Buteyko and Yoga breathing (Pranayama)

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Yoga   This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions coming from health-conscious Buteyko students  – What about Yoga breathing? Is it good for asthma? Is it in alignment with the Buteyko teaching? Can I practice Pranayama while trying to recover from my condition using the Buteyko Therapy?
To answer these questions, we’d first like to separate two aspects of Yoga – Yoga fitness and Yoga breathing (because they are often taught together).Yoga fitnessWe strongly encourage Butyeko students who are not already practicing Yoga to do so. Not only does it strengthen the body and improve flexibility thus eliminating many back, neck and other muscular-skeletal problems, but building core strength and good posture greatly assists Buteyko students to do breathing exercises correctly and more efficiently.  Good posture also allows a person to naturally sustain healthy diaphragmatic breathing because it allows for an effectively-opened abdominal area.  Back and core strength is a great aid in achieving the much-desired relaxation state during Reduced Breathing Practice, one of the most important Buteyko Breathing exercises. 

The same core strengthening could be accomplished with any Pilates-style workout, but the beauty of Yoga is that:

  1. it is probably the least-competitive physical activity, and any beginner can find their level and gradually build up
  2. it combines mild physical stress and relaxation, and emphasizes that both are equally important

Yoga fitness is very much in alignment with the Buteyko teaching, as it supports some of the core principals of Buteyko:

  • physical activity that gently pushes our body’s limits
  • reduced breathing practice (natural breath holds while holding postures )
  • reduced breathing  achieved naturally  through good posture and core strength
  • reduced breathing  because of effective relaxation techniques (e.g., strengthening  poses followed by relaxation poses)
  • reduced breathing  and deep relaxation  achieved through mind-body techniques such as meditation

Yoga breathing

Yoga evolved as a teaching quite a while ago. Breathing-wise, people at that time were a hundred times healthier than we are now. It is essentially our modern lifestyle that brought us to a state of chronic over-breathing and subsequent development of increasingly-emerging chronic health conditions.  Professor Buteyko, when asked about Yoga, suggested that some parts of its teachings might have been misinterpreted or distorted while being brought into modern society.  He stressed that Yoga masters trained themselves to hold their breath for minutes, and through that practice often attained a super-human state of body-mind awareness. They have been known to possess excellent health.

I am not expert enough to speculate on the topic, but to my knowledge, there is no solid evidence or studies on the effects of Pranayama breathing on our health. Whether Ujjayi pranayama (victory breath) or other Yoga breathing techniques have or don’t have any health benefits, it is likely that practicing them did no harm to people with healthy breathing (and even might have done some good). 

Because the Buteyko Method’s objective is to reduce our breathing volume, gradually pushing it to a maximum accepted by our body without too much stress, until healthy volumes are achieved, we aim to reduce or eliminate any activity that might make us to do otherwise.  So when we are working on reversing our condition with the Buteyko Method, we do not want to combine it with any other breathing techniques.  For that reason, we do not recommend our students who also participate in Yoga or workout classes, to follow any deep (big) breathing or forced breathing patterns suggested by their yoga/fitness instructors.

When breathing retraining takes a person out of the disease zone to an excellent health state, it is then that person’s choice to experiment with whatever breathing techniques they might like to try. At that level, a person pretty much owns their breathing and is in good control of their health.


One randomized, controlled study investigated and compared the effects of the Buteyko and Pranayama techniques in 69 patients with mild stable asthma (Cooper S, Oborne J, Newton S, et al.: Effect of two breathing exercises (Buteyko and Pranayama) in asthma: a randomized controlled trial. Thorax 2003, 58:674-679). The results showed significant improvement in asthma symptoms-reduction and bronchodilator use in the Buteyko group, as compared to zero progress in the Pranayama group.

I would like to point out again that, unlike the Butyeko Method, Pranayama has no scientifically-based researches or publications in the Western world, and very limited studies of health benefits. However, the Butyeko Method has a significant scientific basis, a number of clinical trials confirming its effectiveness, and years of successful treatment of respiratory patients.

Buteyko Clinic USA offers unique breathing rehabilitation programs that result in long term drug free control over asthma, allergies, COPD, rhinitis, chronic cough, snoring, sleep apnea, anxiety, panic, chronic hyperventilation syndrome and other chronic conditions. Contact us today for a free consultation.


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