Interview with Dr. Andrey Novozshilov, MD about Buteyko Method
Published in the Russian national newspaper
"Argumenti i fakti" (Arguments and facts),
Health Section, 30 January 2003, issue 05(442).
On 27 January 2003 K. P. Buteyko celebrated his 80-th birthday. How do you
Many people have a suspicious attitude towards the theory developed by
Buteyko. Meanwhile, this theory, for more than 40 years, has had many
supporters. It helped to many people to get rid of asthma, hypertension and
other problems. The major idea of this theory is that the main cause of
so-called diseases of civilizations is carbon dioxide (CO2) deficiency in the
lungs. This deficiency is caused by hyperventilation of the lungs or deep
We all get used to thinking that carbon dioxide, which we breathe out, is not
necessary for the organism. However, it has its role. Doctor Buteyko suggests
normalizing the main function of our organism, the system of external breathing,
using the method of voluntary elimination of deep breathing. For many people
that may look unreal: how is it possible, to coerce oneself to breathe less?
Today we have a conversation about the Buteyko method with the chief doctor
of the medical centre for Buteyko breathing Andrey Novozshilov.
Andrey Evgenievich, it follows, that deep breathing is not useful for the
man, but what about physical exercise, during which ventilation of the lungs is
Ventilation of the lungs is aimed to serve metabolism, which has certain
intensity. Intensity of ventilation of the lungs should coincide with the needs
of metabolism. Activity of metabolism, in different states, is different. At
rest, metabolism is slow; ventilation should be also small. An athlete, when
doing physical exercises, has very high metabolism. CO2 production is very
large, ventilation increases automatically. Instead of 5 liters he can breathe
up to 100 liters per minute. However, that is not hyperventilation, that is a
reasonable process and it is not pathology. But when hyperventilation is not
connected with physical exercise, when it is above the needs of metabolism at
rest – that is hyperventilation, or something that Buteyko called “deep
breathing”. That can be the cause of disease.
How to define if ventilation is excessively large?
It is possible using instrumental systems of control, but such methods are
not easy in real life. Buteyko suggested a very simple method – using breath
holding: if after standard, quiet exhalation, one holds the breath, when the
time, in seconds, during which the man can stop breathing, accurately reflects
the level of carbon dioxide. If breath-holding time is equal to 60 seconds that
means that the amount of carbon dioxide is correspondent to the norm.
No breathing for one minute?
Yes, ideally, any person should be able to do that. If breath holding time is
smaller, that says that CO2 level is reduced. How, for example, can chronic
rhinitis appear? Air passages constrict in order to reduce excessive ventilation
and, as a result, to increase the level of carbon dioxide. Similarly, in the
origin of the bronchial asthma is periodically appearing constriction of bronchi
or bronchospasm. Bronchus is a tube with embedded muscles, which can constrict.
When that happens, the bronchus is obstructed, and the person starts to
suffocate. An ability of these muscles to constrict is ruled precisely by level
of carbon dioxide.
Treatment of bronchial asthma using the Buteyko method is based on teaching
the patient to define if ventilation of his lungs is correspondent to normal
parameters. If it is elevated, we decrease ventilation using special exercises.
That allows, during 10 seconds, to increase CO2 level; and, just in front of us,
the spasm or the attack of suffocation starts to disappear.
The same relates to chronic rhinitis. Any man, who suffers from rhinitis, can
try the following exercise. Listen how you breathe, which feelings you
experience (how air moves through your nose, your chest rises and drops). Now
try to decrease the intensity of these feelings, to conceal your breathing, and
to decrease the intensity of the air jet. In 10 seconds the CO2 levels gets
If I hold my breath for a while, after that I want to breath in with the full
Of course, there are certain difficulties since we cannot stop breathing.
However, we are not talking about stopping breathing, but about decreasing the
volume of the air stream, judging with your sensitivity to the process of
breathing. One should not jam breathing. The goal is not to eliminate these
feelings but to decrease their intensity…
And to do that constantly?
Until disappearance of the symptoms, which bother you: if your nose is
blocked, do the exercises and, factually, in 1 minute you will feel relief. You
can stop exercising until the nose is blocked again, and you will be compelled
to repeat them. This method, at least, would help you to get rid of nasal drops.
Medical drugs are replaced with breathing exercises.
If a man, during as asthma attack, starts to suffocate, but he is advised to
Yes, psychologically this is, of course, difficult, and since any attack is a
threat to the life, experiments here are not required. For this reason, there is
no literature about the Buteyko method, so that people would not be able to
experiment. We suggest to practice only under medical supervision. Without
skills one can only intensify the course of the attack. If restriction of
ventilation of the lungs is too intense, there is an instinctive desire to
breathe in. The man will do that and at that moment he will loose those CO2
remainders, which he had. A doctor should learn a delicate approach when working
with breathing. It should not be done using a rough attack, while just such an
approach was transferred to Australia. They have now Buteyko Institute and
Australian modification of the method consists of a series of breath holds with
a certain interval. In spite of the fact, that this is psychologically
difficult, there are results, CO2 increases and the attack, this or the other
way, is eliminated. Meanwhile, our approach is associated with very delicate
restriction of the air stream basing on individual sensitivity of the person to
the process of breathing.
Can it be so, that there is an excess of CO2 in the lungs? Can it appear as a
result of the exercises?
Practice shows that it is difficult even to reach the norm.
What are the consequences of the Buteyko method: the person starts to breathe
shallowly all the time or the complex of exercises is to be done periodically?
When the carbon dioxide level is increased, we guarantee that an asthmatic
would not get an attack, unless the level drops. However, normal modern
lifestyle gradually causes reduction in the CO2 level.
Why does hyperventilation form, since nobody specially practices deep
breathing and unnatural breathing exercises are not performed?
The main cause is the lack of physical activity, low level of metabolism in
general. We must work out at least 4 hours per day, with heavy perspiration.
Then you would get high level of metabolism. The method should be practiced
until the level of carbon dioxide is stabilized and reached the value when the
attacks are impossible. It is practically impossible to maintain this state
without physical exercise. If a person, due to some reasons, cannot do physical
exercises, he should do the breathing ones. There is nothing wrong with that,
since the exercises are not hard and can be performed practically in any
Which problems do patients bring to your Clinic?
60% patients have diseases of the respiratory organs. The second place is for
cardiovascular diseases: hypertension and stenocardia. Author’s certificate and
the patent for the Buteyko method include three main diseases, which give the
best results during treatment: bronchial asthma, hypertension, and stenocardia.
In addition, the more severe the disease and its symptoms, the better the
result. When the person feels bad, he will do everything possible and will learn
properly. As soon as there is an improvement, the interest disappears.
Are there any contraindications for the method?
As we discussed, the goal is to normalize ventilation of the lungs. Which
contraindications can be for the norm?
Even the simplest method has contraindications…
We can recommend the intensive variation. It is quick and effective. However,
there are certain diseases when it should not be used, for example, in cases of
hypertension with acute symptoms (severe headaches, etc.). If ventilation is
significantly reduced during the critical period, then that will cause a period
of elevated blood pressure. In 10-15 minutes the pressure will be stable. But if
you do not want to have this exacerbation, when the approach should be very
delicate. The same is true for myocardial infarction. Caution in application of
the method is based on certain physiological processes in the heart muscle.
However, any doctor, who is practicing the Buteyko method, knows that.
Is the method universal for all diseases or some exercises are for asthma,
others for hypertension?
The exercises are the same for all diseases. However, there is a factor that
is defined by the form of the disease. In severe cases, we prescribe cautious
types of exercises.
Should the exercises be practiced every day?
That depends on the results, which you are trying to get. It could happen
that a man, for example, in order to unblock his nose, held his breath. The nose
was unblocked and the man abandoned exercises until the next case. If he wants
more stable results, so that not just to eliminate symptoms, but to prevent the
appearance of the disease, when the efficiency of our exercises can be evaluated
by CO2 increase. Measure your CO2 before and after the exercises. If there is a
growth, you can finish.
What is the earliest age for children to practice these exercises?
The youngest patient was one year and eight months old. The child had the
severest form of bronchial asthma, he was using hormones.
How is it possible to explain to such a young child what is required from
We, first, explain everything to his mother or farther. One of them should
complete our course as a usual patient, in order to understand what is required
from the child. The process of treatment is creation of prophylactic measures.
Do you want to tell that all people, who arrive to you with bronchial asthma,
leave you without it?
If the person really wants so, then yes. Some patients only achieve the level
of elimination of symptoms; others go further. Yuri Kuklachev’s son had such a
severe allergy, especially because of cats and horses, that even approaching
them would cause the state similar to Quince’s edema. His family tried various
professionals. In our clinic, within half of the year, it was possible not only
to eliminate all symptoms of the disease, but also to completely get rid of the
Is abandonment of drugs required?
Of course, no. Only with progress. At the beginning – breathing, later –
physical exercises, which will sustain sufficient CO2 level.
Which clinics use the Buteyko method?
According to the Directive of the Health Minister, this method can be used
since 1985 by any doctor. However, in spite of simplicity of the method, certain
skills are necessary. Many doctors practice this method, but it is often reduced
to breath holds. This simplified version does not do any good.
The interview was conducted by Julia Ekareva
Note: An adult should breathe, at rest, 5 liters of
air per minute. CO2 deficiency is not a trivial problem. Two-fold CO2 drop can
cause the death of the organism. Some schoolboys take several deep breaths and
loose their consciousness. Hence, temporary spasms of blood vessels, leading to
the brain and other organs, are very dangerous.
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