Konstantin Buteyko was born in 1923 in the Ukraine and grew up in a farming community. After becoming a physician, he made an important discovery about human health, one which would lead many seriously afflicted individuals back to good health. Dr. Buteyko's main discovery focused on breathing and the revision of breathing habits in order to reverse the progression of an illness. His holistic, drug-free method became so effective and widespread that it is often reffered by his name: the Buteyko method of breathing. His life was fraught with peril, including the destruction of his laboratory in Siberia and threats on his life. Dr. Buteyko miraculously survived the turmoil and established a clinic in Moscow (Clinica Buteyko Moscow). He lived to see his scientific discovery and applied practices gain worldwide recognition. He died in Moscow in 2003.
Konstantin Buteyko's Early Life
Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko was born in 1923 in a small village near Kiev, in the Ukraine. As a child he would spend hours quietly observing and examining plants, insects, and anything else he encountered. His father was a mechanic, and the boy also liked learning about vehicles. His mother, a schoolteacher, was known to say, "I gave birth to an odd boy," referring to her son's avid curiosity about understanding how things work.
K.P. Buteyko M.D.
Konstantin would see any mechanism as an intriguing collection of parts and, would be tempted to take them apart. Growing older, he became fascinated by the idea that it’s not only the parts, which make things work smoothly, but the interaction between them, the balance of a system as a whole supported by certain constants. This natural progression led Konstantin to the Polytechnic College in Kiev where he began studying engineering.
During his sophomore year, in 1941, German fascists attacked the Soviet Union. Buteyko enlisted and volunteered to go to the frontlines. He spent the next four years in the war zone working as a driver, mechanic, and helper in a medical aid party. He saw a lot of vehicles damaged in battle and was able to fix them. He also saw a lot of human casualties but did not have the skills to save people’s lives. He viewed the human body as the most superior of all “machines” and so, finding ways to help it operate in the most effective way became his new goal. He decided to study medicine.
After the war, Konstantin enrolled at First Medical Institute in Moscow, Russia. He was an outstanding student, and soon became known as the handsome, young veteran with a sharp intellect and abundant energy, and, always, the highest grades. He spent most of his time studying at the library or conducting clinical work. Upon graduating with distinction, he was invited to join the staff at one of Moscow's most elite hospitals. His scientific and clinical supervisors, as well as his friends, were convinced that a bright future was beginning to unfold in front of this talented doctor.
While still at medical school, Dr. Buteyko had specialized in the study of hypertension (also called high blood pressure). Ironically, Dr. Buteyko himself developed a malignant form of this, in this case, lethal disease. The hospital whose staff he had joined had the best medicine available for the treatment of this illness. Dr. Buteyko used these drugs but his condition only worsened. In the fall of 1952, his health had deteriorated to such a degree that it seemed unlikely he would live for more than a couple of months.
Konstantin Buteyko's Monumental Discovery
K.P. Buteyko M.D.
Dr. Buteyko was a man of great strength and fortitude who, despite tremendous pain, continued working. One evening, during his night shift at the hospital, he was alone in a room, standing in front of a window and looking up at a star filled sky. His mind was racing with questions: “What is the cause of my disease? Why do people become ill?” Suddenly, a blinding light flashed outside and he lowered his gaze to shield his eyes. Looking downward to regain his vision, he suddenly noticed that his chest and belly were moving a great deal as he was breathing. It was common medical knowledge that heavy breathing was a symptom of hypertension but at this moment Konstantin had an idea, which later he described as odd: “Could it be,” he thought, “that my heavy breathing was not the result of my disease but the cause of it?”
Ever the indefatigable scientist, he immediately began experimenting on himself. First, he decreased his breathing by making an effort to breathe gentler. Within a few minutes, his headache, and the strong pain in his chest and kidneys that had always accompanied him began to subside. Second, he increased his breathing by switching to heavy mouth breathing. His pain came back almost immediately. This was a pivotal moment for Konstantin, one that would change the course of his life.
Many years later, he stated that within these first minutes of discovery, the whole chain of cause and effect links appeared before his eyes. He thought: “Deep breathing eliminates CO2 from the body and consequently creates contractions of bronchi, blood vessels, intestines and so on. These spasms reduce oxygen delivery to the body causing oxygen starvation. This increases respiration even more, creating a vicious circle.” It immediately became clear to him that many diseases associated with the contraction of blood vessels such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, ulcer, chronic nephritis and others have a single cause: over-breathing. His thought process continued: “Then, hyperventilation changes Ph, the acid-base balance, and causes a disturbance of metabolism. Dysfunctional metabolism transmits immune reactions into allergic, which tells us that allergy could also be caused by hyperventilation, as well as high cholesterol, obesity or thinness. It also weakens immunity, and thus, people catch colds and other, more serious diseases. The metabolic disorder can become so severe that a tumor will develop. This means that even cancer could be caused by deep breathing.”
That night he went to the pulmonological department of the hospital where an asthmatic, fighting suffocation, was trying to gasp as much air as possible.
“Slow down your breathing and breathe less!” Buteyko suggested.
“…but doctor, you’ve always told me ‘Take a deep breath!’“
“I know; I was wrong. Please breathe gentler,” Buteyko insisted.
After a few minutes of slowed breathing, the patient was able to breathe better and his face regained some color. The asthma attack receded. Both men were surprised by how quickly it was defeated.
Of course, Buteyko was excited by his finding and wanted to enlighten the whole world about it. He could imagine to what a tremendous extent it would benefit people! The next morning, he went to his clinical and academic supervisor and revealed his remarkable discovery. The physician listened carefully but his reply was not what Konstantin expected:
“Don’t tell anyone!” The doctor insisted, “Or you will end up in a mental institution.”
Stalin was still holding power in Russia and had recently sent many doctors to the Gulag on forged grounds for arrest. His supervisor truly cared about this talented doctor and wanted to protect Konstantin’s life. He immediately recognized that his ground-breaking discovery would question the very basis of traditional medicine and make many officials merciless.
Dr. Buteyko with Ludmila Buteyko (right
The young doctor was not the type to give up easily. First, he tried his new approach himself: breathing reduction eliminated his malignant hypertension and he fully regained his health. Then, he proceeded the testing of his method on his patients at the hospital. He discovered the result was consistently positive. When his patients increased their breathing, their symptoms worsened. When they reduced their breathing, their symptoms receded and their health improved. By modifying the breathing patterns of his patients, Dr. Buteyko was able to achieve much greater results than when he treated them with traditional medication. Additionally, his method did not have any negative side effects. And yet, he could not reveal the results of his work.
It was during this time of personal trial that Dr. Buteyko compared the path of his discovery to that of the Austrian physician, Ignaz Semmelweis. In 1847, Semmelweis discovered that sepsis occurring during childbirth in hospitals could be radically reduced by washing hands. During this time, doctors would often switch between dissecting corpses and assisting women in labor without washing their hands. The mortality rate of infants and mothers was incredibly high. Dr. Semmelweis believed that it was possible to reduce it by simply requiring doctors to wash their hands with bleach and lime prior to surgery in order to get rid of ‘microbes,’ then an unknown concept. At that time, sepsis was attributed to many causes and Dr. Semmelweis' hypothesis, that there was one cause for this fierce blood infection, seemed too simplistic, and was therefore discredited and ridiculed by his peers. Semmelweis was ostracized by the medical community and after years of fighting for his discovery, was confined to a mental asylum. Fifty years later, Louis Pasteur confirmed Semmelweis's theory by developing the germ theory: I saw microbes, he said, but Semmelweis was the one who discovered them.
Similar to Semmelweis, Buteyko came to the conclusion that many health issues, which are considered by the medical community to be unique diseases, are various symptoms of one disease: over-breathing. Hyperventilation leads to the development of asthma, hypertension, and cancer… many of the world’s most common diseases. Dr. Buteyko realized that these diseases can be cured by reducing one's breathing. It was just too simple for other medical officials to accept. Facing ridicule and a potential incarceration for revealing his discovery, Konstantin had to keep most of his findings secret in order to continue developing his method. The only way his work could possibly gain credibility was if he could collect substantial scientific data to support his theory.
At this time, in the 1960s, a new Academy of Science was developing in the largest city in Siberia. It was a difficult choice but Dr. Buteyko decided to leave an elite hospital in the most culturally sophisticated city in Russia and move to Siberia, thousands of miles away from the launch of his potentially brilliant career. He saw no other way to collect and assemble the data necessary to raise awareness for his revolutionary discovery. He moved to Akadem-gorodock (literal translation: the town of academics) where he was offered a job as the head of a scientific and clinical laboratory with abundant funding.
Konstantin purchased the best possible medical equipment in the Soviet Union and abroad and also invented his own instruments. One of them was a unique ‘medical combine,’ capable of simultaneously measuring many bodily functions. The data provided by this equipment confirmed Konstantin’s hypothesis: the level of carbon dioxide in lungs is the main regulator of many bodily functions; due to hyperventilation this level becomes insufficient, therefore offsetting constants of the body and creating various dysfunctions. Dr. Buteyko and his colleagues also conducted a great deal of clinical work treating seriously ill patients, especially asthmatics. Often, people would be carried into his laboratory and then would miraculously walk out of it on their own. Dr. Buteyko’s reputation grew exponentially: people who were severely ill traveled great distances to be treated by him and he was besieged with hundreds of letters every day requesting his help. Articles reporting on Dr. Buteyko's successes appeared in the national press and he became known far and wide for his method.
Buteyko’s accomplishments generated envy among his colleagues. One of his medical peers was putting all his efforts into the development of a new drug to ease asthma symptoms. And here was Konstantin offering a natural cure for asthma! Where would the work of this doctor be if Buteyko’s method would become officially accepted? Konstantin's main supervisor was a renowned surgeon whose approach to asthma had been to remove the afflicted lung, treat it, and then put it back into the body. Although the effectiveness of this technique was insignificant, he had hoped this work would eventually earn him a Nobel Prize. Dr. Buteyko's discovery and its simplicity was a threat for these and many other medical professionals.
This surgeon gathered a group of doctors and began a campaign to sabotage Dr. Buteyko's work. In 1968, while Konstantin was away on a business trip, a person with an axe broke into his laboratory and chopped up his unique equipment. His staff was dismissed and his data was compromised. Eyewitnesses said that when Konstantin entered the room that was once his sophisticated laboratory, his dark hair started to turn grey. On top of all this, Dr. Buteyko received multiple death threats intimidating him into stopping his work. He was once poisoned and there was also an automobile crash arranged to kill him. He miraculously survived all of these attempts.
The only reason he was able to continue his work was that he helped a few influential officials who had begged him to cure their ‘incurable diseases.’ After their recovery, they felt obligated to protect Konstantin. At some point, Dr. Buteyko was offered an
opportunity to practice his method in space medicine. At first, it seemed like a beneficial way to advance his work and assure him financial security but soon it became apparent that this job would drastically limit his ability to help people. This was during the Cold War; agreeing to work with astronauts was like automatically swearing to secrecy. He refused this offer in order to have the freedom to help those in need of his method, rather than have it sequestered for an elite few.
Buteyko was known for his altruism. Sometimes, when his patients were lacking money for transportation or accommodation, Dr. Buteyko shared his own very modest resources. After his laboratory was destroyed, he started seeing patients at their homes or in his apartment. At that time, private practice was not legal in the Soviet Union, but Dr. Buteyko continued helping people privately on a donation basis. For almost twenty years, Konstantin was officially unemployed and his name was on the medical black list.
Konstantin and Ludmila Buteyko, and Andrey Novozhilov
The 80s brought some relief for Buteyko. In 1981, the second official trial of his method took place at the Moscow Medical Academy, in the department for asthmatic children. The results were extremely positive: between 94 and 96 percent were healed. In 1983, 21 years after his application, he received a patent with a "top secret" classification for his discovery and the treatment method. In 1985, the Ministry of Public Health of Russia issued instructions and recommendations to all medical professionals to treat patients with his breathing method; however, those instructions were never implemented. In 1987, at the very beginning of the Perestroika, Dr. Buteyko was finally allowed to establish his own clinic in Moscow. Later, it became known as Clinica Buteyko.
Many people suffering from asthma, allergies, hypertension, kidney problems, cardiological and gastrological issues, immune deficiency, cancer, and other serious diseases were healed at Clinica Buteyko. Konstantin Buteyko also started working with people who were exposed to radiation during the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. An official trial of this work took place in 1990 in Kiev, Ukraine, at the National Scientific Center of Radiation Medicine. The result: 82 percent of patients experienced significant improvements in their health. In 1991, there were two more official trials of Buteyko’s method. Buteyko's team worked with AIDS patients at the Institute of Epidemiology (Kiev). This study demonstrated positive results with no negative side effects. Later, the same Institute conducted another trial with hepatitis and liver hepatocirrhosis patients. The Buteyko method proved to be very effective and was officially recommended for use on patients with such problems.
Dr. Buteyko's Approach and Spirituality
Dr.Buteyko and his students
As many famous doctors and scientists have done, Konstantin used his own body to experiment with his method. He practiced, what he referred to as “air fasting” and followed a lifestyle that promoted shallow breathing. His own experience, which that of his advanced students confirmed, showed that breathing reduction leads not only to physical health but also to clarity of mind, inner peace, and calmness. Additionally, it promotes intuition, telepathy and other types of extrasensory perception. Konstantin started his career as a traditional doctor, but by the final period of his life, he developed characteristics of a highly developed spiritual practitioner. He was known to have some clairvoyant abilities, such as being able to read people's thoughts or to predict the future. He hardly slept, was able to exist without food for 50 days at a time, and was capable of holding his breath for several minutes. Often, the first question he would ask his patients was, "Do you believe in God?" His methods led him to a point when he did not have any doubts about the leading role of the divine, especially when it comes to healing.
Buteyko understood that the door to personal evolution could be opened through breathing. This is not a new thought; it is a paradigm that was practiced in many ancient cultures. For example, one of the goals of Pranayama, a type of Indian yoga, is to breathe less. A basic meditation in Tibetan Buddhism, which is called Shine (Peace), provides a step-by-step training for developing shallow breathing. Japanese Samurai would put a feather under their nose and breathe on it. If the feather moved, the trainee would be dismissed from the Samurai army. Russian Orthodox Saints recommended to their disciples to reduce their breath during prayer. They believed this would bring them closer to God. Dr. Buteyko’s achievement was to re-discover the benefits of breath reduction and develop a health improvement method suitable for modern people, especially valuable for those who are severely ill.
The End of Dr.Buteyko's life
In 2003, the average lifespan for men in Russia was between 50 and 60 years. Konstantin was 80 years old and active despite the damage caused by several attempts on his life. In 1998, he became the victim of a street assault. One winter night in Siberia, while walking home, the elderly doctor was brutally attacked by three men who beat him with heavy metal bars. When they thought Konstantin was dead, they threw his body into the snow. When he was found, doctors were astonished that he was alive; however, said his chance of surviving was very slim. He lived and worked for another four years though his health was greatly damaged.
During this time, he traveled a great deal because his method gradually began to be recognized not only in Russia but also in other countries. He was invited to England to treat Prince Charles who was suffering from allergies. Konstantin and his wife Ludmila Buteyko successfully treated the Prince's problem. They also visited Germany, New Zealand, and other countries informing people about Buteyko’s discoveries and sharing basic elements of his method.
The day before Konstantin passed away, he asked his wife Ludmila to take him to a hospital. She was surprised given that he was feeling well but followed her husband's request. The doctors examined him and concluded that there was nothing wrong , in fact, they happily announced to Ludmila that she should expect her husband to live another 10 or 20 years.
He passed away the next day. Why? Ludmila's answer is this: "By that time, he did everything he could to offer the people of this planet the valuable knowledge that could have saved the lives of many as well as the life of the whole civilization. Unfortunately, his offer was not fully accepted due to a reluctance to change, to go beyond the comfort of stereotypical thinking. He respected this choice; however, felt that his mission on Earth was complete.” On May 2nd, 2003, Konstantin looked at Ludmila, his partner and kindred spirit, smiled, then turned to his right side and effortlessly left his body. It was an auspicious day in Orthodox Christianity, the religion permeating Russian culture, the day when doors to heaven are opened to all passing away from this world.
Two hundred years ago asthma was considered a mild ailment. Having asthma generally meant having a
long life free of other diseases. However, no one could explain how asthma prevented other ailments or
why asthmatics lived longer than others. Today, we know that asthma is not an ordinary disease.
Bronchospasm, the main component of asthma, acts as a protective mechanism, helping to maintain
biological constants and important functions at near normal levels.
We have also learned that asthma or bronchospasm cannot exist unless the Carbon Dioxide (CO2) level
in the lungs is abnormally low. Since the metabolic and immune systems can function correctly only if
the CO2 level is normal, the limit of the asthmatic's CO2 levelprotects him or her and allows for a long
and healthy life. It is this powerful defense mechanism that provides the asthmatic with an improved
biological system. Evidently, bronchospasm is one way the organism has adapted to its environment.
Modern drug treatment for asthma is aimed at neutralizing this protective mechanism. The organism then fights back again and again with more intensive bronchospasms leading to a rapid deterioration of the asthma from drug treatment. It is not possible to cure asthma by removing a protective mechanism like broncospasm. Only when the condition responsible for the bronchospasm is removed, can asthma be reversed.
(This is the "Foreword by K. P. Buteyko" in the book Asthma Cure Manual, by Dr. A. Novozhilov, 2009 version. This book is available in our e-store in download and the paper formats.)
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Konstantin and Ludmila Buteyko and students
Thirty-eight years ago, I announced that a great number of widespread diseases triggered by the lifestyle of our civilization (i.e., bronchial and vasomotor spasms, allergic reactions, etc) have a common cause: hyperventilation (excessive breathing). I realized that decreasing and thus normalizing the air intake can lead to an individual's recovery. Scientific studies, as well as the basic laws of physiology, biochemistry, and biology have confirmed this hypothesis. Here are the general postulates of my theory:
When an excessive amount of air is consumed, a large amount of carbon dioxide is removed from the organism, consequently reducing the CO2 content of the lungs, blood, and tissue cells. A hyperventilation caused CO2 deficiency produces pH alkaline shifts in the blood and tissue cells. The pH shifts interfere with all protein (about 1000 in all) and vitamin (about 20) activity, altering the metabolic processes. Therefore, when the pH level reaches the value of 8, the metabolic disorders can cause death.
A CO2 deficiency also causes spasms in the smooth muscles of the bronchi, cerebral and circulatory vessels, intestines, biliary ducts, and other organs. In the late 19th century, Bronislav Verigo, a Russian scientist from Perm, discovered a peculiar relationship: when CO2 diminishes from the blood, oxygen binds with hemoglobin and impairs the transport of oxygen to the brain, heart, kidneys, and other organs. In other words, the deeper the breathing, the less oxygen reaches vital organs in the body. This statement forms the basis of my discovery, one that has gone underappreciated until now. This dependency, presented by Verigo, was suppressed and ignored. At the same time, Christian Bohr, a Swedish scientist, made a similar discovery. Later on, this became known as the Bohr effect.
Hypoxia (oxygen deficiency) in the brain caused by deep breathing triggers intense bronchial and cardiac spasms. Hypoxia in vital organs is counter-balanced by the rise in arterial tension (artery hypertension), enhances blood circulation and provides the organs with blood. Oxygen starvation, when combined with hyperventilation, causes a false feeling of air deficiency, excites the respiratory center, intensifies breathing, and contributes to the progression of disease.
A CO2 deficiency in the nerve cells excites all of the structures in the nervous system, thus making the process of breathing even more intense. As a result, oxygen starvation in nerve cells, in combination with metabolic malfunctions and an over-excited nervous system, brings about mental disorders, destroys the nervous system (sclerosis of cerebral vessels) and, finally, causes a deterioration of an individual's physical and mental health.
Disorders brought about by deep breathing are aggravated by factors such as environmental pollution, pesticides and other chemicals that are found in nutritional products. If we assume this, then the basic principles of Western medicine, the remedial and preventative measures that commonly use deep-breathing methods just add to the development of diseases. Strenuous exercise and drugs, which relax the bronchi and blood vessels (thus increasing the removal of CO2 from the body), do not improve a patient's condition, but only worsen it.
This is precisely why diseases triggered by the modern environment go untreated and are so widespread. The discovery of the fact that the main cause of such diseases is hyperventilation proves (through experiments) the fallacy of the existing remedial methods and principles.
A hyperventilation test serves as decisive evidence that this method is effective. For example, a patient is offered to deepen his breathing and evaluate the result of the well know command, "Take a deep breath." Within a few seconds or minutes, this deep breathing test will trigger or increase pathological symptoms. Meanwhile, a reduction of the depth of respiration will remove the symptoms almost at the same rate. Thus, the only effective principle for prevention and treatment is to reduce the depth of breathing, thus allowing normal respiratory function to be restored.
This is the basis for the development of volitional control of hyperventilation. The essence of the technique is for a patient, through willfulness and diligence, to lessen his depth of breathing by relaxing the respiratory muscles until he feels a slight air deficit. Adults and children over three years old can use this method. The method can also be used in obstetrics for expecting mothers and their newborns to teach children healthy physiological principles.
This theory is also directly applicable to space medicine, surgery (preparation for surgical intervention), pedagogy, training of singers and athletes and more. Medicine, just like other branches of science, requires a comprehensive restructuring. The author considers his ideas, along with other progressive approaches, which have been ignored, as a foundation for the medicine of the future. The top priority is to provide people with information about this method in order to stop the propaganda of deep breathing in the mass media and to remove deep breathing exercises from health care. The method developed by the author will succeed when every human being realizes that his inborn greediness (which applies to breathing) is the cause of diseases and disasters.
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Articles Regarding Buteyko Medical Trials
Articles Regarding Buteyko Medical Trials
"Investigating the Claims of Konstantin Buteyko, M.D., Ph.D.: The Relationship of Breath Holding Time to End
Tidal CO2 and Other Proposed Measures of Dysfunctional Breathing."
Rosabla Courtney and Marc Cohen
The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (2008), 14 (2): 115-123.
"British Guideline on the Management of Asthma."
British Thoracic Society & Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network
(2008) Guideline No. 101. Edinburgh:SIGN.
"Complementary Therapy use by Patients and Parents of Children with Asthma and the Implications for NHS
Care: a Qualitative Study.”
Shaw, Alison, Thompson, Elizabeth A., Sharp, Debbie
BMC Health Services Research (2006), 6:76.
“Buteyko Breathing Technique for Asthma: an Effective Intervention.”
McHugh, Patrick, Aitcheson, Fergus, Duncan, Bruce, and Frank Houghton
The New Zealand Medical Journal (2003), 116(1187).
“Effect of Two Breathing Exercises (Buteyko and Pranayama) in Asthma: a Randomised Controlled Trial.”
S. Cooper, J. Oborne, S Newton, V Harrison, C Thompson, S Lewis, and A Tattersfield.
Thorax (2003), 58(8): 674–679.
“A Clinical Trial of the Buteyko Breathing Technique in Asthma as Taught by a Video.”
A. J. Opat,, M. M. Cohen , M. J. Bailey, and M. J. Abramson
Journal of Asthma (2000), 37(7): 557-564.
“Buteyko Breathing Techniques in Asthma: A Blinded Randomised Controlled Trial.”
Bowler, Simon D., Green, Amanda, and Charles A Mitchell
Medical Journal of Australia (1998), 169: 575-578.