not like I know it better because I went to Moscow. It's all a matter of, you get the basics of it down, that's all there is to it," Heller said.

The history behind the Buteyko method also helps explain how it is performed. Ukrainian doctor Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko developed the technique 40 years ago. Based on the idea that asthma patients had an improper balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the body, Buteyko suggested that patients try using a series of shallower, nasal breaths with longer pauses between inhalation. The Buteyko method then uses a combination of different techniques to bring your breathing into balance.

"That's what the Buteyko method corrects: Over-ventilation of the lungs, and (Buteyko) said it results in asthma because the body has a defense mechanism against you over-breathing, and that is to narrow your airways, to try to get you to breathe less," said Dr. Heller. "(Buteyko) also said that it's the same thing with chronic nasal congestion; that your body's trying to get you to breathe less, that somehow the body doesn't realize you're just going to end up breathing through your mouth. But it blocks your nose and it's a defense mechanism of the body."

Patients who learn and perform the technique, which can be done anywhere, report a decrease in attacks and inhaler / medication use. Dr. Heller stresses, however, that the Buteyko technique should be part of one's asthma care routine and that patients should consult a naturopath before making any changes to their medication or lifestyle.

According to Dr. Heller, the Buteyko technique works especially well for children. "They have such a strong self-healing ability," he said. Children may need some help keeping up with the daily exercises, but that could be true of adults as well: "The hardest part of the Buteyko method is doing it and doing it consistently, because it's the kind of thing where it's three steps forward, two steps back because you do the exercises and you progress and the next time you do the exercises, you've lost most of the progress you've made. So the more you do the exercises, the better your results are."

And the results can be well worth it for patients who are able to learn and use the Buteyko method. Aside from the benefits above, asthma suffers can simply see an improvement in their quality of life.

Those interested in finding an instructor can visit, a website created by asthma patients who use the Buteyko method. The website includes basic information, clinical trial results and a directory of practitioners around the world.


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