Buteyko Reduced (Shallow) Breathing Exercise
Shallow Breathing with Light Air Hunger
Warning. Buteyko exercises and air hunger (shortage of air) can cause serious GI problems and damage to the GI tract if you practice your breathing sessions with solid food in the stomach. Therefore, as for physical exercise, practice Buteyko breathing exercises only on empty stomach (water is acceptable).
Now you are able to consciously create and maintain light air hunger while
breathing using the diaphragm (or stomach) and you only relax it for exhalations.
Let us review the process of the RB (reduced breathing) in more detail.
If your CP is below 20 s, follow these instructions
To practice Buteyko reduced breathing exercise, instead of taking
a big and deep inhalation, take a slightly smaller inhalation
(only about 5-10% less than your usual inhalation) using the diaphragm and then
immediately relax all muscles, especially all breathing muscles. Then
immediately, repeat the same: take a (smaller) inhalation and again completely relax.
The blue line in this picture shows the pattern of RB
(reduced breathing) for low CPs (less
than 20 s). The black line is your breathing pattern before the exercise.
In 2-3 minutes you will experience light air hunger (or light desire to
breathe more). Your goal is to preserve this light comfortable level of air
hunger for about 5 minutes.
It is normal that breathing is frequent during your reduced or shallow
breathing. The crucial thing is that you breathe less, your inhalations are less
deep, and you are relaxed.
If your CP is 20 s or more, follow these instructions
If one’s CP is above 20 s, then the pattern of RB (reduced breathing) is
usually different. Why? Because usual breathing, while resting or sleeping, is
also different. For example, if a student's CP is about 30 s, the student is
likely to have short automatic pauses (about 1 s) or total relaxation (no
breathing) after exhalations. These automatic pauses are individual and also
depend on the student's personal CP. The higher the CP, the longer the automatic
pause. (It is easy to compare presence and different durations of automatic
pauses on the diagram, which has all 4 types of
regular breathing patterns together.) The presence of longer automatic
pauses is a sign of better health.
While practicing the Buteyko reduced breathing exercise,
the students with higher CPs (over 20 s) not only
slightly reduce their inhalations but, in addition, they can have short periods
of total relaxation with no breathing.
This figure shows reduced breathing when the CP is about 25 s: first,
inhalations are smaller than the original ones (black line); second, the
durations of exhalations and pauses of total relaxation are longer. Hence, you
breathe slightly less air and also slightly slower.
The 20 s CP threshold also separates relatively healthy people with over
20 s CP who have an automatic pause (even during automatic breathing) and
sick people with less than 20 s CP who do not have this automatic pause.
What should you do during the reduced breathing
The Buteyko reduced breathing exercise should cause
light shortage of air (air hunger) in about 2-3 minutes.
It requires some experimentation from the student to find out the depth of
inhalations and durations of automatic pauses (no breathing).
For example, with about 20 s CP, one’s RB probably does not require any
pauses. Each subsequent inhalation immediately follows the previous exhalation,
as described in the previous section.
If your CP is about 30 s, you can take a smaller inhale, relax for the
exhalation and can enjoy total relaxation for about 2-3 seconds (no breathing
movements). Then this cycle is repeated again and again, until the student gets
slight air hunger. Once the right pattern is found (so that you can maintain
light air hunger for 5-10 minutes or more), do mental counting (e.g., “one, two,
three”) for automatic pauses after each exhalation. The structure of your
breathing can be presented in words:
“Inhale – Relax all muscles – One, two, three (total rest) –
Inhale – Relax all muscles – One, two, three (total rest) –
Inhale – Relax all muscles – One, two, three (total rest) –
Inhale – Relax all muscles – One, two, three (total rest) – …”
When the CP gets larger, the durations of automatic pauses at rest and during
this exercise are also increased. For
example, with 40 s CP, the student can usually have about a 5-6 s automatic pause
after each exhalation during the whole RB period, with 60 s CP having about 10 s for
total relaxation, and so forth. Mental counting is
useful, but not necessary.
Your next step (for any CP): practice the RB for about 5 minutes
When you practice the Buteyko reduced breathing exercise for 1-2 minutes, you should get a light feeling of
air hunger (you want to breathe more but resist the desire and teach your own body to
have lighter breathing). The key of the exercise is to maintain this shallow,
diaphragmatic breathing pattern for about 5 minutes with relaxation of all
muscles and a light hunger for air.
Another practical suggestion, which was emphasized by Dr. Buteyko, is that
under no circumstances should you, have large deep inhalations or quick
exhalations during the RB. Breathing, especially exhalations, should be under
full control and totally relaxed. You do nothing for exhalation, just relax all
Every time you get a desire to take a deep breath by chest expansion, calmly
and consistently relax all muscles, especially chest-shoulders-neck-jaw muscles,
and continue to breathe less using the diaphragm.
The level of air hunger during the RB session should be light and
comfortable, no more than at the end of the CP, (it is felt, but comfortable
enough and easy to tolerate). During the first breathing sessions this sensation
of air hunger is unusual and, for some people, unpleasant. However,
after realizing the relaxing and inspiring effects of first sessions, these
unpleasant effects disappear.
If you breathe too little
Occasionally, a student is so motivated to breathe less that they start to
breathe too little, e.g., 2 or 3 times less than before the Buteyko reduced breathing exercise. This may be
possible for about 2-3 minutes only. But the body automatically adjusts to any level of
breathing. Hence, later the degree of biochemical stress for the body can be so
high, that it will be impossible to suppress very deep and heavy gasps for air.
Hence, again, keep the level of air hunger light and comfortable.
How Dr. Buteyko described the essence of the RB
The manual written by Dr. Buteyko (Buteyko, 1991), suggests that in order to remember the
essence of the Buteyko method (shallow or reduced breathing), one can use
the rule of "The left hand". “This rule contains 5 points (5 fingers,
starting from the thumb):
2. the depth
3. of breathing
4. by relaxation of the diaphragm
5. till the sense of air shortage” (Buteyko, 1991).
The last point, according to Dr. Buteyko, is the most difficult to learn.
In other words, take smaller diaphragmatic inhalations with relaxed exhalations
and a sensation of light air hunger.
Note that the frequency of breathing is not important in the Buteyko method.
Breathing less with the relaxed diaphragm is the key. Buteyko breathing
consists of a shallow, low-volume voluntary breathing pattern.
Review of the main factors
In short, the main factors of the Buteyko reduced breathing exercise are:
- smaller inhalations using the diaphragm only;
- passive and relaxed exhalations (without any efforts applied, all muscles are
just relaxed during exhalations);
- light air hunger;
- thorough relaxation of all body muscles;
- correct body posture;
- comfortably cool environment;
- good air quality;
- empty stomach (water is OK);
- nasal breathing only and no speaking.
Each of these conditions is crucial for success.
What you would feel during and after correct RB
If you breathe less, during the RB period, you will notice the following
- The arms and feet will get warm in about 2-3 minutes after starting the RB
(this is the central and most important sign present in over 90% students who
practice it correctly).
- The nasal passages will be clearer (especially when the nose was partly
- The nose will often become moist and cold in about the same 2-3 minutes.
(However, this effect will not take place, if air quality is unsuitable for you
or if you have chronic problems with sinuses and nasal breathing.)
- The diaphragm will become slightly tense and unsettled. Indeed, if you breathe
less, your breathing center tries to intensify respiration, while you are doing
the opposite job: teaching the breathing center how to breathe less.
There are many other individual and occasional signs and symptoms indicating
that the student is breathing less:
- tears in the eyes;
- increased salivation;
- restoration of the muscular tone of the transverse colon and stomach leading
to the natural desire to sit straight;
- the desire to flex and stretch arms (especially after the session);
- feeling of increased energy (or feeling of being charged);
- feeling of being focused (instead of confused and indecisive);
- reduced hunger for food, addictive substances, etc.
You may have some of these additional symptoms or none of them.
Durations of sessions and total breathwork periods are here:
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