Buteyko Breathing: A Guide to Better Breathing, Sleep, & More

Practice
December 22, 2021

Many breathworkers might be most familiar with ancient Pranayama breathwork exercises. However, there are also modern techniques that offer a variety of benefits. One of these is the Buteyko Method.

If you’re wanting to learn more about Buteyko breathing and how it can improve your life, this guide will help you explore everything you need to know in the following sections: 

  • Introduction to Buteyko breathing
  • Top 6 Buteyko breathing benefits to restore your health
  • Buteyko vs. Wim Hof vs. Pranayama breathing techniques
  • Buteyko breathing method: how to do it
  • 4 Buteyko breathing techniques & exercises you should try
  • 4 best Buteyko breathing apps to help get you started
  • 12 resources to learn more about the Buteyko breathing technique

Before we start learning how to do it, let’s answer the question: “what is Buteyko breathing?”

We should also mention that Buteyko is a rather advanced breathwork technique. So if you’re brand new to breathwork, we recommend that you check out our beginner’s guide to breathwork first.

Introduction to Buteyko breathing 

A person using a sound bowl outdoors

Before you can fully benefit from the technique, you have to be able to answer “what is Buteyko?” This section will cover the basics you need to know about Buteyko breathing.

What is Buteyko breathing?

The Buteyko Method is a breathing technique created in 1952 by Dr. Konstantin Buteyko of Russia. Its goal is to help people develop healthier breathing patterns. It gained popularity in Australia and the UK in the early 1990s, and continues to be used today to treat various respiratory and neurological issues.

Common Buteyko side effects

Buteyko side effects are possible, though temporary. In general, the practice is relatively safe for healthy individuals. Still, these are some of the most common Buteyko breathing side effects:

  • Runny nose: Most common for those with asthma, and can last for a few weeks.
  • Excess mucus in the throat and airways: Allow the mucus to pass naturally and avoid forcing it out.
  • Headache: Could appear following the practice, and should only be slight.
  • Diarrhoea: Might result from the cleansing of the body once a user begins a regular practice, but should only last a few days.
  • Nausea: Also a possible result of the body adjusting to the practice, and should subside rather quickly.
  • Tiredness: Some might feel more tired than usual and experience increased yawning.
  • Mild depression: Might experience a slight change in mood for a few days.
  • Flu-like symptoms: Possible to experience as the breathing practice begins to improve the body’s systems.
  • Insomnia: Might occur as one adjusts to Buteyko’s effects on the brain.
  • Bad taste in the mouth: Could occur as a result of chemical changes throughout the body, but will only last a few days.
  • Foamy saliva: Can temporarily occur as the lungs are cleansed.
  • Colored urine: Might experience green, red, or dark urine as the body begins to detoxify itself.
  • Loss of appetite: Can be caused by the practice’s effects on the digestive system, but should subside.
  • General feeling of being unwell: It’s normal to feel off for a few days as the body is adjusting to the effects of a new routine.

Does Buteyko breathing work?

So, does Buteyko breathing work? Yes! Exercises belonging to this method prioritize the use of nasal breathing, which helps make better use of the respiratory system. Regular practice will help to achieve noticeable changes for overall wellness over time, including easier breathing and better sleep.

Top 6 Buteyko breathing benefits to restore your health

As stated, Buteyko breathing benefits many who practice it regularly. Here are some of the top Buteyko benefits that can be gained:

1. Improves breathing

A woman blowing dandelion seeds in front of water

In general, practicing Buteyko breathing techniques can help to correct your breathing patterns and improve your respiratory health. Given that the exercises tend to prioritize nose breathing, practicing them can help improve your lung function while relaxing your body. 

A 2018 study found that young adults who practiced Buteyko immediately saw positive effects in their cardio-respiratory health. These included favorable effects on heart rate, blood pressure, and perceived exertion.

2. Relieves anxiety

Several people have claimed “Buteyko cured my anxiety” after practicing it regularly. Like all forms of breathwork, using Buteyko for anxiety can be extremely helpful. This is because it promotes relaxation through its use of slow, deep breathing. When practicing the technique during times of stress, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated and calms the body’s stress response. This allows the body to feel safe and the mind to experience a calmer state.

3. Reduces asthma symptoms

Over the years, many people have practiced Buteyko breathing for asthma. This is because patients with asthma have been able to improve their quality of life after learning and following a Buteyko practice. A study published in 2008 determined that many participants were able to better manage their asthma 6 months after first participating in a controlled trial. This included an increase in breath control and a decrease in corticosteroid use.

4. Improves sleep

Two people lying down on the ground

Using Buteyko breathwork to improve sleep has also proven effective for many people, as it has been able to help them relax and fall asleep. The Buteyko breathing technique also helps to relieve sleep apnea, snoring, insomnia, and other conditions that prevent people from sleeping properly. A study published in 2020 determined that using Buteyko for breathing retraining can reduce instances of sleep apnea, demonstrating the technique’s effectiveness.

5. Relieves COPD

It’s also possible to use Buteyko breathing exercises for COPD. Buteyko and COPD appear to have a close connection, as changes in breathing can help to open up obstructed airways. A controlled study published in 2019 found that using Buteyko breathing for COPD was able to improve pulmonary function at a greater rate than the pursed-lip breathing exercise. This shows that Buteyko breathwork is a highly effective treatment for patients with COPD.

6. Relieves symptoms of depression

Like with stress and anxiety, Buteyko can relieve symptoms of depression with regular practice. A 2018 study determined that controlled breathing exercises are able to help improve mood, which includes reduced symptoms of depression. This is due to the positive psychological effects caused by deep breathing.

Buteyko vs. Wim Hof vs. Pranayama breathing techniques

Buteyko is one of the most popular forms of breathwork practiced, often being compared to the Wim Hof technique and Pranayama breathing exercises. The table below will help you compare Buteyko vs. Wim Hof and Buteyko breathing vs. Pranayama.

Breathing technique Buteyko Wim Hof Pranayama
Description A modern breathwork technique with a focus on nasal breathing for improving respiratory and neurological health. A modern breathwork technique designed to increase oxygen intake to improve the body’s physiological and chemical activity. An ancient breathwork practice with a variety of exercises for improving physical and mental health.
Benefits
  • Improved breathing
  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Relieves symptoms of asthma and COPD
  • Improves sleep
  • Improves mood
  • Reduced stress
  • Faster recovery from physical exertion
  • Improved sleep
  • Increased endurance
  • Increased creativity
  • Improved focus
  • Boosts immunity
  • Relieves stress and anxiety
  • Improves sleep
  • Promotes relaxation
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improves breathing
  • Improves focus
  • Helps manage addiction
  • Improves mood
Risks Not recommended for anyone with hypertension, heart disease, epilepsy, or a serious medical condition. Not recommended for people who are pregnant or who have a history of seizures, respiratory conditions, stroke, or high/low blood pressure. Not recommended for those who are pregnant, have had a recent injury, have recently had surgery, or have a serious medical condition.

Buteyko breathing method: how to do it

A man practicing breathwork within the waves

Now that you know what Buteyko is, you’re ready to learn how to do it. Follow the Buteyko steps and tips in this section to begin your practice.

Buteyko breathing steps

Establishing a regular Buteyko breathwork practice can seem overwhelming at first, but it will all come together over time. Here are some Buteyko breathing steps you can follow at the beginning of your practice:

Preparation:

  1. Sit up straight on a chair, keeping your spine straight.
  2. Try to relax your respiration muscles.
  3. Spend a few minutes breathing normally.
  4. Follow the instructions for the Buteyko breathing Control Pause (for beginners) or the Maximum Pause (for those with more practice).

Control Pause:

  1. After your last exhale, hold your breath.
  2. Plug your nose using your index finger and thumb.
  3. Try to hold your breath until you feel the urge to breathe, then let go of your nose and inhale.
  4. Breathe as you normally would for 10 seconds.
  5. Repeat these steps as many times as desired.

Maximum Pause:

  1. After your last exhale, hold your breath.
  2. Plug your nose using your index finger and thumb.
  3. Try to hold your breath for as long as possible, aiming for around double the length of the Control Pause.
  4. Once you begin to feel uncomfortable, let go of your nose and allow yourself to inhale.
  5. Breathe as you normally would for 10 seconds.
  6. Repeat these steps as many times as desired.

When to practice the Buteyko breathing technique 

This technique is best practiced any time before eating, or at least two hours after you’ve eaten. You can also try using it to help you relax any time you’re feeling anxious. Be sure to opt for a place and time that’s quiet and distraction-free and has a comfortable temperature.

Tips for beginners

  • Unless otherwise stated, always breathe through your nose.
  • Stop your practice and resume your normal breathing immediately if you begin to experience shortness of breath, anxiety, and/or a strong sense of discomfort.
  • Always start small, i.e. with the recommended lengths for your inhales, exhales, and breath holds. Over time, you might find you’re able to increase the length of your breath intervals.
  • Watch a guided Buteyko breathing video, download an app, or attend a virtual or in-person class. This will help you best learn and practice the techniques when you’re just starting out.
  • Stick to planned Buteyko breathing sessions – setting reminders if necessary – so you can work towards making your practice a habit.
  • If you have any health concerns, consult your doctor before beginning a regular breathing practice.

Try it now: 10-minute controlled relaxation video

Watching a Buteyko breathing exercises video is a great way for beginners to start practicing. If you’d like some help, follow along with our 10-minute guided Buteyko breathing method video for controlled relaxation:


For more guided breathwork sessions like this, check out the Othership app and sign up for a 7-day free trial.

4 Buteyko breathing techniques & exercises you should try

A woman practicing breathwork in a living area

So what are Buteyko breathing exercises? These are techniques that can be used as part of your practice to address various concerns while improving your breathing. These are some Buteyko exercises you can start using today.

1. Buteyko nose unblocking technique

The Buteyko nose unblocking technique, also called the Buteyko nose clearing exercise, is used primarily to improve nasal breathing. It’s designed to increase the blood’s carbon dioxide levels, which helps open up the nasal passages. This exercise can show results in as little as 5 minutes, and is approved for use by children and adults.

Steps:

  1. Sit up straight in your chair.
  2. Try to normalize your breathing.
  3. Inhale through your nose for a count of 2, then exhale through your nose for a count of 3. If you can’t breathe through your nose, take a tiny breath in through the corner of your mouth.
  4. Pinch your nose and hold your breath while gently nodding your head or swaying your body. Do this until you feel a strong need to breathe.
  5. Let go of your nose and gently inhale and exhale through it, keeping your mouth closed. Focus on relaxing while taking natural breaths.
  6. Repeat these steps until your nose is completely unblocked, waiting 1 minute between each cycle.

Benefits:

  • Improves nasal breathing
  • Increases CO2 tolerance
  • Decreases nasal congestion and inflammation

2. Buteyko mouth taping

Buteyko mouth taping is a technique designed to help people adjust to nose breathing instead of mouth breathing. This technique is most often performed at night to help improve sleep, but can also be practiced during the day. It can also treat many conditions that negatively affect sleep.

Steps:

  1. While upright, apply your tape over your mouth (either Myotape or 3M medical grade tape). If you’re completely taping over your mouth, consider applying Vaseline beforehand and creating a folded corner in the tape. This is to help you easily peel back and reapply the tape during the night, if needed.
  2. Take a few minutes to adjust to nose breathing before lying down.
  3. Once feeling relaxed, allow yourself to fall asleep.
  4. You can remove your tape when you wake up first thing in the morning.
  5. Do not try to sleep with tape over your mouth if you struggle to relax. If this happens, practice nasal breathing awareness and/or try taping your mouth during the day to help you adjust.

Benefits:

  • Helps stop snoring
  • Improves sleep
  • Improves focus
  • Reduces symptoms of asthma and hay fever
  • Increases endurance
  • Improves dental health
  • Assists orthodontics and craniofacial development

3. Buteyko reduced breathing exercise

The Buteyko reduced breathing exercise is a technique you can use to gauge your breathing while also helping yourself relax. The exercise is designed to impact the amount of air that you inhale as a way of resetting your respiratory system. Despite the use of shallow breathing, the exercise tends to result in a relaxed state after practicing it.

Steps:

  1. Before you begin, check and record your pulse and your Control Pause time.
  2. Sit up straight in your chair, with your feet placed on the floor. Your head, shoulders, and hips should be aligned.
  3. Close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations of your breathing.
  4. Allow your entire body to relax.
  5. Place a finger under your nose to gauge the volume of air exhaled.
  6. Begin taking shallow breaths by immediately breathing in after feeling the air hit your finger for 3 to 5 minutes. If you begin to gasp, slow down your breathing.
  7. Recheck your pulse and Control Pause time.
  8. Rest for a few minutes before repeating these steps. Aim to practice for 20 minutes, 4 times per day.

Benefits:

  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Improves breathing
  • Promotes relaxation
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Increase CO2 tolerance

4. Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as abdominal breathing or sometimes athlete breathing, is considered a Buteyko normal breathing exercise. Although it has been practiced for many years, this form of deep breathing is crucial to many exercises within the Buteyko Method. It’s also incredibly helpful for athletes looking to improve their physical performance.

Steps:

  1. Get into a comfortable position, either sitting up or lying down.
  2. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
  3. Inhale through your nose, feeling your stomach push against your hand as the air enters your body.
  4. Exhale through your nose, noticing how your stomach relaxes. Try to keep your chest still as you breathe in and out.
  5. Repeat these steps as many times as desired.

Benefits:

  • Improves breathing
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Lowers heart rate and blood pressure
  • Reduces oxygen demand
  • Promotes relaxation

4 best Buteyko breathing apps to help get you started

Those wanting to learn and practice more Buteyko breathing exercises regularly should consider using a breathwork app to help them do so. Here are our recommendations for the best Buteyko breathing apps.

1. Othership

Othership home screen

Othership is a breathwork app that offers a wide variety of guided breathwork sessions for connecting with oneself. It contains over 500 classes featuring a wide variety of breathwork techniques, including those belonging to the Buteyko method. This app makes it easy for anyone to improve their well-being while receiving guidance from top breathwork facilitators, as well as connecting with a global community.

Download it Now: Android | iOS

Cost:
7-day and 14-day free trials; subscriptions available for $17.99/month or $129.99/year.

2. Advanced Buteyko

Advanced Buteyko Level 1 exercise

The Advanced Buteyko app can help anyone who’s ready to practice advanced Buteyko breathing exercises. It contains 61 different levels to help users build their knowledge and skills. All levels are taught using easy-to-follow spoken instructions by certified instructors.

Download it Now: Android | iOS

Cost:
Free to start using.

3. ButeykoClinic

ButeykoClinic home screen

The official app of Buteyko Clinic International, ButeykoClinic is for adults and children looking to start a daily breathing practice. The app uses a video program to help first-timers learn and practice the techniques while feeling relaxed. It includes a few other features as well, like progress tracking and access to official resources.

Download it Now: Android | iOS

Cost:
Free



4. Insight Timer

Insight Timer home screen

Insight Timer is a meditation app that helps users address stress, anxiety, and more through daily practice. Its library includes a variety of meditations and other audio, including Buteyko breathing meditations, to help guide users to feel better. The app can be used by people of all experience levels, and features new meditations daily.

Download it Now: Android | iOS

Cost:
​​Free to access basic features; subscriptions available for $9.99/month or $59.99/year.

12 resources to learn more about the Buteyko breathing technique

If you want to learn more about the Buteyko breathing method, there are plenty of resources you can explore. Here are some Buteyko breathing books, videos, and courses to get you started.

Buteyko breathing books 

  1. Buteyko Clinic Method: Instruction Manual – Patrick McKeown’s step-by-step instructions for improving your life using various Buteyko breathing exercises.
  1. Sleep with Buteyko: Stop Snoring, Sleep Apnoea, and Insomnia – Another guide by Patrick McKeown, with a specific focus on using the Buteyko breathing technique for sleep apnea and other sleep-related problems.
  1. Close Your Mouth: Stop Asthma, Hay Fever and Nasal Congestion Permanently – Also by Patrick McKeown, this guide teaches Buteyko nose breathing techniques to treat asthma and other respiratory issues.
  1. Anxiety Free: Stop Worrying and Quieten the Mind – This Patrick McKeown-authored guide explores using the Buteyko method for anxiety while learning to live in the present and improve your health.

Buteyko breathing exercise videos

  1. Buteyko Breathing Exercises in 3 minutes by Patrick McKeown – Shared by Buteyko Clinic International, this video features a presentation given by Patrick McKeown where he instructs the audience how to use the Buteyko method for stress and relaxation.
  1. Buteyko Breathing Method For Reducing Anxiety & Calming Nervous System | Sterling Structural Therapy – A 3-minute guided video from Life 360 Summit that coaches viewers through a Buteyko breathing exercise.
  1. Breathing Exercises for Health | Buteyko Cupping Technique | TAKE A DEEP BREATH – An 11-minute guided video on using the Buteyko cupping technique for improving health.
  1. 4 Minute Breathing Exercise – A guided video featuring Mim Beim instructing how to practice the small breath holds technique.

Buteyko courses: online & in person

  1. Online Certificate in the Buteyko Clinic Method (CertBBM) – Buteyko Clinic International’s self-paced certification program for becoming a certified Breathing Instructor.
  1. Buteyko Retraining: Asthma, Anxiety, Snoring, Apnea, Buteyko – A Udemy course taught by Tracey Anderson Askew and Tess Graham on using Buteyko to address common health issues.
  1. Breathe Well Course for Adults – Mim Beim’s 4-hour masterclass on breathing for health, which can be taken online or in and around Australia.
  1. Steve Donald’s 5 Class Course – A series of 5 classes focusing on the healing power of Buteyko breathing, which can be taken virtually or in Toronto, Canada.



If you’re now ready to see how powerful Buteyko truly is, explore our class styles offered on the Othership app.