How much to exercise?: Structure of the program of Buteyko breathing exercises

When Buteyko wrote his first manuals with the description of the method for medical doctors, he suggested 3-4 hours of breathing exercises every day. This was the amount of training that he and his colleagues recommended to their patients. Many of these patients were hospitalised and, therefore, had a lot of time and, in most cases, a strong desire to practice. Patients, who followed this rigorous program of breathing retraining, experienced quick and dramatic health improvements. In a typical situation, a former patient with numerous hospitalizations and using various medications in 3-6 months could jog and exercise rigorously while breathing through the nose, climb 5-7 floors up with mouth closed and no signs of the disease that kept him crippled for years.
What about those people who have little time but still want to learn the method? In other words, what is the minimum amount of daily practice so that there are positive changes in the right direction (breathing less)? The student should spend about 1 hour per day for breathing exercises in order to experience gradual improvements in breathing. (That has been my requirement for many years, when I teach groups. Note due to strict adherence to positive lifestyle changes, my students usually get 3-5 s CP growth in 1 week time. With the use of the DIY breathing device, they get up to 6-8 s CP increase in a week, while practicing less than 1 hour.) One session lasts about 15-20 minutes. Hence, 3-4 sessions should be done every day. Have no more than 1 breathing session every hour. Personal persistence and self-discipline are the main tools for progress. It was not accidental that the Buteyko method was called in the USSR “wilful liquidation of deep breathing” emphasising the will power. (Some Russian patients invented the other, grotesque name “the Siberian method of self-suffocation”.)

Severely sick students, as practice shows, are the most diligent students. However, most people on the West used and use a mild approach with 3-4 sessions per day that is easy and stress-free.

As during any learning process, expectations and standards established by the teacher are other important factors for progress. This also relates to the ability of the student to practice with no fear more intensively (more time and with stronger air hunger) without any negative effects.

Day-after-day progress in breathing retraining

Breathing remains easier and the CP higher for some hours after the session. Later, the influence of other factors (stress, meals, lack of physical activity, poor posture, etc.) will make breathing heavier and reduce the CP. However, the student does another session and the process of breathing retraining continues. This process and the dynamic of the CP, pulse and symptoms can be analyzed later.

Day after day, the CP usually does not increase steadily. During some days the CP can be lower than during the previous day. However, if the student does at least 3-4 short sessions every day (about 1 hour in total), the CP will improve by at least 2-3 s in a week time. Severely sick people and those who are very motivated often can do one breathing session every hour.

As another good alternative, the student can practice the RB all the time while awake. Such a student can progress up to 5-10 s CP per week or even faster. This linear progress usually takes place until the student reaches 40 s CP. This is a very important threshold. The further progress relates to Level 3.

There are even more severe restrictions, in respect to air hunger, that are required for some people with, for example, loss of CO2 sensitivity, sleep apnoea and heart disease. Their safest exercises are relaxation, progressive relaxation of the body and relaxation of the diaphragm without any voluntary changes in breathing and with no air hunger. Later, when the CP is about 20 - 25 s, even previously severely sick people, can do the CP and practice the RB with air hunger and no unpleasant effects.

Gradualism – an approach to learning air hunger

When the novice starts to practice, it is important to understand that breath holds and any air hunger, in the lives of many people, are associated in the brain with extra-ordinary situations (e.g., suffocation or drowning). Hence, the mind, instead of getting alarmed, needs to learn how to accept breath holds and air hunger positively. This task is solved faster and easier, if the level of air hunger for first breathing sessions is so light that the muscles of the body can be totally relaxed.

Later, after many sessions, the nervous system will learn that there is no danger in breath holds and air hunger. Then the student can practice longer breath holds (extended pauses and maximum pauses) and comfortably accept intensive sessions with moderate and strong air hunger, if he or she found them more effective.

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