History of the breathing technique: The USSR and West
Doctor Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko (1923-2003) received his medical
degree from the First Medical Institute in Moscow, where he studied
from 1946 to 1952. During this period he had a medical practice
attending and dealing with severely sick and critically ill patients. A
series of events helped him to realize the connection between the
respiration and health of patients with hypertension, angina pectoris,
asthma, and some other serious diseases. He noticed that with
approaching death, patients’ respiration got heavier. By visual
observation of patients’ breathing in the hospital, he could predict
how many days or hours of life were left. Later he discovered that
deliberate acute hyperventilation (which we explored as the HVPT or
hyperventilation provocation test in previous chapters) quickly
worsened the health of patients, while breathing less caused
elimination of their symptoms. Buteyko also confirmed these findings in
his own problem, hypertension. He then decided to devote his life to
studying respiration, in general; and CO2 properties, in particular.
After graduation with Honors, in 1952, he joined the Department of
Clinical Therapy of the same institute, working as the manager of the
Laboratory of Functional Diagnostics in Moscow. Among his concerns were
lack of qualified personnel, inadequate equipment, and financial
problems. He then had more time to study western publication about
breathing. During these years the Soviet state was developing the
unique program of outer space exploration for the first space missions.
It was of exceptional importance to know and study effects of air
parameters (air pressure and its composition) on human health.
Hence, Soviet officials were looking for bright young scientists who could
lead such projects in physiology and medicine. At the end of 1950’s he
was chosen to head such a project in Novosibirsk. Due to importance
attached to the project, his laboratory was provided with the best
available equipment and best qualified support.
Obviously, in this research, as, for example, in any similar NASA
research, its people and facilities were heavily guarded by Soviet
state officials, including KGB agents. The aims of this research
- finding optimum air parameters for human functioning during space
missions depending on the stage of the flight and initial parameters of
- breathing of healthy and sick people and interactions between
various diseases and respiration;
- effects of various environmental factors (sleep, sleeping
postures, exercise, posture, meals, diets, daily activities,
temperature, thermoregulation, emotions, etc.) on breathing,
oxygenation, and health.
Thus, in 1960 Buteyko became the manager of another Laboratory of
Functional Diagnostics organized at the Institute of Experimental
Biology and Medicine in Novosibirsk. Buteyko created in his laboratory
a unique diagnostic complex, which included several physiological
devices to measure 40 important health parameters in real time (or with
each breath). According to Buteyko and Dyomin, “One such investigation,
lasting about 1 hour, produces about 2,000 recordings of 40 main
parameters of respiratory and cardiovascular processes, resulting in
about 100,000 numbers…” (Buteyko & Dyomin, 1963). These parameters
included pulse, EKG, blood pressure, tidal volume, respiratory rate,
minute ventilation, arterial and venous blood gases and chemical
analysis of the expired air. The complex produced many thousands of
measurements per hour, analyzed by a computer. The unique features of
this complex were described in the Soviet magazine “Izobretatel' i
ratsionalizator” (Inventor and Efficiency Expert, 1961;
Buteyko 1961; Buteyko, 1962). Some characteristics and abilities of
this machine were also reported in more than 20 scientific articles
written by Buteyko with his colleagues and published in medical,
physiological and diagnostic magazines and conference proceedings.
These and other scientific publications can be found here: Scientific publications written by
Doctor Buteyko and his colleagues.
Photo 1. This is the unique diagnostic complex created in 1960s for
USSR’s first space missions in the Laboratory of Functional Diagnostic
in Novosibirsk headed by Doctor Buteyko. The volunteers were to breathe
air with varying composition. About 40 physiological parameters of the
body were measured by the complex in real time 24/7, thousands of
numbers every hour, literally with each breath of the person. The
information was recorded and analyzed by a computer. Simultaneously
Doctor Buteyko studied the interactions between breathing and diseases,
breathing and life style factors and other breathing-related and
Research with the use of this complex was done from 1960 to 1968.
That allowed Buteyko to receive information about physiology and
respiration of the human organism in health and disease and
relationships between respiration and different factors, including
those described in Part 10.
only did he brilliantly conduct and complete these studies funded and
initiated by the USSR’s Ministry of Aviation and Space Exploration, he
also discovered and practically confirmed the fundamental role of
breathing in development and treatment of various health conditions,
including asthma, bronchitis and heart disease. Given the confidential
nature of the project, it was normal that many results remained
classified for years. (Compare Buteyko situation with the situation of
the famous Oxford Professor John Haldane, who was hired in 1920-
1930’s by British Navy to study air in submarines and whose name then
disappeared from the world scientific community.) This, however, was
not the case with Buteyko and his colleagues. They had dozens of
publications in open Soviet literature (in Russian) about their
research in 1960’s. Moreover, in 1990’s Buteyko and his numerous pupils
were able to travel in Western countries and share the word about the
Buteyko method and his discoveries.
From the 1960's and until his death in 2003, Dr. K. Buteyko was severely
persecuted by some mysterious "Siberian medical mafia", as it was documented in
many Russian sources. It is known that somebody tried to kill Dr. Buteyko
several times. You can find more actual detail about mysterious deaths of
leading Soviet healers (Dr. Buteyko, Vladimir Frolov and Alexandra Nikolaevna
Strelnikova), visit the page:
Buteyko, Frolov, Strelnikova died.
As about the promotion and advance of the Buteyko method in the remaining parts of world, the main promoter was Alexander Stalmatski.
For the list of the quoted references click here.
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