Therapeutic Breathing Techniques Used to Heal Disease

By Sussanna Czeranko, ND 

Being sick is no fun. When we are unhealthy, we are constantly aware of our discomfort. When we get sick, getting the right treatment is as important as knowing what is wrong. However, if we are sick and we know that we are sick, it does not help to be told that our lab tests haven't indicated any signs of disease or serious health problems. It is frustrating to not feel well and not know where to turn to get better. 

We live at a time when technology dominates every part of our lives (including health and medicine) with increasing sophistication and expense. New machines and new super drugs inundate the landscape of healthcare. Indeed, much has been said about the shortcomings of our medical system. Its focus on disease and the impact of pharmaceutical and surgical side effects, as opposed to prevention, natural therapies and long term wellness, is such that many increasingly choose alternative approaches to get their health needs met. One such choice is healthy breathing.

One doesn't have to be a scientist to know that healthy breathing is important. Just talk to someone who has suffered an asthmatic episode. Breathing "right" makes all the difference to your health and a therapy called Buteyko Breathing, originating in Russia 50 years ago, can help you to do just that.  

Buteyko Breathing is the culmination of a lifetime of research and study by Russian medical scientist, Dr. Konstantin Buteyko, (1923-2003). Dr Buteyko was a true pioneer. He formulated breathing exercises that restore and retrain our breathing to a healthy pattern. His observations on respiratory functions parallel standard mainstream medicine and he used the same medical
paradigms to substantiate his methods and clinical outcomes. His colleagues did not initially accept his breathing theories and methods. In fact, as is often the case with pioneers, he was ridiculed and vilified by his peers. After years of perseverance, he lived to witness his breathing training officially recognized by the Russian government. It is on record that over 100,000 people benefited from his breathing therapy.

The interesting thing about Dr Buteyko is that he did not invent a new law or principle governing respiration or human physiology. Rather, Dr. Buteyko used existing data and theory commonly found in standard medical physiology texts and applied the information to create the basis of his therapy. Buteyko turned everything we knew about breathing upside down and inside out. People under stress or exposed to a stressful trigger, whether physiological or emotional, increase their breathing rate and breathe more than they need to. He spent five decades studying the impact of breathing on numerous ailments and through his methodical and meticulous scientific research Dr. Buteyko concluded that healthy breathing, without any other intervention, was curative for over 100 diseases.

Dr Buteyko made a simple observation that so many who preceded him failed to notice. For example, it is common knowledge that when asthmatics have an attack, their breathing is laboured, there is excessive mucous production, the muscles in their airways constrict, and the cells lining their bronchotubes swell, making it difficult for them to breathe. It goes unnoticed that asthmatics might be compensating for their lack of air sensations by breathing very fast.  In fact, asthmatics often will have a respiratory rate 2 to 3 times faster than normal. It is this observation that led Dr Buteyko to make his pivotal discovery — asthmatics breathe more than they need to and it is the biochemical changes in the body that result in asthmatic symptoms.

Breathing too much was the cause of asthma, according to Dr Buteyko. Breathing too fast is also known as hyperventilation. When people hyperventilate, they are breathing very fast. A healthy breathing pattern is a person breathing 8 to 12 breaths per minute. If we breathe more than this, we are probably breathing more than we need to.

Buteyko Breathing

The science that supports the notion that we are "breathing too much" is mired in common suppositions held by all that oxygen is precious. There is the general perception that we can't possibly breathe in enough air. As Buteyko pointed out, "the theory of deep breathing disease is based on the principles of physiology. However, our opponents holding higher positions in our medicine, are still not able to grasp the fundamental idea stating that deep breathing causes hypoxia". After all, oxygen is the bearer of life and carbon dioxide is a waste gas. Nothing could be further from the truth. In 1905, scientist J.B.S. Haldane discovered that carbon dioxide levels actually determine how we breathe.

Dr. Buteyko used a physiological precept called the Bohr Effect, which was discovered in the 19th century. The Bohr Effect illustrated the erroneous mindset that breathing more was ok. The Bohr Effect describes the relationship of hemoglobin and oxygen. Hemoglobin transports oxygen
throughout our bodies to all the cells. When carbon dioxide levels fall below a certain threshold, then hemoglobin interprets the low carbon dioxide as a sign that it needs to hold onto the oxygen that it is carrying. Thus, even though there is lots of oxygen in our bodies, the cells do not get
access to it. Consequently, we take in a deeper breath or increase our breathing which instead of alleviating the symptoms of breathlessness, aggravates and increases the bond between hemoglobin and oxygen. When the brain does not get oxygen, it panics and irritability presides.

Asthmatics will visit their family doctor or pulmonary specialist and rarely be instructed on how to improve their breathing. Breathing exercises seem too banal for mainstream medicine. Dr Buteyko taught his breathing exercises to asthmatics and they improved without the need for reliever medications or steroids. Those with asthma who practice the Buteyko method experience
sustained and immediate relief from their symptoms.

Since respiration affects every cell of our body, breathing correctly brings tremendous health benefits. Asthmatics and those with COPD and other conditions such as angina, anxiety, and panic disorders know only too well the panic and terror when they can't breathe, so they breathe faster. For those who experience stress, sleep apnea, snoring, anxiety, and headaches, changing their breathing to a healthy pattern will bring them into balance and back to health. The first step to improving our breathing is to develop awareness of how we breathe. Are you breathing with your nose or mouth, with your chest muscles or diaphragm? Watch how people around you breathe and you will be surprised that many primarily use their mouth. By breathing with your nose and thus reducing over breathing, you are taking a first key step toward respiratory health and positively impact your stress levels.

The Quick Breath Test

  1. When you take a deep breath, do you inflate your chest?
    2. Do you tire easily or wake up tired?
    3. Do you often feel that you are not getting full breath?
    4. Do you feel short of breath or breathless?
    5. Do you sigh often?
    6. Is your breathing mostly in your chest?
    7. Do you breathe with your mouth?
    8. Are your muscles often tense or sore to the touch?
    9. Do you experience queasy sensations in chest or stomach?
    10. Do you have excessive nasal mucus on waking?
    11. Do you snore and have problems with your sleep?
    12. Do you experience anxiety out of the blue?
    13. Do you suffer from headaches and mental fatigue?

    Ineffective breathing can cause all of these symptoms. All of them can disappear as you learn to restore your breathing to a healthy pattern. If you answered yes to any of these questions, you can gain significant benefits from learning the Buteyko Breathing Method.

Sussanna Czeranko, is a licensed ND in Saskatchewan.  Practicing since 1994, she has developed an extensive armamentarium of naturopathic tools and techniques for her patients.  Especially interested in balneotherapy, botanical medicine, breathing and nutrition, she is a frequent presenter and workshop leader. As the Curator of the Rare Books Collection at National University of Natural Medicine, she completed a twelve book series entitled In Their Own Words.  Sussanna is the founder of The Breathing Academy, a training institute for naturopaths to incorporate a scientific model of breathing therapy called Buteyko into their practice.  She currently lives and practices at her new medical spa located in Manitou Beach, Saskatchewan, Canada.


  • Eisenberg, D.M., Davis, R.B., Ettner, S.L., Appel, S., Wilkey, S., Van Rompay, M., & Kessler, R.   (1998).  Trends in alternative medicine use in the United States, 1990-1997.  JAMA.  280 (18), 1569-1575.
  • Frolov, Vladimir, ³Endogenous Respiration, Medicine from the Third Millenium², Dinamika Ltd, Novosibirsk, Russia, 2000.
  • Stalmatski, Alexander, ³Freedom from Asthma, the natural way to relieve asthma permanently², Kyle Cathie Limited, London, 1997.

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