In New York City and Moscow, 87% percent of patients in hospitals placed on ventilators die. This means that only one or two out of ten have a chance of survival. The official version is that COVID-19 kills people; however, a Russian medical doctor, Andrey Novozhilov, states: it’s mostly ventilators that kill them.

I am not a health professional but need to admit that the thought about ventilators worsening COVID-19 patients’ health has crossed my mind. For anyone who is familiar with the discovery of the legendary Russian physiologist K.P. Buteyko, MD-PhD, this line of reasoning becomes almost unavoidable.

During the first deadly week of the Coronavirus epidemic in New York City, a Buteyko practitioner left a comment under my YouTube video stating that mechanical ventilation could be a cause of people’s deaths in hospitals. I was hesitant to reply to him: do we really need to discuss this? Everyone around was celebrating the heroic actions of medical professionals; this person’s words were a dissonance and felt almost disgraceful. Would it be easier to think that doctors just need more ventilators for more people to survive?

I tried to push the unwanted thought away but it kept sneaking into my mind. I began receiving emails and articles from Dr. Novozhilov, the Russian patent holder of the Buteyko Method: he was trying to prevent COVID-19 deaths by calling on the global medical community to change its old paradigm. His voice was clear and loud: the new situation needs new solutions. Even though doctors do everything in their power to help people, it is not helpful at all if they make people over-breathe by placing them on the ventilators. I was not able to quiet Dr. Novozhilov’s voice in my mind even when I was asleep. After a while, I realized that I became obsessed with the issue of ventilators.

Then, I decided to take it out of my head and into the world to see how it will be perceived; however, I was only ready for baby-steps. I shared my suspicion with my friends and carefully observed their reactions.

“It just sounds like another conspiracy theory,” George said indifferently while we were doing our social distancing dog walk on a beautiful mountain path in the least populated area of Colorado. “Besides, we are not in New York,” he added.

“This is a medical question, but I am not a medic,” Helen cut me off when I was talking on the phone with her.
“But….” I was not going to give up.
“I trust the doctors, and this is the end of it,” she stated.

I was puzzled. Why don’t my friends see the connection of this topic to their own lives? What would happen if Helen gets infected? I know she will call 911 and most likely end up being hospitalized. Then, if her situation were severe, she would be placed on a ventilator. And then, most likely, she would expire: according to Dr. Novozhilov, possibly not from the virus - but from her treatment.

What if George’s elderly mother who lives alone in Chicago gets hospitalized? I know George truly cares about her. Is there anything he could do to save her life? George is a millionaire but that would not help his mother, I assume. In fact, if Dr. Novozhilov is correct, the best available medical help might kill her faster.

And what if George gets infected? He has severe sleep apnea, which, according to Dr. Buteyko, means that he is chronically over-breathing to a high degree when his body has to stop his breathing periodically at night. If in hospital his hyperventilation is boosted by mechanical ventilation, he will definitely perish. Would it be safer for him to stay home and avoid seeking medical help? The more I thought about it, the clearer it became to me that in today’s world, the question about ventilators should be everyone’s concern – whether you are a medic or not, rich or poor, healthy or ill. 

Medical System vs. COVID-19

After watching the news I began thinking about doctors, respiratory therapists, nurses, and their role in this story. On TV, I saw a doctor from New York City crying from helplessness: another patient died on a ventilator. I also heard a story about three doctors in Moscow who tried to commit suicide by jumping out of hospital windows. “Why were they trying to kill themselves?“ – the news anchor asked a rhetorical question, and then casually added: “We will never find out.”

I was trying to imagine what is going on in the minds of health professionals who are heroically and relentlessly fighting the battle with COVID-19… and keep losing it. How do they feel? They dedicated their lives helping people overcome health issues and yet eight out of ten of their patients going on ventilators die. Perhaps, a thought about the treatment being inappropriate or unfitting this new situation also crosses their minds. How could it not? Perhaps, some of them are realizing that it is not COVID-19 but the treatment that kills people. If so, I cannot even imagine how devastating that feels for them.

I shared Dr. Novozhilov’s article with Fred Brown, a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) who works in a hospital in New York City. To my surprise, it corresponded with his own thoughts and observations at his hospital. Risking his job, Fred advised a doctor to lower settings of a ventilator to reduce the patient’s air consumption. Surprisingly, the doctor replied: “At this point, I’ll try anything that works”. This patient has survived as well as a few others whose mechanical ventilation has been reduced. Fred kept making small changes and was successful. Of course, his actions could not have generated a radical, system-wide change because all medical professionals at his hospital as well as all others are governed by the paradigm: if a person has difficulties breathing, he needs to breathe MORE.

Over-Breathing is Dangerous in All Forms

While the traditional medical approach is straightforward and logical, Dr. K.P. Buteyko discovered and proved that it was incorrect. He found out that due to our comfort-based lifestyle most people don’t breathe the same way our ancestors did – most modern people chronically over-breathe, which creates a deficit of CO2 in their lungs and weakens their immune system. When a person becomes ill, whether with asthma, high blood pressure or a virus, the air consumption increases even more, which lowers the level of CO2 in the lungs. CO2 is the important controller of body oxygenation and metabolism, and if its level does not become sufficient, an illness will continue and can become lethal.

Dr. Buteyko was known for being able to predict a patient’s death to the minute. Other colleagues assumed that he possessed a bizarre gift but Dr. Buteyko explained that he was able to foresee the patient’s future by simply observing his or her breathing. The MORE a person breathes, the sooner he will die.

According to Dr. Buteyko and his medical and scientific heir Dr. Novozhilov, over-breathing is dangerous and can be fatal. When we consume too much air we lose too much CO2 in the lungs, which is not a waste gas, but our vital energy, and according to Dr. Buteyko, the main regulator of all bodily functions. When the level of CO2 becomes zero, a person expires – this, by the way, is a common and undisputed medical fact.

Power of Correct Breathing

I am not a doctor; I am a former journalist and now, a teacher of the Buteyko Method. I came across this method about twelve years ago when my husband was dying from severe asthma. His doctors in the United States were not able to help him, stating that his disease was incurable. They kept prescribing him more and more medication, which had serious side effects and made my husband weaker and sicker. In addition, these drugs would not completely stop his breathlessness and his endless coughing fits. Out of despair, we began searching for a possible solution (at that time, survival for him) all over the world. Eventually, we found it in Moscow, Russia – my hometown. At the Buteyko Clinic in Moscow, Dr. Novozhilov stopped my husband’s suffocation attacks within a few weeks by teaching him how to breathe LESS instead of MORE.

My husband and I were fascinated by the power of the Buteyko Method and sincerely wished to make it more available to people in the United States and other countries. At that time, Ludmila Buteyko (the widow of Dr. Buteyko) and Dr. Novozhilov asked us to represent the Buteyko Method in the West and help them to present Dr. Buteyko’s discovery about breathing.

In the beginning, it was difficult for me to comprehend the idea that excessive breathing makes people ill in a variety of ways but first of all, it creates all kinds of lung and breathing problems. When a person starts practicing gentle, peaceful nasal breathing (versus deep, heavy breathing - especially through the mouth), breathing difficulties often stop and overall health improves. By practicing the Buteyko Method, I was able to resolve my sleep apnea, severe hay fever, kidney and joint problems, migraines, irregular heartbeat, and low blood pressure.

Are you surprised? That’s because you live in 2020 in a “civilized world.” If instead, you were a yogi living in India in the past, you might not be. Not only in India but also in many Asian countries people knew that “prana” is the essence of our existence and without normalizing its level, optimal health is impossible. They believe that in order to become healthier, one needs to gain control over his breath. They were aware: if a person has a sufficient level of prana, he is healthy; if he does not have enough, he becomes weak and ill, and might die soon. But what is prana? As far as I know, no one can answer this question.

In an old book written by a yogi, I found the following explanation: prana is connected to breathing; it is not what you inhale and not what you exhale but what’s left after exhalation. As a yoga practitioner of thirty years, it seems to me that Dr. Buteyko built a bridge between Western science and Asian esoteric knowledge by discovering that CO2 is our prana - it is our source of life and our survival. We lose carbon dioxide in the lungs by breathing excessively and gain it by practicing gentle, peaceful, meditation-like breathing. That is why nasal and light breathing was a foundation of many Eastern spiritual and health traditions.

The Western Respiration Paradigm

Why and how is breathing explained so differently within Western medical science? Dr. Buteyko taught that the paradigm of breathing MORE was created in the 18th century by a French scientist Antoine Lavoisier who, after conducting experiments regarding the air, confirmed the presence of a colorless and highly reactive gas which he named "oxygen."

Lavoisier was a Commissioner of the Royal Gunpowder and Saltpeter Administration and had a laboratory at the Paris Arsenal. There, he conducted experiments based on combustion and determined the essential role of oxygen in the process of burning. Before this, scientists believed that materials would separate out a flammable substance, which would make them burn; however, Lavoisier proved that the process of combustion requires the addition of something (oxygen) to the objects in order for them to burn. His findings were, certainly, progressive for his time.

Dr. Buteyko believed that the problem began when Lavoisier expanded his theory into physiology. Lavoisier assumed that the process of respiration is similar to the process of combustion since everyone who breathes produces heat. He decided that respiration was essentially a slow combustion of organic material using inhaled oxygen. Based on this hypothesis, he concluded that oxygen plays a crucial role in the process of respiration just as it does in the process of combustion.

Lavoisier was one of the wealthiest people in France and could afford to print a book. In 1789, he published Elementary Treatise on Chemistry, which is considered to be the first modern chemistry textbook. In the 18th century, a printed book, written by a renowned scientist and displaying clear logic confirmed by scientific experiments, acquired an almost hypnotic power. Soon, it was translated into English and other languages. Even though some of the day’s leading chemists disagreed with Lavoisier's ideas, it was sufficiently sound to convince the next generation. And the worship of oxygen began! Since we receive oxygen through inhaling it, the idea that breathing MORE is better for health spread.

Buteyko refused to accept Lavoisier’s postulate regarding the primary role of oxygen. He found that this role belongs to carbon dioxide, which regulates the amount of oxygen that is delivered to various organs. Moreover, Buteyko stated that carbon dioxide is the main regulator for metabolism as well as other important bodily functions. Lavoisier’s postulate became the biggest obstacle to a wide acceptance of Dr. Buteyko’s scientific work. During his life, medical professionals often ridiculed his discovery that breathing LESS increases overall oxygenation of the body normalizes health and can prevent death.

Breathing to Heal

I was fortunate to be given an opportunity to present Dr. Buteyko and Dr. Novozhilov’s discoveries in the book Breathe To Heal, where asthma is used as a model for their work. This book presents some of Dr. Buteyko's original tests and serves as a manual to healthier breathing with a step-by-step program written by Dr. Novozhilov. The book also includes many testimonials from the Breathing Center’s clients. Most of these people were severe asthmatics and some had other lung issues; nevertheless, they were able to improve their health and reduce or stop their breathing difficulties simply by imitating healthy breathing. They practiced mindfulness of their respiration and kept inhaling and exhaling in accordance with the principals described by Dr. Buteyko. And it worked! It seems to me that it always does. Why? Perhaps because Dr. Buteyko discovered a fundamental truth.

Without acknowledging the major discovery of this Russian physiologist, conventional doctors still believe that asthma, as well as many other respiratory diseases, are incurable. Recently, I heard a doctor stating that COVID-19 belongs to the same category. He predicted that Coronavirus would never go away and remain with us as an incurable, though hopefully, manageable disease. To prevent or control Coronavirus, people might need to stay on medication for the rest of their lives – when and if this medication becomes available.

I remember the doctors saying the same to my husband suffering from asthma. I also heard similar stories from my clients with various breathing difficulties. Hearing about their struggle, I learned that a conventional path to help people with their respiration typically over time worsens their breathing and weakens their vitality. This domino reaction usually is slow for asthmatics while Coronavirus quickens it making it more obvious. If a person has breathing difficulties, then he needs to breathe MORE. This might generate a quick relief but in the long run, will make this person sicker and shorten his lifespan.

Perhaps, it is the time for the new paradigm? In my mind, the story of ventilators has become symbolic of our dilemma: to breathe MORE (following the theory of Lavoisier) or to breathe LESS (following the theory of Buteyko)? Dr. Novozhilov believes that the answer to this question can determine our survival during COVID-19.

Unlike Dr. Novozhilov, I cannot explain scientifically why ventilators should be used differently – assisting people to breathe moderately instead of forcing them to breathe excessively. It is even difficult for me to explain the connection between breathing and immunity, another core element of Dr. Buteyko and Dr. Novozhilov’s work. And that is why I put my efforts into organizing a public talk by Dr. Novozhilov, who generously agreed to explain how to use our respiration to prevent COVID-19 or accelerate the recovery from this respiratory disease – whether in the hospital or at home. To some of you, the title of his lecture How Does Our Breath Regulate Susceptibility To Coronavirus? may seem remote – just as it was to my friends when I tried to talk about ventilators. I understand! At the same time, I am confident that what you will learn from A. Novozhilov, MD can change your lives and keep you alive in this critical situation. Give a chance to this new paradigm!


History is Speaking

At the start of the pandemic in the US, the number of deaths from COVID-19 was often compared to mortality during Vietnam War, but by now, the virus has greatly exceeded the body count from Vietnam and it still keeps growing. In 2020, the dilemma about breathing MORE versus LESS is analogous to the question of the sixties - whether to end the Vietnam war or continue it. The decision about the war was made by a small group of politicians and did not seem to be related to the lives of ordinary Americans. This changed when mothers were receiving their sons’ corpses, students were losing their friends, and Vietnamese monks were burning themselves in the name of peace. When people saw through the fog of war as their leaders could not, rage exploded into the streets to end unjustified deaths. Perhaps, realizing that a question about ventilators is not a strictly medical question anymore, can help us to make peace with COVID-19.

Dr. Buteyko often compared himself to Ignaz Semmelweise, who is considered the father of the medical science about microbes (specifically, antiseptic and aseptic for surgeries). In 1847, this Hungarian physician suggested to his colleagues to wash their hands before assisting women in childbirth. At that time, doctors would often switch between dissecting corpses and assisting women in labor without washing their hands. As a result, many mothers-to-be were dying from the infection in their blood unknowingly planted there by their doctors. At that time, physicians attributed these women’s deaths to various causes but Dr. Semmelweise stated that there was one cause – harmful microbes on doctors’ hands. At that time, this concept was unknown and radically different from the accepted medical paradigm. As a result, Dr. Semmelweis was discredited, ridiculed, and ostracized by the medical community. After years of fighting for his discovery, he was confined to a mental asylum. Fifty years later, however, Louis Pasteur confirmed Semmelweis's theory by developing the germ theory: “I saw microbes,” he said, “but Semmelweis was the one who discovered them.”

Do you believe that Dr. Buteyko’s discovery and Dr. Novozhilov’s statement about ventilators are ridiculous? Well, you might want to stay open and reconsider.