The control pause or CP is the cornerstone of the Buteyko breathing method. Buteyko determined that just by measuring your CP and pulse, you could tell the state of your health. He created a table of Health Zones based on his analysis of hundreds of people both sick (some severely so) and healthy. What the CP is measuring is the amount of CO2 in your lungs because it is this level that drives your need to breathe. The more CO2 you have, the longer your CP.
To perform a CP, you simply take a normal breath in, a normal breath out, close your mouth and pinch your nose. At the first sign of discomfort, maybe a twinge from your diaphragm or a swallowing motion telling you to breathe, you let go. If you have held your breath just the right length of time, you should be able to continue with normal breathing. If you gulp for air, or have several heavy breaths before being able to calm your breathing down again, you have held it too long. There should be no stress when doing this measurement.
If your CP is 40s or above, you are in excellent health! 40s is the norm recognized by doctors everywhere (12 breaths/minute, 41 mmHg CO2 in the aveoli, 70 beats/minute pulse and you have an automatic pause in your breathing which I will explain shortly). In the 20 to 30s range, where most modern people fall, you might not be taking any medications, but you probably do have problems with things like arthritis, IBD, pre-diabetes, and so on. In the 10 to 20s range, disease is present but stable. For asthma sufferers, that means that any trigger can set off an attack. You are most likely on medications for your symptoms. There is no automatic pause. As soon as you finish one breath, you start another. Finally, at 10s or below, you are seriously ill. You breathe 26 times/minute and your pulse may be above 90 beats/minute. Below 5s, you are terminally ill.
Now Buteyko was talking about your breathing when at rest, not when exercising or moving about. Normal breathing should be light, slow, and almost imperceptible. A normal breath has a relatively quick inhale, maybe 2s, a slower, relaxing exhale, maybe 3s, and is followed by an automatic pause before the next inhale begins. This is a sweet moment when the body is truly at rest and it should happen with every breath. But when we are sick, we sometimes force our exhale so as to be able to quickly take in a new breath. There is no pause and our breathing is tense and heavy. We become chest breathers. This is hyperventilation. But paradoxically, the faster you breathe, the less oxygen gets into your cells and organs. If you are sitting or laying down, you should not be breathing 26 breaths/minute! Your heart should not be beating at 90 beats/minute.
Don't feel too bad if your CP is low. Mine dropped to 15s this winter when I was battling pneumonia and colds at the same time. The good news is you can bring it up to healthier levels and it was Buteyko's work that showed that just by doing this, you could improve your health. And by Buteyko's norms, you could bring your CP as high as 60s and even enter a state of super-health (like the yogi masters) with a CP up to 2 minutes or more.
What are the things that can increase your CP? Exercise, for one. In fact, exercise alone is all you need according to Buteyko. Our ancestors got more exercise than we do, and they naturally had lower breathing rates as this table shows. But if you are seriously ill, or even not so seriously ill, exercising may cause problems. One needs to be cautious so as not to make a condition worse. That's where various breathing techniques come into play. If you don't exercise, then you do need to practice reduced breathing. Other things you can do are to sleep on the left side (or tummy), keep your bedroom cool at night, (your breathing gets heavier when you are too warm), and eat less. (Many Buteyko practitioners recommend vegetarian food choices, but Buteyko himself was a meat eater. I am certainly not giving up my low-carb life-style!) And of course, always breathe through the nose.
In the next post, I'll share with you some of the things I have been doing to reduce my breathing.
I have taken most of the information in this posting from Dr. Artour Rakhimov's website and books on the Buteyko Method. Rakhimov is a PhD doctor not a medical doctor, but he did study with Buteyko's widow and being Russian himself, is able to translate Buteyko's papers and other studies done by his students into English for us. He is also the only one who takes Buteyko beyond being a cure just for asthma and breathing related problems. Buteyko himself treated people with heart disease as well as asthma. But Rakhimov does go to the extremes of the method, becoming almost ascetic in his recommendations (sleeping on the floor, cold showers, etc.). I don't recommend his DIY contraption, but I do highly recommend exploring his site if you want to know all the finer details of Buteyko's amazing research findings.