Principles of the Buteyko Breathing Technique
Why Over-Breathing, or Hyperventilation, is a Problem
The underlying theory of the Buteyko Breathing Technique is that breathing too much destabilizes the balance between oxygen, which we breathe in, and carbon dioxide, which we breathe out. We've heard a lot about how important oxygen is, but not so much about carbon dioxide. In fact, carbon dioxide is a chief hormone that regulates all bodily functions either directly or indirectly.
Contrary to what we hear in the popular culture, we don't need to take deep breaths to get enough oxygen. There's 21% oxygen in the air we breathe in, and 16% oxygen remains in the outbreath. (That's why you can resuscitate someone in an emergency by breathing out into their mouth!) However the only carbon dioxide in our bodies is that which we produce organically. So if too much is exhaled, it is believed under the principles of the Buteyko Breathing Technique, we're in trouble.
The Bohr Effect
In the early 20th Century, Danish scientist Christian Bohr discovered that if too much carbon dioxide is exhaled, the blood becomes more alkaline than normal (technically called Respiratory Alkalosis). When that happens, hemoglobin -- the protein molecule in red-blood cells that carries oxygen -- becomes "stickier" and retains oxygen it's carrying rather than release it to the cells. That means even though your body has enough oxygen, it's not being delivered to power the cells, tissues and organ systems.
Buteyko Technique Goal: Reset the Respiratory Center
The respiratory center is located in our brain stems. It integrates sensory information about the level of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, and determines the signals to be sent to the respiratory muscles about when to take the next breath.
After a period of continual hyperventilation, carbon dioxide tension becomes chronically low and the respiratory center adapts to this low pressure, automatically increasing the breathing to maintain it. Just as the body adapts to an abnormally low pressure, it is capable of readjusting to the previous healthy pressure.
The Buteyko Breathing Technique is designed to teach people to automatically breathe less and more slowly, as a healthy person would, resulting in a resetting of the respiratory center, with users reporting a decrease in symptoms.
Important functions of Carbon Dioxide
Regulates breathing pattern
Controls blood flow to brain and extremities
Directs hemoglobin to release oxygen to cells
Helps maintain pH of blood and other bodily fluids
Regulates pH inside nerve cells
Facilitates message-sending by nerves
- Controls balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
"The theory of life, in brief, is such that carbon dioxide is the basic nutrition of every life form on Earth -- if it disappears there will be no life on Earth. It acts as the regulator of all functions in the organism; it maintains the internal environment of the organism; it is the vitamin of all vitamins."
-Dr. Konstantin Buteyko, taken from The Carbon Dioxide Syndrome by Jennifer & Russell Stark