theory of life in brief, is such that carbon dioxide is the basic nutrition
of every life form on Earth – if it disappears, there will be
no life on Earth. It acts as the main regulator of all functions of
the organism; it is the main internal environment of the organism; it
is the vitamin of vitamins.’
For over fifty years now people have benefited from a method that is
spreading at a steady pace, but is still relatively unknown to the general
population. This method is the Buteyko Breathing Method, created by
the medical doctor of the same name, Professor Palovic Constantine Buteyko,
who died in a small flat in Moscow, in relative poverty.
During the many years that professor Buteyko pioneered his method in
Russia, he came up against stiff resistance from the general medical
institutions. His carbon dioxide and oxygen (the blood gases) theory
was seen as flawed and deemed to be of no use within allopathic medicine.
It was only after many years of painstaking work and several threats
to the professor’s life, that the method received its true recognition.
At the fall of the communist state when the money began to run out,
the powers that be, began to realise that if this method was as effective
as the findings were showing then this could be the very thing that
could help prevent the collapse of a very fragile health care structure
with little money to support it.
Professor Buteyko was the first to use the method on himself experimentally
for his high blood pressure, he had been advised by his own doctor that
it was unlikely that he would live much beyond 35 years of age, due
to his chronic hypertension, but Professor Buteyko felt that if his
experiment did not work, he would be the only one to suffer any possible
adverse effects. The method, of course, did work effectively and professor
Buteyko spent a further 45 years beyond his medically predicted end,
dedicated to developing his method and refining it, teaching his system
not only to many patients with a multitude of chronic conditions, including
conditions that general medicine had given up on as unknown diseases,
but also taught the method to many medical professionals and others
outside the realms of conventional allopathic treatment, who have come
to be known today as Buteyko Practitioners.
Shortly after the fall of the Communist state, and the fall of the Iron
curtain, the method found its tentative footing in the West, Professor
Buteyko had imagined that despite his struggles in his homeland, his
teachings would be received with a much warmer reception in the West.
This was however, a somewhat naïve view as his method was met with
the same blank wall of fear and scepticism that the medical institutions
of Russia had shown him to begin with. A breathing method that could
help hypertension and angina, let alone any other condition, was not
taken with any seriousness, despite the extensive research and patient
based evidence there was to support this ‘theory’.
This gave birth to a new form of health care support and education that
has come to be known today as the Buteyko Breathing Method. In the early
1990’s Alexander Stalmatski, a former patient and subsequent pupil
of Professor Buteyko’s, who had been dying of an unknown disease
in a Russian hospital, and had been totally ‘cured’ of this
strange condition, travelled to Australia to teach the method in an
endeavour to help the method gain a wider recognition. After the initial
disappointment of a virtually total rejection by the Medical profession
of Australia, Stalmatski started to teach the method to asthmatics with
great success. The reason the Buteyko Method was used mainly with this
particular condition in the West was because it worked so swiftly and
effectively with asthma, and also because it had fewer medical complications
than some of the other more serious and life threatening conditions
that the method was being used for in Russia.
This led directly to the method being commonly associated with asthma,
and the terms ‘Asthma Education’ and ‘Asthma Management’
have now become synonymous with the Buteyko Breathing Method. The first
Buteyko Practitioners to train under Stalmatski were some of his former
asthmatic clients that he had worked with on his arrival in Australia.
As the number of Buteyko Practitioners grew across Australia a few of
them established a governing body called the Buteyko Institute of Breathing
and Health (BIBH), which has now become the standardizing body for the
In Russia today all medical doctors are taught Professor Buteyko’s
theory and method as part of their medical training. The method is taught
to patients for the alleviation of a variety of chronic medical conditions
listing up to at least 150. The Buteyko Practitioners in Russia work
along side the medical doctors to teach the method to the doctor’s
patients and monitor their progress as the patient comes to a fuller
understanding of the exercises they are taught. Given the time restraints
on most doctors, this system works well as the teaching of the method
is time consuming and initially labour intensive, as it is imperative
that the patient has a full understanding of what they are doing with
the exercises before they can progress alone.
Buteyko’s theory is that at least 90% of the world’s population
hyperventilates1 to some degree; this causes a deficit in
the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the system, which in
turn leads to less oxygen (O2) being released by the haemoglobin
to the cells and tissue of the body, the Bohr Effect2. The
central organs of the body begin to become starved of oxygen and soon
begin to suffer; this in turn can lead to many chronic medical conditions.
Buteyko coined the term ‘Hidden Hyperventilation’ to describe
what is going on with most over-breathing patients, it is not that they
are more obviously suffering with Hyperventilation Syndrome (HVS), in
other words they are not always displaying the observable symptoms such
as deep and excessive breathing that are clearly noticeable with HVS,
yet their underlying condition is one of a long series of over-breathing
habits that are not altogether visible as HVS per se.
These habits begin with the more obvious such as simply mouth breathing
when it is unnecessary to do so, or sitting sedately relaxing; during
hobbies and pastimes that require little physical movement and other
placid activities, leading through a variety of habits, such as coughing,
sneezing, yawning, sighing, speaking and laughing. All of which, lead
to excessive long-term chronic hyperventilation (or hidden hyperventilation).
The Buteyko Breathing Method is specifically designed to reverse the
difficulties associated with hyperventilation and normalise the patients
breathing patterns through a series of simple exercises that can be
done by people of all ages from 5 years and upwards. In the West the
Buteyko method is predominantly used for those suffering with asthma,
hayfever, and other breathing related conditions. With asthmatics it
has a dramatic and swift effect in reducing the persons need for bronchodilator
medication and a dramatic reduction in their asthmatic symptoms.
Hyperventilation leads directly to Respiratory Alkalosis, this is where
the blood pH has become too alkaline. However, one of the most fascinating
aspects of the Buteyko Method is that as breathing is normalised through
the exercises taught, the pH balance of the blood is stabilized,3
which has a dramatic effect upon the person’s general wellbeing
and quality of life.
People learning the Buteyko Method are primarily taught the vital importance
of using the nose for breathing as opposed to the mouth breathing that
has become so common in the modern world. This alone can have a dramatic
effect upon a person’s asthma and reduce their symptoms by up
to 30 to 50% in just a few days. This is due to the fact that there
is a large reduction of air passing in to the body, as the nasal passages
are that much smaller than the huge opening of the mouth.
This would at first seem unhelpful in the light of the current modern
myth that deep breathing is good for your health, yet this is an important
area of misconception that needs to be addressed if we are to take the
long-term health of all humans seriously. Deep breathing cannot be deemed
as good for health due to the fact that the more one actually breathes;
the less the oxygen can actually be utilized by the body (The Bohr Effect),
what we are looking at with the Buteyko Method is appropriate breathing
in any given situation. In other words, the normalization of breathing
patterns that leads directly to an increase in human health.
As it is likely that many asthma sufferers at worst, will also have
nasal problems, or at best a blocked or stuffy nose with regular bouts
of post nasal drip, a simple nose clearing exercise is taught to keep
the nose clear for nasal breathing.
The measures of a person’s levels of carbon dioxide are taken
with a simple gentle pause in the breathing (something like a breath
holding exercise). The higher the levels of carbon dioxide an individual
has, the higher that person’s pause will be. Based on this measure,
people learning the Buteyko method are taught how to reverse their asthmatic
symptoms by practicing exercises that gradually and gently reduce the
overall volume of air coming into the body (hypoventilation), which
gradually increases the amount of carbon dioxide loading, and in turn,
leads directly to an increase in oxygen being release to the cells of
the body. Asthma symptoms dramatically drop in frequency, and the person
becomes much less reliant upon bronchodilator medication for relief.
Yet each person is encouraged to always keep their medication for emergencies.
Any changes in the person’s use of corticosteroid medication are
always done in consultation with their own medical doctor. That is not
say that a complete reversal of the need for this medication cannot
be achieved in many if not most cases, because clearly, once the symptoms
of asthma have not be present in the person for more than six weeks
and they have not felt any need for bronchodilator medication, the question
has to be asked, what is now being prevented, if there are no symptoms
present? Asthma is a reversible lung condition, albeit a sometimes chronic
condition, but it can be reversed and the Buteyko Breathing Method is
at the cutting edge of that process of reversal.
Having said this, based on Buteyko’s original theory, that 90%
of the world’s population over breathes; most people from all
walks of life would gain much benefit from learning how to breathe normally
and effectively. A fact worth remembering is although it is vitally
important what we put in our bodies, and how well we absorb our chosen
nutrients, we can last several weeks without the food we eat only several
times each day (if we still had water available to us), but we can only
last a few minuets when we are starved of the air we breathe around
us, and we do that approximately 22,000 times a day without giving it
a second thought. Now perhaps it is time to allow our breathing to evolve
and take charge of our long term health.
The Buteyko Method is most commonly
taught during a five consecutive day period, each lecture lasting approximately
one and half hours. During the course a person will be taught the breathing
exercises described above, and several areas of importance will be explored
including tips on diet, gentle exercise, and the many ways in which
over breathing can be gradually reduced in one’s day to day activities,
including all the over breathing habits that build up over a longer
period of time.
1For a more
in-depth exploration of the extent and spread of hyperventilation syndrome
see L.C. Lum's article: Hyperventilation: The Tip of the Iceberg, Journal
of Psychosomatic Research, Vol 19, pp. 375 to 383. Pergamon Press, 1975,
printed in Great Britain.
2Dr Paul Ameisen in his book Every Breath You Take, Tandem
Press, New Zealand, 1997, writes, the Verigo-Bohr effect is explained
thus: 'lowered levels of CO2 strengthen the bond between haemoglobin
and oxygen, thus lowering the oxygenation of the tissues … oxygen enters
the lungs, goes into the blood and is trapped by the haemoglobin molecule.
How easily it is released, to feed the body cells, depends on the level
of carbon dioxide. The oxygen is properly released when the carbon dioxide
is high in the lungs. If it is low, the tissues suffer oxygen starvation.'
3It is clearly underestimated how dramatic an effect changes
in breathing can have upon the pH balance of the blood, the body is
constantly endeavouring to buffer the pH balance to keep it within the
narrow margins of between 7.35 and 7.45 on the acid/alkaline scale.
In Human Anatomy and Physiology, (Fourth Edition) Addison-Wesley, Menlow
Park, California, 1998, Elaine N. Marieb explains that: 'Changes in
respiratory rate or depth can produce dramatic changes in blood pH by
altering the amount of carbonic acid in the blood. Slow shallow breathing
allows carbon dioxide to accumulate in the blood. As a result, carbonic
acid levels increase and blood pH drops. Conversely, rapid deep breathing
quickly flushes carbon dioxide out of the blood, reducing carbonic acid
levels and increases blood pH. Thus, respiratory ventilation can provide
a fast-acting system to adjust blood pH (and Pco2) when it is disturbed
by metabolic factors. [Thus] [r]espiratory adjustments play a major
role in the acid-base balance of the blood …'