The Buteyko “Control Pause”: mesure your health instantly

buteyko control pause - comic

We’ve seen in previous articles that we could probably be all undergoing some chronic hyperventilation: the more we breathe, and the less the body is properly oxygenated. We have also seen that the Buteyko method is one of the approaches that aims to correct this problem. Indeed, it highlights the fact that the respiratory rate is related to health, and thus encourages less breathing to for better health.

Konstantin Buteyko
Konstantin Buteyko

But first things first, how is your health? You feel tired, maybe suffering. But how much? This is what Konstantin Buteyko wanted to evaluate by inventing the “Control Pause”. This allows, in less than a minute, to measure one of the many facets of your state of health.

Note: The abbreviation CP (Control Pause) is often used.

The method

Take a normal breath (inhale + exhale), then, at the end of the exhalation, hold your breath and pinch your nose (so that the air does not escape). Then time the seconds until the first distinct sensation of air shortage. That’s it, you now know your CP!

control pause Buteyko - comic

Some more details

  • Do it while sitting and relaxed, ideally after 10 minutes of rest
  • When exhaling, do not expel more air than usual  (for example: we inhale quietly for three seconds, then expire quietly for two seconds)
  • The control pause is a measurement tool. It is not a breathing exercise that is supposed to improve your condition.
  • If you prefer not to pinch your nose, make sure no air escapes.
  • Stop timing when (the first of the two):
    • the desire to breathe becomes too strong
    • the diaphragm makes an uncontrolled movement
  • After the control pause, you must take a calm breath and avoid deep breaths. There should be no need to breathe deeply. Try not to lift the rib cage.

That’s it, you know the method. Easy, right? It is advised to do it after waking up, because the conditions are always the same, which allows a more stable comparison from one day to another.

Interpret your result

The understanding is simple: the higher your CP is, the better. However, there are some significant stages.

  • 10 and under: your health is severely affected
  • 10 to 20: you are probably suffering from a chronic illness, along with symptoms, such as: blocked nose, snoring, insomnia, coughing, short breath, asthma
  • 20 to 40: most symptoms are not there, but may occur following a triggering event
  • 40 and more: good health
Buteyko table: pulmonary ventilation criteria
Buteyko table linking CP to health status

interpretation of the control break buteyko - comic

Here are the factors that change as CP increases:

  • The respiratory volume decreases
  • The heart rate decreases (90 beats per minute for a CP of 10, less than 70 for a CP greater than 40)
  • The blood pressure decreases

The CP helps to evaluate the quality of sleep

If your CP is better in the evening than in the morning, it probably means that you hyperventilate during the night. It should be the other way around. Try to improve your sleep as best you can: avoid sleeping on your back (a position that encourages hyperventilation), or you can try to do a breathing exercise in the middle of the night to calm your breathing and recharge your CO2 levels.

control break in the morning - comic

How to improve the CP?

To increase your CP  (and therefore improve it) you must practice daily breathing exercises that aim to calm and slow the breathing.

I will give such exercises in a next article, so be patient!

In the meantime, here are the key points of the Buteyko method to keep in mind:

  1. reduce the breathing rate
  2. reduce the depth of the breaths
  3. relax
  4. use the diaphragm and not the ribcage
  5. feel a slight feeling of lack of air (provided you breathe freely through the diaphragm)

You should feel better every time you manage to increase your CP by 5. But sometimes your progression may slow down or stagnate for weeks or even months. Do not give up – your body may be undergoing profound changes! Do not forget to listen to your body as well: less stress? calmer? less breath issues? lower heart rate? better resistance to effort? It does count!

Between 20 and 40, you may start exercising in order to improve CP more effectively.

jogging - comic

Otherwise, below 20, be careful with physical activity: favor low intensities such as walking. Too much stress may amplify the mechanism of hyperventilation and can worsen health.

Your goal is to get a stable CP at 40 for 6 months. You would be in a good shape!

Factors influencing the CP

Many factors can slow down your progress:

  • Overweight and obesity
  • Poor management of stress
  • Infections and chronic diseases (damn!)

By having my father do the test (I tested the whole family!), I found that his CP seemed better than I expected, considering how little he can exercise. So I tried to understand why, and I found that beta-blockers can counteract the effects of hyperventilation1! I learn crazy stuff every day! Of course this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice breathing exercises, and improve your health in a more natural way (and maybe even try to go without beta-blockers in the long run…?).

Conclusion

Buteyko’s control pause is definitely a good way to quantify your state and progress. On the other hand, I don’t think you should make it an obsession either. Just like people who try to lose weight shouldn’t look at the scale every day.

In my humble opinion, it is important not to take CP too seriously. Listening to your body and relying on your feelings is usually a good enough indicator of whether you are going in the right direction. That being said, I use the CP  because it is very fast and it remains a good tool among others! I find it pretty cool to check how it is going to evolve in the long run!

My CP varies between morning and evening: around 18 in the morning and 23 in the evening. I will try to improve my nights, which is not the easiest part! And you? Leave your CP  in the comments, and tell me if you think that it corresponds to your health level or not!

  1. Beta-blocker therapy with metoprolol in the hyperventilation syndrome.

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