One asthmatic runner's Buteyko experience

As a long-term asthmatic & runner last year I decided to try the Buteyko breathing method to see if it is all it's cracked up to be. At the time I would have loved to have contacted other runners to ask of their experiences of Buteyko so I am posting mine now!

I had been feeling desperate because it got to the point that I could no longer run.

I paid £290 to go on a 4 day one-to-one course to learn the technique. You can buy videos and books but I'm not sure how difficult it would be to stick with it if you don't have an expert you can contact. The course will pay for itself as I no longer require a repeat prescription.

It does require dedication - I was doing 1.5hrs of breathing exercises a day (in 3 lots of 1/2 hr) for 3 months - but it really does offer a cure so that's a big incentive.

In the first few weeks I was also getting very wheezy at night which was really unpleasant - part of the treatment is that you have to tape your mouth up at night to force you to breathe through your nose but you often subconsciously rip the tape off in your sleep - and always wake up wheezy when you do that. You need perseverance to get through the difficult times.

It's taken a year but I can now run inhaler-free, and what a difference to my stamina. Also I'm not getting the lactic-acid build up and next-day stiffness after a longer run, I presume this is because I am getting a better oxygen supply to my legs.

I found that after a week of the breathing exercises I was just able to walk up my local hill (about 400ft climb) without using my inhaler (first time in my life) and after 3 months of the breathing exercises I felt comfortable backpacking and mountain biking. I kept trying my usual morning run of only 2.5 miles but it was always an uncomfortable struggle. So I stopped running hoping that my breathing would continue to improve and it was 5 months later when I felt able to start again. Last weekend I did a 9-mile run with about 500ft climbing. I know I can do more.

It's not just sport that is affected - I remember the woman who did my course saying "Eventually you'll be able to get through a cold and still breathe through your nose" and I was thinking to myself "Yeah right, she obviously doesn't get colds like me" but it's true, you can always unblock your nose.
Try this next time you are totally blocked up: breath normally in, then exhale, hold your breath and pinch your nose shut for 20 seconds or whatever you can manage. After 20 seconds your nose will have cleared - possibly only a very little if you have a bad cold, but all you need is a this point you then have to start breathing only small amounts - still through your nose (Buteyko calls it 'small-volume breathing')- to keep your nasal passages open.

Buteyko teaches that deep breathing is bad because you lose too much CO2.
The theory: CO2 is not a waste gas as commonly believed. The level of CO2 is directly related to the ease at which oxygen detaches from haemoglobin - if the CO2 level drops too far then oxygen is bound so tightly to the haemoglobin that it doesn't detach where it's needed e.g. in the muscles. The Buteyko method is all about maintaining the correct CO2 level. In an asthmatic this is done by learning to breathe less, which obviously you must do gradually over time.

I am amazed by the changes in my life, I no longer rely on drugs or dread catching flu in winter, no longer wake up wheezy, I can travel to remote areas without panicking about losing an inhaler. I just wish it had been around when I was a kid.

Don't leave it until you feel desperate to give it a go. I've spent most of the last year wondering whether it was really going to ever allow me to run inhaler free as the practioner had promised. Now I can run inhaler free I just want to share it with others thinking about trying Buteyko.


  • Interesting post, but I am very cynical about these things. Coincidentally, I am also asthmatic and since taking up running and exercising more in general, I've had virtually no colds and also no longer need to use inhalers except on very rare occasions, and I didn't need to go on a £290 course!
  • I thought buteyko was that thing Japanese blokes did with.........

    Actually, on second thoughts, never mind what I thought it was.
  • Kindly enlighten us ACW. Does it cause a change in breathing pattern?
  • Twinklemel:
    I was sceptical too before I tried it, that is why I wanted to share my experience and I have tried to give a balanced view including costs and effort involved.

    I wrote the post for the benefit of those others interested in trying Buteyko (which you obviously are not). If just one other person tries Buteyko as a result then it will have been worth all the typing.

    Not everyone is as lucky as you and can just 'run their asthma off'.
  • Podro:
    Yes, you end up breathing much less, much more calmly, quietly, but above all less i.e. less frequently and less volume.
  • God - that is one of my worst nightmares. I couldn't tape my mouth up! Apart from the fear factor, I can't breathe through my nose, even though I had an operation earlier this year to correct this, it unfortunately didn't work.

    The whole technique/course sounds interesting though.

    Have any of you tried a Powerbreathe?

  • Great that it worked for you, but just a pity that this is the only thing you've commented on.

    If you had a bit of history behind you, it may be a bit more credible.

    Maybe I'm too sceptical though. Please prove me wrong.
  • reads like advertising to me.....
  • Like I said in the first instance, a year ago this was the information I was searching the internet for, and that's why I posted it.

    There will be someone else like me out there who wants to know another runner's experience with Buteyko.

    I am not going to endorse any particular treatment centre, practicioner, book or video, so it's not advertising.

  • the only bit that you need to be skeptical about is paying nearly £500 to be told stuff that any self repecting GP could have told you anyway if only you'd asked

    Breathing exercises were taught as the norm when I was diagnosed with asthma back in 1960. All the stuff about breathing less and taking shallow breaths was de rigeur in those days. I got all my tuition on the national health.....

    Yes it does work if you persevere. Certainly did/does for me.

  • I went to a session to find out about buteyko a couple of years ago as I have very bad chronic asthma. The guy who did the talk was a total quack. He constantly rubbished 'conventional' treatments and promised that buteyko would cure everyone who actually did it properly. He also made one mother feel very guilty for giving her extremely asthmatic daughter steroids in any form, even inhalers. That totally put me off buteyko.

    The clincher for me was when this guy was using his own personal experience to show how well it worked. Apparently he had done the GNR just breathing through his nose with his mouth taped over. Then proceeded to say he had done it in a 'really fast time' of 2 hours 30 mins. All credit to him for doing it, but there is no way that you could say that 2:30 is a 'really fast time'. I've done the GNR in a really good time for me, around 2 hours, but there is no way on earth I'd say it was 'really fast'. Of course most of the other people in the room had no idea what a fast time actually is, so it convinced them.

    I'm all for alternative therapies, but not if they are going to promise things they can't offer and use emotional blackmail to get people to sign up. Maybe it was just this guy who was a quack, and there are other more sane practitioners, but I'll save my money thanks. It's great that you had a better experience of it than me, Els T.
  • In my experience GP's are only willing to prescribe more and more drugs.

    I have spoken to my GP about it but she's not interested and didn't offer any advice about breathing techniques.

    I was diagnosed with asthma in 1971, but was not given any advice about how to breathe or breathing exercises.

    So forgive me, but I have to disagree about being able to get this information from the NHS at the present time.

    The cost of the course was £290 but a lot of people could do it for less - I had to go away to another part of the country and do a residential one-to-one course cos there was nothing on offer in my area. There are group sessions available in some parts that cost a lot less.

    Eventually I hope it will be available to all on the NHS.
  • I've had a very different experience with my GP, well my practice nurse who deals with asthma. She has taken a huge amount of time with me to work out the best plan for my asthma. This included trying to reduce my inhalers and a lot of very interesting information about how to control my own asthma. I guess this just varies throughout the country.
  • I had no information given to me about breathing when I developed asthma, just steroids from the doc.

    Happily my asthma has almost completely disappeared now - something I put down to my having a less stressful job nowadays or not having a coal fire or not living near a brewery (?).
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