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History of the breathing technique: The USSR and West

Doctor Konstantin Buteyko, leading Soviet physiologist, author of the Buteyko breating method.

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. Russian spaceship 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 included:

- finding optimum air parameters for human functioning during space missions depending on the stage of the flight and initial parameters of astronauts;

- 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.

Laboratory of Doctor Konstantin Buteyko in Novosibirsk in 1960s. Search for optimum air composition for first Soviet spaceship missions, for better health of astronauts.

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 CO2-related challenges.

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.

Doctor Konstantin Buteyko, leading Soviet physiologist, author of the Buteyko breating method, with a child.Not 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.

February 2017 update. New breathing students with terminal conditions (end-stage disease) are accepted on with Dr. Artour's Triple Money-Back Guarantee.

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