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What is Eucapnic Breath Retraining?

By Matthew F.
Updated Feb 27, 2024
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Eucapnic breath retraining is a somatic therapy exercise to train the body into optimal breathing techniques. This method normalizes the levels of carbon dioxide in the body, compensating for the loss of carbon dioxide from over breathing, common among asthma sufferers. The word eucapnic combines the Greek words for “good” or “healthy” (eu), and carbon dioxide (capnic), and is a common approach and solution to many problems arising from asthma. Eucapnic breath retraining was developed by Russian Doctor K. P. Buteyko in the 1960s and is sometimes called the Buteyko Method.

Through eucapnic breath retraining, a person will refocus their breath patterns to a more natural state where carbon dioxide is utilized to optimize the intake of oxygen. With less carbon dioxide in the body and the bloodstream, oxygen is not as readily released to the cells of the vital organs like the heart, brains, lungs, and kidneys. The overbreathing practices common during exercise, or the hyperventilation experienced by those with asthma, release dangerous levels of carbon dioxide, and make normal breathing less than efficient and healthy.

The key of eucapnic breath retraining is forcing the brain to maintain the correct levels of both oxygen and carbon dioxide, which is not always corrected by deep breathing. Eucapnic breath retraining will help to increase a person’s tolerance to carbon dioxide intake. Many techniques, such as the most popular, called “Breath Following,” are similar to the focused breathing techniques of meditation or yoga. In “Breath Following” the patient sits with a straight and balanced spine, observing the natural pattern of breathing. Soon the breath training will naturally slow, at which point the breather focuses on the movement and breath that begins to arise from the belly, and the carbon dioxide levels slowly rise.

Eucapnic breath retraining focuses on small and gentle breaths through the nose. The diaphragm remains relaxed and posture and breath-holding are used to reinforce the ideas of natural breathing. A session can be done in 10-30 minutes, and can be practiced as many as a couple times a day, to varying weekly schedules, to trouble times when breath is short of unnatural. Eucapnic breath retraining was developed as a response to asthmatic over breathing techniques, and teaches the asthmatic to slow and minimize their breathing to allow for more carbon dioxide.

As a tool for somatic therapists, eucapnic breath retraining was first popularized in 1980 in Russia, where it had already been used at clinics across the country for 20 years. With a trial conducted in Moscow under the direction of the Government Committee for Science and Technology, eucapnic breath retraining showed that nearly 80 percent of children with severe asthma showed a positive response to the therapy, reducing asthma attacks and nasal mucus. Tests like these increased the use of eucapnic breath retraining among therapists around the world, and by the year 2000, the therapy had become popular across the United States and Europe.

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