The Buteyko method in South Africa


The Buteyko method is a system of breathing exercises that allows for better oxygenation by raising the body's tolerance to Carbon Dioxide (CO²). It is well known that CO² is an important catalyst for oxygen delivery and without the correct levels of CO², the body cannot achieve proper oxygenation. The Buteyko method works to encourage the respiratory centre of the brain to self-adjust and as the respiratory rate normalises, the exercises are no longer needed as often.

Russian Professor Konstantin Buteyko developed the  Buteyko method in 1954 and it has been used worldwide with excellent results. In the West, the Buteyko method is used primarily to treat asthma,  Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), sleep apnoea, panic and snoring, while in the former USSR it was primarily a first line of treatment for cardiac disorders, high blood pressure and strokes.

Western clinical trials of the Buteyko method show that asthmatics can reduce their symptoms by up to 75%. This in turn allows for a reduction of reliance on medication as the condition improves. In one of the first Western trials conducted in Brisbane's Mater Hospital, asthmatics were able to reduce their short acting bronchodilator (ventolin) medication by up to 96% within three months of following the programme. Their cortico-steroid controller use also dropped by up to 49% during the same period.

No side-effects

These astounding results were repeated in trials at New Zealand's Gisborne Hospital and at the UK's Glascow Infirmary in Scotland.  A similar trial was conducted at Canada's Calgary University by renowned respirologist Dr. Robert Cowie, who later remarked:"It (Buteyko) is just great...75% control is about as good as anyone has got in any study of asthma. The neat thing about it is that it has no side effects. It's very safe. The Buteyko technique certainly has been shown to be an important adjunct to treatment."

The Buteyko method was given a "B" rating by the British Thoracic Society, the highest recommendation that any complementary therapy has ever recieved. The rating enables the Buteyko method to be recommended by the UK's NHS doctors. Some of the famous personalities who have used the Buteyko method include HRH the Prince of Wales, and the All Blacks rugby star, Con Barrel.

The Buteyko method is a fairly simple programme conducted over four to five consecutive sessions of up to two hours each. It employs no devices, drugs, remedies or meditation techniques and is safe for both children and adults. It requires some perseverance at first, but the exercises are easily incorporated into everyday life, once properly understood and assimilated. The programme teaches several "measuring" techniques, first aid help, as well as Professor Buteyko's advice on posture, exercise, diet, speech and sleeping.

It is imperative that the Buteyko method be taught to clients by a properly trained practitioner. While Buteyko has no known side effects, it can be completely ineffective if not done correctly.

Breathing and lung disorders

Also, from a "Buteyko perspective", because the brain has plasticity and can be "trained" - any changes to the breathing can quickly become the norm. Therefore, incorrect breathing that becomes  fixed as the "normal" respiratory rate could potentially exacerbate any underlying conditions or lead to other health issues.

Asthmatics and people suffering from COPD and other breathing and lung disorders tend rely heavily on medication in order to maintain their health. Properly trained Buteyko practitioners do not advocate throwing away life saving medication and follow a specific programme to ensure that clients do not reduce medication without first having qualified and quantifiable improvements. All medication is adjusted only on advice and recommendation of the client's medical doctor.

The Buteyko method is so effective because it addresses the underlying cause of many chronic health conditions. By altering the respiratory rate and increasing tolerance to CO², the entire body benefits from improved oxygenation. The Buteyko method is considered by many health professionals to be, in the very least, an important adjunct to any asthma treatment.

About the author: Melody Mitchell is a qualified Buteyko practitioner who trained with senior practitioner trainer, Jennifer Stark. Melody teaches the Buteyko method at venues around the country in a four session programme which lasts two hours per session. For more information go to:

Read more:

Use deep breathing to relax
Breathing exercises help asthma
Your complete guide to asthma

Breathing, Shutterstock

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