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Breathing easy with the Buteyko Method

Breathing easy with the Buteyko Method


Last updated at 16:31 16 July 2007

Having asthma is "pretty annoying", says William, aged 10, who has had the condition since he was six.

"It's stopped me doing things I wanted to, like playing football. Quite often, I had to come off the pitch because I couldn't breathe – it felt like when you run out of breath under water."

Colds invariably went to his chest so he usually had to go to hospital and take a range of drugs including steroids. Although effective, the steroids "made him bounce off the walls, which can't have been good for his recovery," says his mother Katherine.

This winter, however, William is much more optimistic about his chances on the pitch and his parents are less anxious about the effects of a virus because, in May, he learnt the Buteyko Method of nose-breathing exercises, which help sufferers control their asthma.

Developed in the 1950s by the late Professor Konstantin Buteyko, a Ukrainian physician, and used in several western countries over the last 20 years, the aim is to help the asthmatic reduce or eliminate the tendency to hyperventilate right at the start of an attack, diminishing the inflammation of the airways, which causes the symptoms.

According to GP Dr James Oliver, who is also a Buteyko practitioner, six trials outside Russia have shown its effectiveness. Two trials showed a significant reduction in steroid use: "It's a massive incentive for parents to control a child's asthma without chemicals," says William's father Ralph.

Dr James emphasises, however, that the Buteyko Method is not "anti-medication: it's entirely complementary to conventional medical therapy, although patients may need fewer drugs, which have potential side effects. It empowers people to help themselves, is virtually risk-free and low cost. It's a win-win situation."

What it does take is commitment. William did a four day course (the number of sessions varies, with an average of five) and then practised his breathing exercises three times daily for three months, until they came naturally. Now he only uses the exercises if he feels breathless or has a cold: he managed to knock a recent virus dead in its tracks before it reached his chest.

The most difficult things, he says, were learning to breathe through his nose (the golden rule of Buteyko), do shallow 'mouse' breathing, and to hold his breath at the end of an out breath.

"I couldn't do that at all at first, but now I can hold it for 45 seconds." His message to other children: "It's a bit tedious to learn but really worthwhile – especially since I got treats for doing my practise..."

Many adults testify to the Buteyko Method's efficacy too. One woman of 51 who had taken daily preventive drugs all her life told me she has used them less than half a dozen times in four years (although she always has them with her).

Patrick McKeown, 33, was a chronic asthmatic since childhood but freed himself of attacks by practising Buteyko and now runs Asthma Care Ireland, which helps people with natural approaches including diet and breathing.

Courses in the Buteyko Method cost from about £160, more information and a list of qualified practitioners from The Buteyko Breathing Association, tel: 01277 366906,

Asthma Free Naturally: Everything You Need to Know About Taking Control of Your Asthma by Patrick G McKeown, Harper Thorsons, £9.99. To have a copy delivered to your door postfree, contact the YOU bookshop on 0870 162 5006,

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