It does not have to be this way, established by Dr. K.P. Buteyko.
On April 26, 1986, there was an accident at a nuclear station in Chernobyl. The Soviet mass media tried to hide the news and the public learned of the event only a few days after it happened, when it became clear that the mass scale of the catastrophe could not be silenced. People were horrified: it wasn't just adults who were inside the radiation zone, there were children too. People were being evacuated out of Chernobyl and into Kiev, which was 140 kilometers from the site, anyone who could leave, did.
However, Konstantin P. Buteyko acted differently. He told his wife: "Don't be afraid, pack your things; we are flying out!" In a short while, they were sitting on a half-empty flight bound to Kiev. Both Konstantin and Ludmila had survived life-threatening illnesses in their past, but the Buteyko Method had restored their health. The radiation levels near the site of the disaster were dangerous even for young and healthy people, and presumably only more so for people like them. How could Konstantin – a medical doctor and outstanding scientist who understood the consequences of radiation poisoning - expose himself and his wife to such a risk? "He was totally confident that everything would be fine," Ludmila remembers, "since shallow breathing acts like a guardian angel and protects from radiation. So, we decided to go to the place of this nuclear disaster in order to help people protect themselves against radiation poisoning."
In Kiev, they stayed with friends as always. They had visited Kiev often, since Konstantin who grew up in the Ukraine had many students and peers there. However, this visit was different. Buteyko's students, driven by a desire to save their fellow countrymen, arranged numerous meetings for Dr. Buteyko, mostly in apartments and private homes. Ludmila recalls, "It was as if we were roaming the city, wandering from one family to the next. Everywhere we went we encountered adults and children who were affected by radiation. At that time, they were buying up every item available that claimed to protect from radiation. Konstantin would take one look at these things and say, 'Throw it all away! The way to protect yourself is through your breath.' We taught people how to change their breathing patterns in order to prevent the harmful consequences of radiation exposure. We explained that first of all, they had to breathe through their nose, and we also instructed them on simple breath-reduction exercises. For example, we taught them to tightly swaddle their children at night in order to prevent over-breathing. And to encourage the same in adults, we told them to wear a belt while sleeping in order to restrain excessive movements in the diaphragm."
Konstantin and Ludmila also had to control the depth of their own breathing, monitoring it constantly. This was not easy to do in such an emotionally charged time, which like any other form of stress, is conducive to deep breathing, especially mouth-breathing. It wasn't a problem for Dr. Buteyko because his ability to maintain shallow breathing under any circumstance had been perfected by years of practice. Ludmila, though, had to continually concentrate in order to avoid over-breathing. Had she forgotten to do this and taken deep breaths, she would have become susceptible to the harmful effects of radiation, just like everyone around her. Did this mean that Konstantin was putting his wife at risk? No. He was confident in her ability to maintain her awareness in this dire situation.
Nevertheless, he did not invite her to go to Chernobyl, but did travel to the restricted zone himself as soon as the opportunity presented itself. This was an unofficial trip, organized by his students with the help of their local connections. Inside the restricted zone, Konstantin split his time between scientific observations and helping those who refused to leave the contaminated area.
The people who stayed behind were mostly elderly, simple, salt of the earth sort, for whom leaving their homes sounded worse than death. Having remained in the restricted zone, they continued to expose themselves to radiation. Konstantin talked to them and measured their breathing. As Ludmila describes: many of them belonged to the previous, stronger generation and had very light, shallow breathing. This breathing pattern came to them without prior training but rather naturally due to their healthy, country way of life. These people were barely touched by radiation. As Ludmila recalls, Konstantin continued visiting them and even years later, found that they were okay. "I heard that some are still alive today. They must be in their eighties or maybe even nineties by now," said Ludmila. "Their diet still consists of food they grow themselves on contaminated soil, and they are still alive. All this is possible because of shallow breathing!"
Those who had deep breathing, particularly those who breathed through their mouth, experienced a different fate. According to the Buteykos' observations, many of them had burns, damaged nervous systems, significantly worsened blood analyses, and problems with digestion and other bodily functions. "Unfortunately," Ludmila explains, "I heard that some people to whom we explained shallow-breathing techniques, even those from Kiev, were unable to maintain the awareness and control their breathing. They died within a year or two."
Numerous deaths resulted from Chernobyl. "Every year, on the anniversary of the disaster, there is a television special about it and every year, what we learn is more frightening," said Dr. Novozhilov, Medical Director of Clinica Buteyko in Moscow. "More facts about what happened in the restricted zones are revealed: how many died in the years following the event; how many helicopter pilots, firefighters, soldiers, academics, and others involved in the clean-up (and thus exposed to the maximum dose of radiation) got horribly sick and perished."
Dr. Buteyko's students and all who were able to quickly grasp the basics of the Buteyko Method got lucky. Just like in the case of the Dr. Buteyko and his wife, radiation left them untouched. I had a chance to speak with one of Buteyko's students, A. Khorosho, who was a truck driver and following the disaster delivered donated supplies from Europe to the contaminated areas. Despite being exposed to radiation for a significant amount of time, his health did not suffer, a fact that he declares with full conviction, now that twenty five years have passed. More than that, in those years, he started a family and raised healthy children.
V. A. Novoselov, a doctor from Kiev, having observed the Buteyko Method miraculously protecting people from radiation poisoning, proposed to organize a medical evaluation to determine whether the Method was actually helping. This medical trial was conducted four years after the disaster, in 1990, at the USSR Science Academy's Center for Radiation Medicine in Kiev. The doctors chose thirty people who, although they had lived through the disaster, suffered serious health consequences. These people were primarily clean-up workers who had been in close proximity to the reactor. Among the test subjects was Officer Telyatnikov, who was one of the first on the scene of the catastrophe. Buteyko's students taught this group breathing exercises that normalize breathing functions.
The results of the trial were astonishing! The subjects began to feel much better: headaches disappeared, as did stomach pains, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, depression, and anxiety. Also the participants felt a restored sense of hope and desire to live! The results were officially documented and signed by the leading doctors and professors of the USSR Science Academy's Center for Radiation Medicine in Kiev, where victims of radiation sickness were treated. At the time, this organization was the highest authority on radiation medicine in the USSR. The director of the Center also added his signature, further confirming the evaluation.
"You have to understand that 1990 was one of the last years of the Soviet empire," said Doctor Novozhilov. "It is well known that science was developing rapidly in the USSR. No resources were spared, even on studies that would not yield an immediate economic benefit. In fact, the Buteyko Method exists due to this system. This is also why the government had allotted money for the medical trial in Kiev, despite the fact that the results of it were not tied to the development of any new drug. Even I, as a medical doctor and a student of Buteyko, had trouble believing these results! 82% of the tested patients had noticeable improvements after using the Buteyko Method, including better blood analyses, which is nearly unheard of in radiation victims."
"The Chernobyl disaster prompted scientists to conduct all sorts of studies. A few of them inadvertently confirmed the effectiveness of the Buteyko Method in treating radiation poisoning," Novozhilov continued. "For example, I have read about a study that involved two groups of mice – a test group and a control. In the control group, the air that the mice were breathing was left alone, but in the test group, the concentration of Carbon Dioxide was increased. One could say," Dr. Novozhilov laughs, "that the test group was forced to practice the Buteyko Method. After this, all mice were exposed to a lethal dose of radiation. All mice in the control group died instantly, yet this did not happened to the test group. The mice that were breathing CO2 enhanced air did not have burns and their blood work did not change, as if they hadn't been exposed to radiation at all! I remember when Dr. Buteyko heard about the results of this study, he joked, 'Well, you see, the mice practiced the Buteyko Method and that's why they stayed alive.'"
Listening to Dr. Novozhilov, I couldn't help but think of my friend, who was recently diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer. The doctors insisted on chemotherapy. After one session, she felt horrible: weak, dizzy, nauseous, her vision blurred... in other words, she experienced symptoms nearly identical to the ones that often occur from radiation poisoning. Fortunately, my friend was familiar with the Buteyko Method, which saved her son from getting his adenoids removed and stopped his chronic bronchitis. She knew this was her time to apply the Method and began an intense regimen of breathing exercises. Her well-being changed dramatically. She was able to go through the rest of her chemotherapy sessions easily and without any serious side effects. Unfortunately, she was not able to get rid of the entire tumor and is now preparing to undergo radiation therapy. With this in mind, I asked Dr. Novozhilov if he thought the Buteyko Method would be effective when practiced with radiation therapy.
"Radiation therapy uses a very narrow beam of radiation, directed at an affected area, yet the entire body often suffers from the side effects. Dr. Buteyko always said that the Buteyko Method is able to protect against this. Basically, it protects from the complications that often follow radiation therapy, but does not take away from its effectiveness. I know of a patient who was undergoing radiation treatment for blood cancer. Normally, such treatment causes hair loss, but since this person was practicing the Buteyko Method at the same time, his hair stayed intact. Why is this? Presumably, as a result of normalizing breathing, the entire body becomes stronger, the flow of oxygen increases, metabolism improves, and thus, toxic effects are eliminated."
"Of course, there haven't been any large scale scientific studies on the effectiveness of the Buteyko Method in treating radiation," Dr. Novozhilov said, "so I can only speak of my own professional experience." The Chernobyl evaluation was exclusively a medical trial. Yes, it did show that the Buteyko Method guards against radiation, yet we cannot say exactly how it does this. In order to answer that question, we need a team of scientists, financial backing, and years of scientific work. For now, we can only suppose."