Wonder Cure from Russia is Ahead by a Nose by James Hughes-Onslow, The Daily Express, 6th August 1996
Asthma Under Attack by Russell Lander, The Bulletin (Australia) 8 October 1996
Breathe Easily, and Learn to Live Again by Sally Magnusson, The Herald, Glasgow, 12th August 1996
Breathing Life Into Medical Theories by Sally Magnusson, The Herald, Scotland, Monday January 6 1997
Teaching Asia To Breathe (from Indochina Traveller Magazine, Thailand)
A Shorter Intake of Breath – The Independent Newspaper (UK), 10th June 1996
Hundreds of asthma sufferers claim the Buteyko method has changed their lives. So why does the medical establishment seem suspicious of it?
Every four minutes a child is admitted to hospital with a severe asthma attack. Over the next few months the figure is likely to be even higher as pollen counts rise and the weather stays unsettled. We are in the middle of a mysterious asthma epidemic – the number of cases is increasing yearly and there is no cure.
The medical response has been to develop more drugs and get people on to them sooner – annual sales of inhalers now top 18 million. A recent pilot project in Kent looking for asthma among children found that for every one known case there was another undiagnosed. All of the children were put on drugs. Many parents are not happy with this approach, but there is no alternative.
Or rather there is, but it is being firmly ignored. Last year a couple of newspaper stories described a radical new treatment for asthma which simply involved learning a new breathing pattern. Scores of patients reported that they no longer needed to use drugs and had much better control over their symptoms.
One satisfied customer was the MP Jonathan Aitken, who says it reduced his symptoms and made drugs unnecessary. Another was Dr John Stanley of the National Public Health Laboratory, who said, ‘It changed my life. Before, I could barely walk up stairs now I can manage a 10-mile hike. I was using my puffer four times a day as well as steroids and now I’m off all drugs.’ You might think that such results would be welcomed by the National Asthma Campaign – motto: ‘getting your health back’. After all, they are dedicated to relieving the plight of asthmatics and most sufferers worry about the quantity of drugs they have to take. But the campaign’s response to any queries about the Buteyko method, as it is known, is the following statement: ‘We would strongly advise people with asthma not to pay several hundred pounds to be taught a method of treatment that is of unproven benefit.’ The reason they give is that they are not aware of any scientifically validated trials of the method.
This claim makes Chris Drake, a Buteyko practitioner, furious. ‘Why do they say it has not been adequately researched when there has been a double-blind clinical trial in Australia and the interim results have been written up in an Australian medical journal? They were the best in terms of help for asthmatics ever published.’
The Buteyko method – it was developed by the Russian physiologist Professor Konstantin Buteyko – involves no mystical concepts, it is firmly based in Western physiology and yet getting it taken seriously by a medical establishment rooted in the drug culture has proved extraordinarily difficult.
The technique does make one revolutionary claim: that the problem asthmatics have is that they breathe too much. The reasoning is this. We all know that we breathe in oxygen, which passes through the lungs into the blood stream, and breathe out the waste gas carbon dioxide (CO2). What is not so familiar, although it is in all the physiology text books as the Verigo- Bohr effect, is that we actually need CO2 in the lungs for the oxygen to pass efficiently into the blood. The body needs a concentration of about 6 per cent CO2 and the amount in the air is only about 0.03 per cent. The body’s solution has been for the alveoli – the tiny air sacs in the lungs – to act as CO2 accumulators. But because CO2 is a very light gas, heavy breathing has the effect of diluting the CO2 stored in the air sacs.
Professor Buteyko tested thousands of asthmatics and found that all of them were over-breathing. The optimum amount is around 5 litres per minute, but asthmatics were breathing two, three or even four times that amount. The result is that the CO2 levels go down and the body responds by constricting the airwaves – its way of saying, ‘Stop breathing so much!’ The essence of the Buteyko method is that by reducing the level of breathing, the CO2 levels rise and the airways open. It is an interesting theory and would seem easy enough to test. But it hasn’t quite turned out like that. Five years ago a Russian Buteyko trainer, Alexander Stalmatsky began teaching in Australia, which has one of the highest proportions of asthma sufferers in the world. Since he started, some 6,000 people have learnt the technique, including former Australian squash champion Karen Clonda, and media interest has been considerable. One of the most thorough TV programmes was made by Peter Wilkinson, an investigative journalist with his own slot, A Current Affair, for Channel 9. ‘I’m a pretty sceptical bloke,’ says Wilkinson, ‘but this technique really seemed to work.’ His team followed two classes of 30 people each for about three months and found the majority enjoyed considerable benefit. They also contacted 100 patients from the Buteyko centre’s records. About 60 to 70 per cent told the researchers they were much improved. ‘But when we put all of this to the official asthma people they refused to budge an inch.’
The interest generated by media coverage led to the setting up of a trial, which was run by Professor Charles Mitchell of Queensland University. Forty middle-aged, chronic asthmatics, who had had asthma for an average of 23 years, were divided into two groups. The control group – average age, 43 – were given physiotherapy, taught standard breathing techniques and given instruction on drug use. The others – average age, 48 – were taught the Buteyko method.
Six weeks after the trial the Australian Doctor ran a story entitled ‘Doctors Gasp at Buteyko Success’. The preliminary findings were that while there was no change in the control group, the Buteyko group had reduced their use of beta agonists (bronchodilators) by 90 per cent and reported an improvement in their symptoms. Eight months later the improvement not only continued, they had also reduced their steroid intake. The method seemed to be vindicated. In fact it was only the beginning of a bitter debate that is still going on, even between the authors of the study. Professor Mitchell describes the results as impressive, but only superficially. The crux of the matter for him was that the trial provided no objective proof that the patients were better. Even though they took fewer drugs and said they felt better, the FEV1 test, a routine test to assess the severity of asthma, showed no change.
What’s more, the claims about CO2 didn’t stand up either. ‘We measured CO2 levels,’ says Professor Mitchell, ‘and found no correlation between the patients whose CO2 levels had gone up the most and the ones who improved the most. So it looks as though CO2 is not the relevant factor here.’ All of which is a gross misrepresentation of what actually happened at the trial, according to Tess Graham, co-author of an as yet unpublished paper and the trainer for the Buteyko group. ‘It is such rubbish to say the drug reduction was due to some psychological effect,’ she says, ‘I must be an absolute genius if I can persuade people who have been taking a drug for more than 20 years to stay off them just because I say so.’Graham, a physiotherapist who first became involved when her own asthmatic children lost all their symptoms after learning the technique, has now trained more than 700 patients.
She was furious that Mitchell failed to mention anything about the over-breathing results. ‘They weren’t even going to test for hidden hyperventilation to begin with,’ she says, ‘even though it is the central point of the Buteyko method. We measured the patients in both groups and found they were all breathing, on average, 14 litres per minute, three times the healthy amount.’
Afterwards the Buteyko group was down to an average of 9.6 litres while the others had not changed. ‘What’s most important, though, is that those who reduced their breathing the most also reduced their drugs the most. This shows that there’s a logical link between the Buteyko method and a reduction in drug use. Nobody is telling the asthma foundations that.’ The asthma establishment does not even consider over-breathing to be a factor in asthma. The British National Asthma Campaign says, ‘there is no evidence that a person with stable asthma is over-breathing’. This finding, if it is replicated, suggests they are wrong.
Given their share of positive results from the trial and the mound of anecdotal reports of success, it hardly surprising that the Buteyko supporters believe they are being ignored and the results played down. ‘The Asthma Foundation is happy to support research into anything that may contribute to asthma – dust mites, dog hairs, fish oil, lack of lipid acids,’ says Chris Drake, ‘but their basic principle is that asthma is incomprehensible and incurable. Come up with a cure and they get worried. On the day our first results came out in Australia the Asthma Foundation put out a story about how a new study had shown margarine might be a factor. Margarine! If we are right a lot of research projects will go down the tube.’
Could This Mean the End of the Inhaler? – Daily Mail (UK National Newspaper)
Tuesday May 16, 1996
New breathing technique aims to replace drugs.
After being warned by the government to stay at home to avoid the recent bad air pollution, Britain’s 3 million asthma sufferers will be eager to hear of a treatment that has just started in this country.
The Buteyko method teaches asthmatics to control their symptoms using a breathing technique, rather than conventional drugs.
Among the first British patients was Jonathan Aitken, Treasury Chief Secretary, who was treated by the method’s senior practitioner, Christopher Drake. Mr Drake has bought the Buteyko Breath Reconditioning Technique from Australia, where it is undergoing the first clinical trials.
A late-onset asthmatic, Mr Aitken had for the past 5 years suffered typical asthma symptoms, including attacks of coughing and breathlessness. Since he started practising the Buteyko method three months ago, his symptoms have become minimal and he no longer uses any reliever medication. ‘I have tried plenty of treatments, but this is the only one that has really worked,’ he says. ‘I think it is a remarkable one that could help many people’.
One in 20 British adults suffers from asthma, a chronic and incurable disease affecting the airways. Its prevalence is increasing worldwide, and in the UK it causes 7 million days off work and kills someone every four hours.
The primary cause is unknown, but once the condition develops – which can be at any age – symptoms can be triggered be secondary factors such as cold air, exercise, allergens and stress, which cause the airways to contract.
Most asthmatics rely on conventional medicine to control symptoms. Preventive corticosteroids act slowly to reduce inflammation, and bronchodilators, such as Ventolin, open the airways and bring instant relief during an attack. Severe asthmatics may be prescribed steroid tablets.
Asthma prescriptions cost the NHS (UK pounds) 350m a year (a figure which has doubled over the past decade), yet many specialists and organisations such as the National Asthma Campaign believe there is no real alternative.
Mr. Drake, however, is critical of conventional drugs because they treat the symptoms and not the cause. The Buteyko method is based on the findings of a Russian scientist 40 years ago, that asthma is caused by a simple but fundamental and unrecognised disorder: long-term over-breathing.
‘Asthmatics are chronically hyperventilating all the time’ says Mr Drake. Imagine if our body temperature was five times what it should be:we’d be dead. Well, some asthmatics breathe five times more than they should.’
This, he explains, has wide repercussions within the body, the most significant being a loss of carbon dioxide, the bodys own bronchodilator, which ultimately leads to the symptoms of asthma.
The Buteyko method uses shallow breathing to reverse the condition. Carbon dioxide levels are restored and the symptoms disappear.
The method is simple but it takes commitment to change the breathing habits of a lifetime. ‘Generally, after a couple of days people can learn to control their asthma attacks without bronchodilators.’ says Mr. Drake. ‘After a few more days, attacks are reduced and, if the technique is maintained, patients can become asymptomatic.’
Mr Drake stresses that the method is quite safe as medication is only reduced as peoples symptoms improve. ‘The breathing technique acts like Ventolin, as a bronchodilator. You only take headache tablets if you have a headache; if you don’t have a bronchospasm, why take a bronchodilator?’
Five-year-old Ben Lord-Smith, who lives in Canberra, Australia, was classed as a chronic asthmatic and put on an ever-increasing regimen of preventative drugs after his first life-threatening attack at 18 months. They failed to control the condition: he needed nebulisers day and night and had repeated hospital stays.
Yet within 3 days of trying the Buteyko method, Ben was off bronchodilators, and after seven months his GP was able to take him off all asthma medication.
‘To have that threat of death taken away is wonderful’, says his mother Sharon. ‘The drugs worried me – and why would you want to feed children drugs if you’ve got some other way? Now, if he gets occasional symptoms he does the Buteyko technique.’
It was anecdotal evidence like this that prompted the Australian Asthma Foundation to fund the first controlled clinical trial in Brisbane. The preliminary results, reported last month to the Australian Thoracic Society, showed that after 6 weeks, patients using the Buteyko method felt substantially better and had fewer symptoms and had been able to reduce their reliever medication by 90 percent.
Although the treatment has aroused some controversy in Australia, Jonathan Aitken said he was surprised. ‘There’s nothing subversive or dangerous about it. It’s just a different breathing method. I dare say it will ruffle the feathers of drug manufacturers and those very set in their ways, but the acid test is: “Does it work or not?” Well, it did for me.’
Member of Parliament Backs Method by James Hughes-Onslow, The Daily Express,
Tues 18th June 1996.
A Hacking cough echoed throughout the service in St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster. I apologised for my son’s ashtmatic wheezing to MP Johnathon Aitken, who was sitting in the pew in front. An asthma sufferer himself, Mr. Aitken took a sympathetic view. He recommended me to Christopher Drake of London’s Hale Clinic, where he learned the breathing exercises which enabled him to give up his inhaler. My son and myself (also an asthmatic) will be checking in there this week.
The former Treasury Minister has, it seems, persuaded a number of asthma sufferers to try the Buteyko Method.
“I read about Jonathon Aitken’s asthma about a year ago,” says Inrgid Beale, who used to run a decorating business in Suffolk until asthma forced her to give it up. “I was on Becotide and Ventolin inhalers and steroids. Despite all this medication, or perhaps because of it, I still had sleepless nights.” But after attending Dr. Drakes clinic in London, Mrs. Beale’s life has been transformed. “I can walk and swim and do things I couldn’t do before. When I take a breath it’s so fresh it’s unbelievable.” And since last August, Mrs Beale has used no medication at all.
Despite having helped thousands of sufferers, the Buteyko method is still criticised by the medical authorities and the National Asthma Campaign. When the Hale Clinic wrote to former Health Minister Edwina Currie, who also suffers from asthma, she wrote back saying: “I have all the help I need.”
Drake says: “The official line is that there is no known cure. They are always looking for environmental causes, never physiological ones. A lot of people would be very embarrassed if the Buteyko Method is proved correct.”
Wonder Cure from Russia is Ahead by a Nose by James Hughes-Onslow,
The Daily Express, 6th August 1996
Forcing your lungs to breathe less when you are gasping requires discipline. Professor Buteyko was brutal, taping patients’ mouths shut so they had to breathe through their noses. That’s how they did things in Soviet Russia.
At the Hale Clinic near Harley St., Chris Drake, who learned the Buteyko method in Russia and practised it in Australia, tells patients to breathe through their noses whenever possible. and to tape their mouths up at night. He advises a minimum of exercise, to avoid heavy breathing, and moderate eating and drinking – large meals make asthmatics breathless.
TV Presenter and mother-of-five Sally Magnusson, who went on the 290 (UK pounds) week’s Buteyko course with her eight-year-old son Siggy, said: “It has been very encouraging so far but time will tell.” You start with some shallow breathing. “It’s not easy or relaxing, it’s difficult, horrible,” says Drake. “If it’s joyful, you’re doing it wrong.”
Worse is to follow. It is called the pause. You breathe out gently, then hold your breath. You should be able to do this for a minute or more. In our group of nine. Kevin ,the Rastafarian poet managed 10 seconds, and a three-year-old boy couldn’t manage to do it at all. I did 25 seconds, not good enough for Drake.
“You are breathing for four people,” he said. “You don’t need so much oxygen. We breathe 10 times more oxygen than we need, and 200 times too little carbon dioxide.”
On the second day pauses were getting longer, pulses slower. Blood vessels had expanded, Drake explained, and appetites had diminished. The routine is 4 maximum pauses and 2 medium ones, separated by 3 minute intervals of shallow breathing, doing this 4 times a day. The purpose is to retrain the respiratory centre, the part of the brain which controls breathing.
On the third day the father of the small boy complained that Drake had disrupted his entire family’s sleeping pattern. He took his wife and son away and didn’t come back. “That boy is being condemned to a life on drugs”. Drake protested.
Valerie, a psychotherapist fellow sufferer, and I were doing pauses of more than a minute by this time, holding our noses, pacing the room to distract ourselves from the pain and had given up symptomatic medication, Serevent in her case. Ventolin in mine. Kevin managed half a minute and was using 3 puffs of ventolin a day instead of 10.
On the 5th day Kevin who was sceptical and still hadn’t taped his mouth shut at night, confessed he felt much better. “It’s been a success. This is usually a bad time of year for me. I often end up in hospital it gets so bad.”
Valerie was much better, but rather nervous of going back to see her doctor. “It’s been a big success. I expected to be very wheezy when I gave up all the drugs but I’m not.”
Sally Magnusson adds: “As a sceptical journalist I feel there must be a catch but I can’t see it yet. Siggy is feeling much better, using fewer inhalers.”
Stop This Asthma Disgrace by James Hughes-Onslow, The Daily Express 6th August 1996
The Health Secretary, Stephen Dorrell, has announced a five-year, 5 million (UK pound) research programme to identify the cause of asthma. “There is no cure for asthma,” says a spokesman for the National Asthma Campaign. “One thing is certain: the outlook for asthma research has never looked so good.
Yes, asthma research is doing well – it has a rosy future. But, sadly, asthmatics do not. Once, asthma scarcely existed; now treating it is a lucrative with more and more sufferers dependent on expensive drugs.
God preserve asthmatics from the pharmaceutical industry.
When it was announced recently that Third World countries had fewer asthmatics than developed countries, the irony was missed by experts who said that it was modern life was too clean. Other specialists say asthma is caused by pollution. The truth is western doctors haven’t got a clue.
In Soviet Russia, which was spared the grip of the pharmaceutical lobby, Professor Konstantin Buteyko devised a system of breathing exercises which combat asthma and hay fever effectively.
The basis of Buteyko is that we need carbon dioxide in our lungs to process oxygen into the bloodstream.This is a physiological fact, not mumbo-jumbo. Carbon dioxide is known to be connected with the function of the nervous system. When asthmatics become tight-chested, their bodies are trying to tell them to slow down, to take less oxygen and more CO2.
Now they are treated with bronchodilators which have the reverse effect, opening up the airways to allow more oxygen in and expelling CO2. Because these inhalers are addictive, they become ever more insidious..
For the pharmaceutical industry, Buteyko’s method is bad news. It requires no drugs at all. GPs are happy to hear about it but they will not recommend it. And there is little incentive in the pharmaceutical industry to cure the disease.
I have had prescriptions for Becotide (2 puffs twice a day), Ventolin (for use in a crisis) and Intal (occasionally) for 17 years, and I’ve had 3 serious asthma attacks.
Once I was taken unconscious to hospital, where I was put on a drip and kept in for a week.
Now, after a one-week Buteyko course, I’ve given up all drugs. I find I’m able to fight off an asthma or hay fever attack.
My 11-year-old son Andrew, who has never had an asthma attack but often has an asthmatic cough, has been prescribed even more powerful drugs. Children are often given even more powerful drugs than adults because they can’t be relied on to use inhalers accurately.
Yet the NAC says it cannot recommend Buteyko because “it has not undergone properly controlled clinical trials which have been published in a reputable medical journal”. It is this attitude which causes this epidemic.
Doctors Gasp at Buteyko Success by Tony James,
Front Page of “Australian Doctor” 7/4/95
BUTEYKO breathing hypoventilation exercises in patients with asthma reduced beta agonist use by 90% and improved symptoms, according to preliminary results of a randomised, controlled trial in Brisbane.
However, there were no changes in major physiological parameters such as peak flow rate or FEV1 in people using Buteyko breathing.
The study was reported at a meeting of the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand in Hobart last week by Dr Simon Bowler, a respiratory physician at Mater Hospital in Brisbane.
Dr Bowler said there were no obvious explanations for the apparent short-term benefits of Buteyko breathing.
“We were surprised at the results, as we didn’t expect any significant changes,” he told Australian Doctor.
Proponents of the technique claimed that hyperventilation and the subsequent increase in carbon dioxide levels could relieve the symptoms of bronchospasm and favourably affect the long- term course of asthma.
The study was prompted by publicity about Buteyko breathing and the number of inquirie to asthma foundations and requests for advice from other health professionals it had generated.
The study was funded by the Australian Association of Asthma Foundations. Forty patients with well-documented asthma and significant daily use of bronchodilators were recruited and randomised to a Buteyko or control group – 39 remained in the study.
The Buteyko group received classes from a Buteyko practitioner for 90 minutes a day for seven days and the classes included direct encouragement to minimise beta agonist use.
The control patients received a similar regimen of physiotherapy classes which included standard asthma education, breathing exercises (excluding any hyperventilation) and relaxation techniques. Both groups were carefully instructed to use bronchodilators only as required and not on a routine basis.
“We would expect education to influence the patients’ asthma management, but wouldn’t normally expect the other techniques to have any major effect on medication use or respiratory function,” Dr Bowler said.
“After six weeks there was a 90% reduction in beta agonist use in the Buteyko group, compared to only a 5% reduction in the control group.”
“There was also a signficant difference in quality of life and improvement in symptom scores in the Buteyko group.”
“These changes occurred in the absence of any improvement in airflow” Dr. Bowler said.
“In this study, there appears to be some short-term benefit from Buteyko techniques in terms of reduced beta agonist use, without obvious cost in terms of worsening symptom scores.”
The trial continued for another six weeks to investigate the effect of reducing inhaled corticosteroid use, but the data are yet to be analysed.
Breathe freely if you have Asthma by Jerome Burne,
The Sunday Telegraph, 31 December 1995
Asthma, as we all know, is a disease that prevents people getting enough air into their lungs, because the passageways close up. The trouble is we have got it completely wrong. Actually, asthma is the body’s way of saying: “You are breathing too deeply”. Learn to breathe more shallowly and the asthma will disappear.
This apparently ridiculous idea is at the heart of a revolutionary new cure for this often chronic and crippling disease which affects one in 20 adults in this country and kills more than 2,000 a year. Traditional treatment aims to force the constricted air passages open with steroids and “broncho-dilator” drugs.
However, Australian Christopher Drake, who runs group sessions in the Buteyko Breathing Reconditioning Technique at the Hale clinic in London, believes this is profoundly mistaken. “Within a week we can get 97 per cent of patients off most of their drugs and able to control attacks. “All we use are specific breathing techniques”.
Among his successful cases is Jonathon Aitken MP, who had asthma for 5 years before doing the course. “It’s the only thing that has worked for me,” he says. “I think it is remarkable.” Another supporter is Dr. John Stanley, a medical microbiologist at the Central Public Health Laboratory who, although he wants to wait three months before making a final assessment, says that he has not felt so well in years. “I’d had asthma for nine years, and it was gradually getting worse.”
The technique was developed in Russia by Professor Konstantin Buteyko. Drake first encountered it in Australia about five years ago, and now an estimated 8,000 Australians have been treated with it. One clinical trial written up in the Medical Journal of Australia, describes the results as showing “unprecedented broad-spectrum improvement”.
What makes Buteyko approach so controversial is that it turns our idea of what happens during breathing on its head. In the authorised version, what we all need is oxygen. The job of the lungs is to transfer oxygen into the blood making it bright red and healthy and to breathe out carbon dioxide -the waste product.
In the Buteyko version, it is carbon dioxide that gets the lead role. Drake points out, and physiologists would not disagree, that CO2 is vital for control of the major body systems, such as the immune system, the digestion and the heart.Certainly the transference of oxygen to the blood from the lungs depends on the right amount of CO2 being available.
“Now it is text-book stuff, but not widely known that for the exchange to work most efficiently you need in your lungs about 6 per cent CO2 and 2 per cent oxygen,” says Drake. “This means that the focus of everyone’s breathing is not, as we all think, getting enough oxygen – there’s lots of it around, 20 per cent in every breath – the problem is getting enough CO2, as each breath contains only.035 per cent. The key role of the lungs is to act as a CO2 reservoir”. The storage tanks are the alveoli – millions of tiny sacs in the lungs where CO2 is transferred into the blood.
“When someone constantly takes in too much air,” says Drake, “these reservoirs get diluted with other gases. The asthmatic spasm is a dramatic message from the body that screams ‘Slow down, CO2 reserves running low.’ Literally, the last thing you need at this point is a drug to force your airways open.”
It might have remained yet another eccentric personal theory, were it not for the results. “You have to be pretty well motivated,” says Dr. Stanley. “The exercises aren’t easy. They are the opposite of what you have been doing all those years. But within just a few days you get back a control of something as basic as your breathing. And that’s amazing.”
Breathing Life Into Medical Theories by Sally Magnusson, The Herald, Scotland,
Monday January 6, 1997
When the BBC programme Frontline Scotland reveals the results of the two months it spent following the progress of asthma sufferers using the Buteyko breathing method, it will be reopening a medical controversy which has been simmering in Scotland for some months. Ever since the practitioners of the method, developed by the Russian professor Konstantin Buteyko, began their breathing classes in Glasgow, heralded by the astounding claim asthma can be corrected by shallow breathing, opinion has been sharply divided.
Doctors by and large feel the theory that all asthmatics breathe incorrectly doesn’t hold water. They say only the tiny percentage who hyperventilate acutely are likely to be helped by changing their breathing. Prof Buteyko, however. argues all asthmatics breathe more than they should , the degree of over-breathing determines the severity of the asthma, and that by improving their breathing they will improve their asthma.
It’s a theory passionately supported by the growing numbers of asthmatics who have persevered with the method and found their asthma improving, sometimes dramatically. Since every course brings together all types of asthma, whether exercise induced or allergy based, mild or severe, acquired in childhood or later in life, and since the majority of sufferers appear to benefit, a far higher proportion than the 4% or so of acute hyperventilators are seeing an improvement in their asthma. Four months ago, The Herald followed the progress of several people who took part in the first Buteyko workshop in Scotland. At the end of the five evening-course, the diaries they kept chartered, in every case, a reduction in symptoms. The real challenge, however, would be in the weeks ahead, as they sought to persevere with a breathing method that requires considerable effort.
With Frontline Scotland set to reveal the results of another such course, it seemed appropriate to chart the progress of that first group. Pam Duncan, from the Isle of Arran, says it has changed her life. She has been able to start a new job, after being unable to cope with the last one because of her asthma. Her family have insisted she change her message on the answer-phone because she sounds so different from the wheezy character who recorded the original one.
“I was on so much medication I can barely remember it all. Now I’m off everything except Uniphyllin (which I’ve reduced from 400mg twice a day to 300mg once a day ) and the steroid inhaler Flixotide which will be the last one to go. I’m also off Prozac which I was on for the depression I was getting because I was always so ill with asthma. “I’ve had three chest infections since the course, which I had to be on antibiotics for, but I haven’t needed to increase the asthma medication, which is amazing”
Meridith Cooper from Rhu has found the breathing exercises extremely hard work. “If I stick at it, I’m well. If I lapse, the asthma returns. But I am very, very impressed . I haven’t used Ventolin in four months an I’m ready now to half my dosage of steroids”.
The huge reserves of willpower required to sustain the Buteyko method seems to be the main reason it doesn’t work for everyone. In a culture hooked on instant remedies, the physical effort and mental stamina it takes to recondition a lifetime’s breathing habit comes as a shock. A hospital physician who enrolled four of his NHS patients on a Buteyko course was extremely disappointed with the results. Two did not even finish the course.
Meredith Cooper’s brother Guy Nelson was also on the first course. He had asthma induced solely by exercise, which in a sports lover was a major handicap. He found it difficult at first to play hockey with his mouth tightly closed, but eventually began to experience definite improvement. He now feels in control of his asthma.
One of several children on the course, Amy Birchard, 9, has persevered with the exercises and feels much better. Her father, Paul Birchard said “I feel it’s a truthful theory and it works”.
Joanne Webster, 16, from Angus, has also been able to reduce her medication, she has more energy and feels warmer. Her consultant was very impressed by the improvement in her condition. Alasdair, 18, Fearghas, 8 and their mother, Fiona Lyon, did the course together as a family. Alasdair reports that they have not used their inhalers at all since then. They can all now go into houses where there are cats and dogs without suffering. “It’s very hard work,” said Alasdair, “but it’s worth it.”
Elaine Gillespie, 17, from Greenock, was a severe asthmatic on high doses of drugs, who looked and felt ill all the time. She is amazed at how much better she has been. She was able to come off most of the drugs and has felt hugely better without the shakiness and the fluctuating heart-rate she had been experiencing as side effects. Her one set back has been a bout of pneumonia, but she intends to restart the breathing method once she recovers. “I think everybody should be able to do this” she said. “It should be on the NHS”
Whether the Buteyko method ever makes it on to the NHS, which currently spends hundreds of millions of pounds on asthma drugs, depends on clinical trials which may take years to carry out. So far the only controlled study has been staged in Australia, where 40 asthmatic patients were divided into two groups which followed either a Buteyko regime or standard asthma treatment and relaxation techniques. After six weeks there was a 90% reduction in the symptomatic medication in the Buteyko group compared with a 5% reduction in the other. There was also a significant improvement in the quality of life of the Buteyko group. Australian respiratory physicians expressed surprise at the results. The Buteyko practitioners in this country, Alexander Stalmatski and Christopher Drake, operate out of London’s Hale Clinic. Research studies are under way but it may be a long time before the clinical trials that could prove or disprove the Buteyko theory are up and running.
It’s Enough to make you gasp by Sally Magnusson,
The Herald, Glasgow, 7 October 1997
The research establishment won’t fund it. The medical establishment won’t countenance it. In GP surgeries up and down the land it’s been dismissed as irrelevant. But among the people, among those patients who – despite the best efforts of the cleverest people in the medical profession – still can’t breathe properly and are frittering away their health on increasingly noxious asthma drugs, the Buteyko method is not so easily patronised.
Now at last these people have a champion. Dr Gerald Spence, a 43 year old GP in the East End of Glasgow, has spent the last year considering the claims of the Russian Professor Konstantin Buteyko that Western medicine has got the approach to asthma all wrong. He has become increasingly convinced that. Buteyko is right to see asthma as a breathing disorder which can be corrected by retraining our breathing.
When The Herald first brought the claimed successes of the Buteyko method to public attention more than a year ago, Dr Spence – virtually alone among his profession – was concerned enough at his own impotence in treating asthma effectively to attend a Buteyko workshop and see what was going on.
At Shettleston Health centre we spend £100,000 a year on asthma treatment – that’s a tenth of the whole budget.” he says “But it’s not working. Constantly we have to increase the potency of the medication, and it’s very distressing to see patient’s intake go up and up, without them getting any better.”
What he found at the Buteyko workshops was asthmatics of every shape, size, age and degree of severity, all but a few declaring themselves hugely better and able within days to reduce the sometimes vast amounts of medication previously needed to control their asthma symptoms. He was interested, but profoundly sceptical. Nobody teaches Buteyko’s theories in this country’s medical schools. The Siberian born physician, whom the medical committee of the Russian Parliament is currently considering for nomination for a Nobel Prize in Medicine, argues that all our ideas about deep breathing being good for us are fatally flawed. He argues that the more you breathe, the less oxygen actually gets to the cells of your body. This is because the air around you contains a much smaller proportion of carbon dioxide than your own body.Carbon dioxide is essential for the body’s uptake of oxygen. Breathing too much results in a deficit of carbon dioxide, which reduces the level of oxygen in the blood and tissues.
According to this theory, asthmatics are breathing two, three, sometimes even four times as much as they should, and constriction of the airways is the body’s defence. The body is asking to be given less air, not more. Reliever drugs to open the airways will, therefore, give temporary relief, but will soon force the body into stronger defences, which leads to more drugs, and so on, in an increasingly vicious spiral.
Barely able to believe that the answer to asthma could be that simple, Dr Spence was nevertheless spurred on by the results he was seeing. He decided to follow the progress of 60 asthmatics who had paid £290 to learn how to retrain their breathing. Of the 41 who responded to his survey over a six month period (27 females and 15 males aged from six to 77 years) 34 had continued with the exercises and reported significant reductions in asthma medication; indeed 12 people no longer used preventer or reliever at all. A further two had stopped the exercises but concentrated on breathing through their nose; both had stopped their reliever inhaler and one the preventer. Five people had abandoned the breathing method and described their asthma as unchanged.
“I am amazed at how well people have done” says Dr Spence. “I didn’t expect these results. People were writing huge screeds on the back of the questionnaires, saying they had never felt better in their lives. I don’t need fancy statistical techniques to see their is something very important going on.”
In the letter he sent with the latest part of his survey he wrote, “Although this questionnaire does not have the rigour of a clinical trial, I feel that it provides very strong evidence that Buteyko breathing exercises, if continued, can control the symptoms of asthma and that medication can be reduced and in many cases stopped without apparent harm.
*Boosted by the results of the survey, Dr Spence has begun teaching his own asthma patients the Buteyko principles. When I joined him on his afternoon off he was sitting in a room in the surgery with a group from his asthma list, discussing how they were progressing after five days of breath-holding exercises and shallow breathing. All were enthusiastic. Mary Lafferty, so disabled by asthma that she can’t take a job and is hooked up permanently to a drip which she carries in a pouch round her waist, was telling him she was amazed at how much better she felt. She spend s her time in and out of hospital. “I’ve been dead about 10 times”- and said this week had seen a great improvement in her condition. “I want to get rid of this bag” she said. “That’s the first step”
Dr Spence nodded. “If Buteyko is correct she’ll be off that bag before long”, he said “because what we are trying to do here is make medication redundant.With asthma., you go by symptoms. If a patient is feeling better, you begin carefully to reduce the medication. A doctor doesn’t need double-blind trials to see whether a patient has improved or not.”
Therese Donaldson, 23, an administration officer from Barlinnie, said her asthma had become agonisingly bad over the past few months. But this week had been “amazingly helpful”, and in consultation with Dr Spence she had already been able to reduce the high doses of medication. Rita Nimmo, a marketing distribution manager, said “It’s been a definite help in five days. I couldn’t believe it. I had all the girls in my department helping me with the exercises, because it’s hard to hold your breath for long periods. I’ll certainly continue because I feel in control of my asthma for the first time”
Leslie Gibbons, a police support officer, talked of shallow breathing being a “tremendous help”. Support worker Kevin Patterson was delighted with the start he had made.
Dr Spence himself was surprised at how quickly they had all managed to reduce their breathing. As a group they were well motivated – so scunnered by the increasing amounts of medication needed to control their asthma that they were ready to work hard at self-help. He realises that other patients may not yield such good results, but has seen enough now to be convinced that Buteyko has got it right and his own profession’s indifference is a dangerous misjudgement.
“We doctors check patient’s weight, blood pressure, all sorts of things. What we never check is how much they are breathing or how fast they are breathing. The trouble is that hyperventilation, or overbreathing, is taught at medical school as an acute condition. The effects of chronic hyperventilation are never studied, as far as I can recall .
“Doctors ignore breathing and concentrate on the amount of stuff they can get into the asthmatic chest. Buteyko says the opposite – that only by reducing the drugs that open the airways, and by reducing the air, will asthma go away.
“There’s a staggering amount of research money around. It’s time some of it went into researching this theory. Their reluctance to take it seriously brings into disrepute the whole research establishment. As doctors we tend to be influenced by individual things that happen to our patients, not by fancy medical trials. I have seen this work, therefore I am going to promote it”.
At his surgery in a part of Glasgow where there is much deprivation and where asthma is on the rise as it is everywhere – partly, he believes, through over prescription of drugs – Gerald Spence is now preparing for battle. With nobody in the UK apparently prepared to do the rigorous trials that would settle the matter conclusively, he has only one small weapon: he has seen it work.
He is depressed by the continuing indifference of his fellow health professionals, although some may respond to an invitation from Buteyko practitioner Christopher Drake to watch the method being taught to asthmatics every evening this week at a workshop in the Health and Stress Clinic in Glasgow’s Clarkston Road. Dr Spence now believes with some passion that doctors who want the best for asthmatic patients should consider the Buteyko insights on shallow breathing.
“Any GP surgery could do what I’m doing” he says. “Any asthma nurse. And in the long run this would not be a job for doctors at all, but for nursery nurses and gym teachers, parents and everyone. They should be saying all the time “Mouth shut”. All that ‘Take a deep breath, fill your lungs with air’ – it’s a load of rubbish.”
He knows there is a great deal of hostility to Buteyko, especially among hospital doctors. “I feel despondent at the thought of the battle that’s ahead ,” he says, “but I’m ready. The man who came up with the theory that germs caused ulcers was laughed at once.”
Doctors Test Drug-Free Asthma Cure By Alan Forbes,
The Scotsman, 07th Jan 1997
A Doctor is testing a controversial treatment for asthma on two of his patients.
Dr Gerald Spence, a Glasgow GP, is examining the so-called Buteyko method to see if it can reduce the need for asthma drugs which account for 19 per cent of spending at his practice in the East End. Dr Spence saw the method being demonstrated on sufferers in Glasgow who were charged Pounds 295 each to learn the technique.
The Buteyko practitioners, Alexander Stalmatski and Christopher Drake, who are holding courses for sufferers around Britain, claim that asthmatics can control their illness and reduce the amount of medication they take by learning to hold their breath. They say that asthma attacks are brought on by hyperventilation, or too much deep breathing, and symptoms can be reduced by shallow breathing.
Both men, who are based at the Hale Clinic in London, gave a five-day course in Glasgow in September. Since then, virtually every member of a group of 25 people studied after the course has reported a major improvement in their condition.
Dr Spence, who is based at the Shettleston Health Centre, says that one of his patients, a man, has reported a dramatic improvement. The other patient, a girl, has shown some improvement.
The Buteyko method, named after a Russian professor, Konstantin Buteyko, has been criticised by members of the medical profession and the National Asthma Campaign, who say it cannot cure asthma. Doctors are also concerned that sufferers may face serious problems if they stop taking their medication after learning the technique.
Dr Michael Smith, who writes the medical column ‘Up Stethoscope’ in The Scotsman, has also criticised Christopher Drake’s course and his ‘lucrative’ course fee. Dr Smith said recently that there was some theoretical support for high levels of carbon dioxide to help to widen the airways, but added ‘the rest is (I speak politely) highly suspect.’
Tonight, however, people who took part in the Glasgow course will speak on television about the benefits they felt they got from the Buteyko method. In BBC Scotland’s Frontline Scotland report at 9:30pm, Donna Esslemont, 13, from Eaglesham, says she can go out with her friends more often after learning the breath-holding technique.
‘I sleep with a tape over my mouth to keep it closed and at school I take 112 steps while holding my breath. Before, I could only go 20 steps, but I feel so much better now,’ Donna said.
Anne Kemp, 77, a widow from Milngavie, said she used inhalers frequently and had trouble climbing the hill from the shops to her home until she learned the Buteyko method. ‘I can manage the hill much better now and I feel no need to take the inhaler with me.’
Mrs Kemp said her daughter, who lives in Australia, says the technique is more commonly accepted there.
Dr Spence said that although he was guarded about the Buteyko method he was not dismissing it.
‘I don’t think its practitioners (Stalmatski and Drake) are great ambassadors because their courses are pretty chaotic, but I do think they have got something there,’ he said.
‘It could be argued that people who pay Pounds 295 for a course would say they got something from it, but it does seem to give some improvement. There seems to be an inexorable rise in the cost of asthma drugs to the health service and anything that reduces that must be welcomed.’
Dr Spence said he hoped to introduce Buteyko-style treatment on a wider basis at Shettleston, but only after he was convinced that people already using the method were showing long-term benefits. He said the technique should not be tried by asthma sufferers without proper instruction.
A Breath of Fresh Air for Asthmatics By Andrew Denholm,
The Daily Mail, Page 21, 07th Jan 1997
Asthma sufferers in Scotland yesterday hailed a controversial Russian breathing technique that is currently confounding established medical opinion.
The little-known Buteyko method, currently being used by a group of 40 asthmatics, is showing remarkable results. Two months after a week-long Buteyko course costing pounds 295 per head most of the group had reduced their medication dramatically and were able to control their asthma attacks.
‘It’s been a very interesting experience, hard but very helpful, ‘ said 77-year-old Anne Kemp, from Milngavie, near Glasgow. ‘Before, my breath would catch all the time and I couldn’t even walk back up the hill to the shops without getting out of breath, and I would take Ventolin and steroids to counteract that.
‘Two months is not a long time to make a big statement about it, but I think it has been of benefit to me.’
Thirteen-year-old Donna Esslemont, from Eaglesham, outside Glasgow, has also been helped by the programme.
‘I think it has worked. I do all the breathing exercises every day and I am getting better and better, ‘ she said. ‘I can do a lot more sport and play with my friends without having to worry about an attack, and I am using less drugs.’ Buteyko practitioner Alexander Stalmatski says the technique works because asthmatics breath more than they should do. ‘The degree of over-breathing determines the severity of the asthma and by improving breathing we can improve asthma, ‘ he added.
However, despite the seemingly high rates of success, the majority of doctors remain sceptical and both the medical profession and the National Asthma Campaign are concerned that people will stop taking their medication.According to a BBC Scotland Frontline investigation being screened tonight, about 1,500 people die from the disease in the United Kingdom every year, and there are an estimated three million sufferers. The number of children admitted to hospital with asthma has increased fourfold since the 1980s and there is no known cure and no known cause.
The only treatment is increasingly higher doses of drugs such as Ventolin and steroids. Last year the health service spent nearly pounds 500 million on these drugs, 70 per cent up in the previous six years.
Dr Gerald Spence, a GP at Shettleston in Glasgow, says his practice spends 19 per cent of its budget on asthma drugs and he is now taking a serious look at the alternatives.
‘There does seem to be an inexorable increase in the use of these drugs over the years. It was because we seem to be having to up the ante all the time that I decided to take a look at an alternative, ‘ he said.
‘I must admit I was flabbergasted by it because it is so simple and so easy. I felt uncomfortable because for years I have been prescribing drugs in increasing amounts, and this breathing technique provides a great deal of relief.’
Dr Spence has now decided to conduct tests of the technique at his practice with a view to paving the way for proper clinical trials.
A Breathing Technique Offers Help for People With Asthma,
The New York Times, November 2, 2009
I don’t often write about alternative remedies for serious medical conditions.Most have little more than anecdotal support, and few have been found effective in well-designed clinical trials. Such trials randomly assign patients to one of two or more treatments and, wherever possible, assess the results without telling either the patients or evaluators who received which treatment.
The treatment, a breathing technique discovered half a century ago, is harmless if practiced as directed with a well-trained therapist.
It has the potential to improve the health and quality of life of many people with asthma, while saving health care dollars.
I’ve seen it work miraculously well for a friend who had little choice but to stop using the steroid medications that were keeping him alive.
My friend, David Wiebe, 58, of Woodstock, N.Y., is a well-known maker of violins and cellos, with a 48-year history of severe asthma that was treated with bronchodilators and steroids for two decades. Ten years ago, Mr. Wiebe noticed gradually worsening vision problems, eventually diagnosed as a form of macular degeneration caused by the steroids. Two leading retina specialists told him to stop using the drugs if he wanted to preserve his sight.
He did, and endured several terrifying trips to the emergency room when asthma attacks raged out of control and forced him to resume steroids temporarily to stay alive.
Nothing else he tried seemed to work. “After having a really poor couple of years with significantly reduced quality of life and performance at work,” he told me, “I was ready to give up my eyesight and go back on steroids just so I could breathe better.”
Treatment From the ’50s
Then, last spring, someone told him about the Buteyko method, a shallow-breathing technique developed in 1952 by a Russian doctor, Konstantin Buteyko. Mr. Wiebe watched a video demonstration on YouTube and mimicked the instructions shown.
“I could actually feel my airways relax and open,” he recalled. “This was impressive. Two of the participants on the video were basically incapacitated by their asthma and on disability leave from their jobs. They each admitted that keeping up with the exercises was difficult but said they had been able to cut back on their medications by about 75 percent and their quality of life was gradually returning.”
A further search uncovered the Buteyko Center USA in his hometown, newly established as the official North American representative of the Buteyko Clinic in Moscow.
“When I came to the center, I was without hope,” Mr. Wiebe said. “I was using my rescue inhaler 20 or more times in a 24-hour period. If I was exposed to any kind of irritant or allergen, I could easily get a reaction that jeopardized my existence and forced me to go back on steroids to save my life. I was a mess.”
But three months later, after a series of lessons and refresher sessions in shallow breathing, he said, “I am using less than one puff of the inhaler each day — no drugs, just breathing exercises.”
Mr. Wiebe doesn’t claim to be cured, though he believes this could eventually happen if he remains diligent about the exercises. But he said: “My quality of life has improved beyond my expectations. It’s very exciting and amazing. More people should know about this.”
Ordinarily, during an asthma attack, people panic and breathe quickly and as deeply as they can, blowing off more and more carbon dioxide. Breathing rate is controlled not by the amount of oxygen in the blood but by the amount of carbon dioxide, the gas that regulates the acid-base level of the blood.
Dr. Buteyko concluded that hyperventilation — breathing too fast and too deeply — could be the underlying cause of asthma, making it worse by lowering the level of carbon dioxide in the blood so much that the airways constrict to conserve it.
This technique may seem counterintuitive: when short of breath or overly stressed, instead of taking a deep breath, the Buteyko method instructs people to breathe shallowly and slowly through the nose, breaking the vicious cycle of rapid, gasping breaths, airway constriction and increased wheezing.
The shallow breathing aspect intrigued me because I had discovered its benefits during my daily lap swims. I noticed that swimmers who had to stop to catch their breath after a few lengths of the pool were taking deep breaths every other stroke, whereas I take in small puffs of air after several strokes and can go indefinitely without becoming winded.
The Buteyko practitioners in Woodstock, Sasha and Thomas Yakovlev-Fredricksen, were trained in Moscow by Dr. Andrey Novozhilov, a Buteyko disciple. Their treatment involves two courses of five sessions each: one in breathing technique and the other in lifestyle management. The breathing exercises gradually enable clients to lengthen the time between breaths. Mr. Wiebe, for example, can now take a breath after more than 10 seconds instead of just 2 while at rest.
Responses May Vary
His board-certified pulmonologist, Dr. Marie C. Lingat, told me: “Based on objective data, his breathing has improved since April even without steroids.The goal now is to make sure he maintains the improvement. The Buteyko method works for him, but that doesn’t mean everyone who has asthma would respond in the same way.”
In an interview, Mrs. Yakovlev-Fredricksen said: “People don’t realize that too much air can be harmful to health. Almost every asthmatic breathes through his mouth and takes deep, forceful inhalations that trigger a bronchospasm,” the hallmark of asthma.
“We teach them to inhale through the nose, even when they speak and when they sleep, so they don’t lose too much carbon dioxide,” she added.
At the Woodstock center, clients are also taught how to deal with stress and how to exercise without hyperventilating and to avoid foods that in some people can provoke an asthma attack.
The practitioners emphasize that Buteyko clients are never told to stop their medications, though in controlled clinical trials in Australia and elsewhere, most have been able to reduce their dependence on drugs significantly. The various trials, including a British study of 384 patients, have found that, on average, those who are diligent about practicing Buteyko breathing can expect a 90 percent reduction in the use of rescue inhalers and a 50 percent reduction in the need for steroids within three to six months.
The British Thoracic Society has given the technique a “B” rating, meaning that positive results of the trials are likely to have come from the Buteyko method and not some other factor. Now, perhaps, it is time for the pharmaceutically supported American medical community to explore this nondrug technique as well.
How to beat chronic fatigue… by learning to hold your breath, James Delingpole,
Daily Mail, 22 October 2011
When your health deteriorates for no obvious reason it can be a very nerve-racking business. This is what happened to me, 18 months ago, quite unexpectedly.
It started with one of those random viruses that knocks you sideways for a day. But recovery never came.
Where once I was swimming, running, working out or playing tennis every day, now I couldn’t summon up the energy to play-fight my daughter after school.My strength and stamina had gone. I had a persistent cough and worried it was heart trouble or cancer. After a year, and countless tests and scans, no cause was apparent.
Possibly it was chronic fatigue syndrome (ME), but my GP couldn’t say. There was nothing he could do for me, unless I fancied anti-depressants. I’m not going to bore you with details of everything I tried that didn’t work (including antibiotics, homeopathy, and diets), just about the one that did – Buteyko.
It sounds like a Japanese martial art but it’s a special breathing technique named after the man who invented it in the Soviet Union in the 1950s, a Ukrainian doctor called Konstantin Buteyko.
Medical students have long known that carbon dioxide (CO2) plays a vital part in releasing oxygen from the blood to cells and tissue – the Bohr effect. Buteyko took this further by postulating that most of the chronic medical conditions of our modern age – from asthma to lupus and Crohn’s disease – are the result of a deficiency in our body of CO2, caused by not breathing correctly, in a panicky way, so you take in too much oxygen.
On the face of it, this sounds a barking idea. All I can say with certainty is that his method worked in the Soviet Union (where it was popular with the elite of cosmonauts, KGB officers and athletes) and, since it came to the West, it has acquired a very loyal following here too.
It is also by far the most gruellingly horrible health therapy I have ever tried. The exercises are easy enough to master. Take a normal breath in, then out, hold your nose and time on a stopwatch how long it takes before you need to take another breath. That’s your Control Pause. Then wait three minutes and do it again, only this time keep holding your breath for as long as you can. That’s your Maximum Pause.
Try it now and see how well you do. If you’re in good shape your Control Pause should be at least 30 seconds, though the average is just 17 seconds.
The Buteyko method aims to get you up to a Control Pause of around 60 seconds and a Maximum Pause of around two minutes, which is nearly where I am now. But boy was it hard work getting there.
It’s essential to have a good Buteyko teacher, like the inspirational Christopher Drake, who trained me (mainly on Skype from his home in Bangkok).In the early stages, you need intensive hands-on help of this kind, first to give you the will to keep going, and to explain all the ghastly side-effects. You feel as if you’re developing flu; you feel feverish, depressed; you get headaches, nausea, violent mood swings and once I found a blister on the roof of my mouth that vanished as mysteriously as it had arrived.
And what do you get at the end of this ordeal? Well, three months on and I feel a different man. I’m calmer, I need less sleep (and never have trouble sleeping as I used to), my energy levels are almost back to normal, I’ve lost half a stone and I’m no longer prey to the coughs, colds and sneezes I used to get all the time.
A study by the University of Nottingham’s Division of Respiratory Medicine found that patients practising Buteyko breathing exercises twice a day experienced improved asthma symptoms and cut the use of their reliever inhalers by up to two puffs a day. However, there was no improvement to their lung function and they were not able to reduce their dosage of inhaled steroids taken to keep their asthma under control.
I won’t say it’s a miracle cure, but people who have done it say they’ve had their lives transformed. And I’m one of them.
Courses from £375, www.learnbuteyko.co.uk
A Breath of Fresh Air,
South China Morning Post, HongKong
A breath of fresh air
South China Morning Post (HK) – Monday March 4 2002
A controversial respiratory technique is providing relief to Hong Kong residents lucky enough to have discovered the ‘miracle cure’. Amanda Watson reports
‘I COUGH FOR UP TO two hours at a time. There are nights when I can’t read my children a book at bedtime because I just go into these spasms. And then I’ll start vomiting cupfuls of blood. Apparently that’s normal with my disease. It’s very common here in Hong Kong.’
Lori Foster is in her early 40s, a petite, sleek housewife. And the disease she’s talking about is bronchiectasis. Permanent bronchial damage, to you and me.
Her lungs, say the nine doctors and specialist she’s seen, are damaged beyond repair and the best she can hope to do is manage her condition.
Her immune system is packing in, she gets frequent respiratory infections, she feels tired all the time and normal life is out of the question: it’s difficult, for instance, visiting the hairdresser or dentist because lying back just starts off the coughing. Life has become a non-stop round of inhalers and antibiotics.
But just three years ago, Foster was as fit as the rest of us. She’d only just arrived in Hong Kong from Australia and was trail-walking to explore Hong Kong. So when she first became sick and doctors started testing for asthma and tuberculosis, she was shocked. ‘I was in tears when my doctors finally diagnosed my condition and told me I couldn’t get my lung function back again. It was devastating. Like a sentence.’ Now, after spending ‘hundred of thousands of dollars’ on medical bills, she says she’s lost faith in conventional medicine. It’s been hazy about why she’s in this state – and has come up with no solutions.
Which is why we’re sitting talking – out in the yellow pollution which now frequently befugs even rural Sai Kung – just before we go into another course session on a controversial respiratory technique.
‘Shut up!’ In the chic exercise room of Sai Kung’s The Studio, Australian Jac Vidgen begins by sharply telling the 10 of us who’ve signed up to shut our mouths and breathe only through our nose. He dictates what we’ll do for the next five days – ‘it’s a ruthless compassion’ – but we’re the ones soon looking like little Hitlers, with our fingers stuck under our noses, indulging in a spot of nasal-gazing. How much are we breathing in and out? Can we see ourselves doing it in the mirrored-room? What do we feel like? ‘Listen to yourselves,’ he says, when he tells us to breathe more shallowly, so that there’s this disturbing feeling of slight shortness of breath and no visible signs of chest movement? There are charts to fill in (part of each session we time how long we can do without breath, walking and even jumping to extend the time), extensive medical histories to divulge, HK$3,000 to hand over.
At night, we are told, we must tape our mouths to make sure we only breathe through our noses. That proves a rather frightening experience – it feels a bit like condemning yourself to an early grave.
Vidgen is a ‘senior practitioner’ who travels throughout Southeast Asia teaching the Butekyo Breathing Technique, a breathing method first developed by the Russian respiratory physician, Dr Konstantin Buteyko, nearly 50 years ago. It’s based on the theory that Western society’s stresses mean that many of us have developed into hidden hyperventilators, which Buteyko believes is a major underlying cause of illness and linked to over 200 diseases. What asthmatics – and the rest of us – need to do to correct that, Vidgen adds, is breathe less.
Taking in less air, he says, is a simple solution through which we could cure ourselves with a few minutes’ exercise daily of everything from allergies, ME (chronic fatigue syndrome), asthma, migraines, insomnia, depression and high blood pressure to snoring and weight loss. No more obsessional need for inhalers and antibiotics, Vidgen suggests. For some of Hong Kong’s 300,000 asthma sufferers, promises like that are not to be sniffed at and there is an increasing interest in the technique – long taught in Australia and introduced into Britain in 1994 – here in the SAR.
Buteyko felt the key to the problem of dysfunctional breathing wasn’t insufficient oxygen but too much. His solution: recondition our breathing.
Vidgen explains that normal breathing results in a very specific accumulated gas mixture that we need to function properly – and modern stresses mean most of us are getting the ratio of oxygen we inhale and carbon dioxide we exhale all wrong. Conventional medicine, skeptical as ever, has paid little attention to the idea.
‘In terms of the relative importance of our three major functions – eating, sleeping, breathing – breathing is supreme, it’s vital,’ says Vidgen, a former caterer and event promoter. ‘And yet most of us have never been taught to breathe. Even worse, most people in our society believe that more is good and certainly that breathing in more is a good thing. We’ve developed a stress mechanism that was related to fight or flight when we were hunter-gatherers thousands of years ago. Now, in a short time, we’ve dramatically changed how we live. The reality now is that every time you experience anxiety or worry, say operating a computer or your mobile phone, your breathing, heart rate and hormones change, and that change is not appropriate if you are at rest,’ says Vidgen.
‘The nature of our lifestyle has increased our breathing pattern and we cope by a whole range of compromises because that’s the design of the body.
No matter how you treat it, it will compensate. But this time it’s simply wrong.’
Vidgen, rake thin but energetic enough to talk theory for hours, has experimented on himself and tells us repeatedly the Buteyko method has cured himself of sinus conditions and a host of other minor ailments. His clients in Hong Kong suffer from all manner of complaints.
Financier Peter Wynn Williams started a Buteyko course last year with severe asthma, a problem that got worse whenever the weather became hot and humid.
He’d had the condition since he was 10, but here it grew rapidly much worse. And that meant long-term drug use. Buteyko, he says, has had a dramatic effect on that. ‘It’s reduced my symptoms considerably for a start. I’m using a lot less medication too,’ Williams says.
‘I thought the whole idea sounded quacky to start with. You feel stupid holding your nose. But now I’d say the single biggest benefit has been sleeping with my mouth taped over. I found it difficult at first but it’s really improved my sleep dramatically. I feel much more rested.’
Back on the Sai Kung course, nine-year-old Peter Austin is running about the room, holding his nose to extend his pauses between breaths. He’s past a minute and still going strong. He’s asthmatic, so it’s quite an achievement for him and he’s visibly pleased to be picked out from our group as someone who should be able to recondition their breathing easily – the young being less set in their ways Vidgen explains. Not to be outdone, I try pacing up and down for longer and my head feels like it’s going to explode.
But then Peter has a bigger incentive. He plays football for his school and that has always meant frequent breaks to use his inhaler. His worried mother wants him to stop playing until the breathing problems stop. But Peter loves sport, so he sticks with the 10-hour, week-long course.
‘I felt left out of sport before I started this,’ he says afterwards.
‘No one picked me for games. But I already feel I can play better. I don’t feel myself struggling for breath so much now. It feels like I’m in control.’
Visit the Web site www.buteykoasia.com for more information on the Butekyo Breathing Technique.
How do you know if you over-breathe?
Try Konstantin Buteyko’s ‘control pause’. Sit upright but be relaxed. Breathe in gently for two seconds, exhale gently for three seconds, now hold your breath until the first moment that it becomes difficult.
If you can only hold your breath for less than 10 seconds, you have serious health problems. Under 25 seconds, your health needs attention; 30 seconds you are mildly asthmatic; 60 seconds, you’re in good health.
Breathtaking news, Philippine Daily Inquirer Lifestyle Section
By Cathy Babao Guballa
Philippine Daily Inquirer, Lifestyle, May 01, 2001
ASTHMA is no joking matter. Parents of asthmatic children go through hell each time a child experiences an attack. The summer months are particularly difficult – the deadly combination of heat and smog certainly have a deleterious effect on the health of these children.
In the Philippines for a series of lectures on the Buteyko Method of Breathing Reconditioning is Jac Vidgen, an Australian, senior Buteyko practitioner who promises to bring relief and breath of hope to those suffering from asthma and other related disorders. Vidgen has been involved with the Buteyko method for the past seven years. Previously based in Sydney, he did regular workshops there as well as in New South Wales. He is the first practitioner to bring the method to Southeast Asia. He has been featured on the CNN morning show in Asia and trained by Alexander Stalmatski, a leading prot*g* of Dr. Buteyko. Vidgen however is quick to say that the method is not easy and requires commitment and dedication. To those who are willing to commit, he promises great improvement in health.
“Breathing is the most basic thing we do everyday.” Vidgen begins to tell us. How much should we breathe? A normal person, Vidgen says, takes 20,000-30,000 breaths per day. Most people think that “the more breaths, the better”. Vidgen says this is a misconception and any examination of the physiology of respiration indicates that this concept is quite misleading – even dangerous.
Beginnings of Buteyko
The treatment was developed in the 1950s in Russia by a Russian medical doctor and scientist, Dr. Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko. Dr. Buteyko made some clinical observations and discoveries, which revealed that human breathing habits, seem to have strayed from what our physiology books describe as normal. What he identified as increasingly prevalent in modern society, is low level (and mostly hidden) hyperventilation, which he discovered is a major underlying cause of human illness. Buteyko further noticed that by reducing this overbreathing to more normal respiratory volume levels, a whole range of diseases and their symptoms improved. He then developed a program for enabling patients to retrain their breathing pattern, which has evolved into the Buteyko technique.
Stress, asthma and Buteyko
Stress is a well-known stimulant for hyperventilation. As a response to stress the heart rate increases, breathing deepens and hormone production changes.
Vidgen says that during most of the period of evolution of the human body, stress occurred simultaneously with physical activity for which these responses were quite appropriate. “When our ancestors were startled by the proverbial lion, their respiration would increase. Doing so would rid them of carbon dioxide which made room for the rapid build-up during the subsequent effort at escaping the lion.” Vidgen explains,”The stress then was short-lived. If you weren’t eaten by the lion, you would escape and your stress would disappear.”
Nowadays however, most of the stress occurs while our bodies are at rest – in which case the above responses become quite inappropriate. In prolonged periods of stress, deeper breathing becomes an unrecognized, unconscious and continuous habit and physiological pattern. Once the body becomes conditioned to the lower levels of carbon dioxide, the respiratory mechanism drives a person to breathe more than he needs to, thus keeping the levels low.
Vidgen further explains that with low levels of carbon dioxide, the body’s smooth muscle tissue can go into spasm or constriction, creating problems in the sinus passages, lungs, arteries, heart and digestive system. When hyperventilation is triggered to increase air, the lungs of an asthma sufferer react with constriction of airways, excess mucus production and swelling – as in the symptoms of asthma.
How Buteyko works
In the same way that lingering stress sustains hyperventilation long enough for the respiratory center to adapt to lower levels of carbon dioxide, so too Buteyko therapy works by breathing over a long time. Under the program, patients learn to recognize their own overbreathing pattern and how to retrain their breathing to normal levels. A range of adverse symptoms are reversed, and relief from asthma and many other conditions follow. The following benefits are typically observed:
Recovery of nasal breathing. This allows for effective filtration, humidification, regulation of temperature and airflow, as well as reduction of allergen entry.
For asthmatics, relief of acute bronchospasm through the bronchodilatory properties of carbon dioxide, leading rapidly to a reduction in the need for bronchodilators; then reconditioning of the automatic breathing pattern and avoidance of bronchospasm with continued practice and application of Buteyko’s methods.
Reduction of excess mucus
Improvement in a range of other conditions such as allergies, rhinitis, sinusitis, anxiety disorders, apnea, snoring and emphysema
Improvement in quality of sleep
Increased energy levels and enhanced sports performance
Vidgen says the manner of teaching is varied depending on the individual’s age, history, condition and response. Some lifestyle modifications involving posture, nutrition, sleep and exercise are recommended to enhance the benefits of the breathing exercises. Workshops are taught in five-to-two-hour sessions and class size is kept to a minimum of 5-15 participants. Patients are supplied with notes and support materials during the workshops to include diaries for recording of exercise results, pulse variations, symptoms, medication, reports of sleep length and quality and energy levels. Vidgen concludes by saying that changing unconscious breathing patterns requires much discipline, perseverance and persistence but the results and benefits gained from such dedication is truly, as the song goes, worth every breath one takes.
South China Morning Post, HongKong
South China Morning Post. Features. Monday, February 19, 2001
Dr Rose Ong
As a first-time mother, one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was to watch my toddler gasping for breath during an acute asthmatic attack. With the worsening air pollution problem in Hong Kong, it was enough to send me running to the drug store to stock up on bronchodilator and steroid inhalers. These medicines became my security blanket. Like most parents, the thought of keeping my child on chronic medications was disturbing, but there didn’t seem to be any alternatives . . . or were there?
Buteyko Breathing Technique, or BBT, was invented by a Russian scientist, Dr Konstantin Buteyko. After World War II, he decided to dedicate himself to the study of the ‘most complicated piece of machinery of all, the human organism’. In 1946, he enrolled in the First Medical Institute in Moscow and worked with patients suffering from a variety of medical problems, including many with breathing difficulties. He observed that patients suffering from high blood pressure, hay fever, sinusitis, asthma, chest pains, and emphysema all breathed abnormally. While the average breathing volumes of a normal adult is around 5 litres per minute, they were breathing up to three times that much.
Buteyko concluded there was a connection between dysfunctional breathing and more than 200 disease states. He theorised the problem wasn’t due to insufficient oxygen, since these patients generally breathed too much rather than too little. He felt the key was carbon dioxide.
He thought with dysfunctional hyperventilation, as the condition was known, the amount of carbon dioxide dropped too low, leading to bronchospasms – contractions of the small airways.
In 1952, he devised a drug-free programme that taught patients to recondition their breathing pattern. When the breathing is normalised, carbon dioxide levels increase, leading to the opening of small airways and improvements of many chronic diseases. Carbon dioxide has long been recognised as playing an important role in the brain’s respiratory control centre, mediating metabolic pathways, enzyme reactions and the immune system. Buteyko experimented on himself and cured himself of the high blood pressure and headaches he had been suffering.
In 1990, BBT was introduced to Australia. Since then, Buteyko practitioners have treated more than 10,000 patients with favourable results. In 1994, BBT was introduced to Britain.
Any ideas, though, that a non-surgical, non-medical alternative to treating asthma – an increasing epidemic worldwide for reasons unknown – would be welcomed by health professionals, would be mistaken.
Instead, Buteyko practitioners are unhappy over the lack of acceptance by mainstream medical practitioners, despite more than 40 years of clinical trials and positive experiences with thousands of patients.
A well-controlled clinical trial was conducted in Australia in 1995, comparing a group of chronic asthma patients dependent on bronchodilator and steroid medications, to a matched control group. For three months the BBT group experienced a 90 per cent decrease in the use of bronchodilator medications compared to the control group. They also reported improvement in their quality of life. With longer term follow-up, the BBT group was found to require lower levels of steroids. All the positive findings would normally have been convincing enough to sway even the most sceptical scientist.
However, two key observations were made which were troubling. One was that the clinical improvements did not correlate with increasing carbon dioxide levels in test subjects, as would have been hoped if the underlying principle proposed by Buteyko were correct (although this could have been the result of the testing procedures). The second was that when the BBT subjects’ lung functions were measured objectively using peak flow meters, there was no significant improvement, even if the patients felt better! Instead of clearing the air, the study merely created more confusion and controversy. Clearly more studies are needed. It may take a leap of faith, but if there is a way my child can be cured of asthma without the use of medications, sign me up.
Sunday Inquirer Magazine, Philippines
By Joy Rojas from the Sunday Inquirer Magazine, August 06, 2000 Issue
ADVOCATES swear it reduces asthma attacks almost to the point of nonexistence. Others attest it’s relieved them of allergies, coughs, clogged noses, sneezing, snoring, migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome, stress and hypertension. In one extreme incident, it’s even believed to have brought back the monthly period of a menopausing lady of 52! “It,” however, is neither a wonder pill nor a miracle gadget. It’s a revolutionary treatment, one that-hold your breath now-encourages people to decrease their breathing.
Welcome to the Buteyko Breathing Method. Developed in 1952 by Russian respiratory physician Dr. Konstantin Buteyko, the method was based on the idea that illness evolves from our tendency to overbreathe. When we breathe too much, we exhale more carbon dioxide (CO2), thus creating a deficit of CO2. Lowered levels of CO2 strengthen the bond between hemoglobin (in red blood cells) and oxygen (O2), making it difficult for the sufficient oxygenation of brain tissues and other vital organs. If there is insufficient CO2, our tissues may suffer oxygen starvation (hypoxia) regardless of the amount of O2 present. To restore the body’s balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide, patients of the Buteyko Method are trained to change their breathing patterns altogether, first by breathing exclusively through the nose. “Unlike the mouth which was designed for talking, eating, and drinking, and is too huge to act as a filter, the nose is effective as a filter, regulator and temperature controller,” says Australian senior practitioner Jac Vidgen. Patients are also asked to adapt the method’s definition of “correct breathing”-that is, barely perceptible breathing, the kind you don’t hear or see whether one is at rest or in motion. Having taught the Buteyko Method to a variety of students since 1993, Vidgen is well aware of the resistance that comes with this radical approach. “It can be difficult to change something you do 20 to 30 thousand times a day,” he agrees. “But it’s actually not complicated. It only requires consciousness change and a paradigm shift about breathing-and most people are not really interested in changes and paradigm shifts.”
The few who are, however, appear to be reaping the benefits of the drug-free solution. Vidgen, who recently concluded a series of workshops last July (five two-hour sessions held in a span of two weeks), initiates his patients into the Buteyko Method the same way: after explaining the concept of overbreathing, the coach then instructs his patients to assess their own breathing pattern through this easy test. Sitting in an upright position and with his mouth closed, the patient takes a light breath in and a light breath out and pinches his nose shut with his fingers. Upon feeling the very first impulse to breathe (way before the point where he must gasp and heave for air), the patient releases his hold on his nose. Called the “Control Pause,” this “pause” allows the body to produce carbon dioxide. The longer the pause (Buteyko says an ideal Control Pause is one that is comfortably held for 50-60 seconds), the higher the level of carbon dioxide in the system. While the exercise sounds like a cinch, both Buteyko and Vidgen emphasize the importance of having a qualified practitioner around to closely supervise patients, lest they misinterpret the method and aggravate their current condition.
As fiercely passionate as he is to Buteyko’s method, Vidgen does acknowledge traditional treatments (“I have a lot of respect for conventional medicine,” he insists, “so believe me, if I break my leg I’m going to see a doctor”) plus the fact that bad breathing isn’t the only root of all illness.
“There’s genetics, there’s environment, there’s diet, there’s lifestyle,” he enumerates. “But you don’t have as much control or access over these aspects as you do your breathing. Breathing is critical to life. You can live four weeks without eating, you can live three days without drinking – these are all undeniably essential to our health. But none of them even comes close to the importance of the way we breathe.”
Amazing, almost-instant results support the senior practitioner’s bold pronouncements. Depending on how serious one is with the method, a chronic mouth-breather who commits to breathing through his nose may note a dramatic change in his symptoms in half an hour. Moderate asthmatics, meanwhile, have reported a profound reduction in their need for relief medication a day or two after the Buteyko session. During one of Vidgen’s free introductory lectures, a lady on the verge of an asthma attack instinctively reached for her Ventolin puffer. The coach offered to assist her through the breathing method, and in a few minutes, the lady’s asthma was averted.
Vidgen’s last success story, however, came to him via e-mail: a young severely asthmatic woman who attended his workshop in Australia last April 1999 wrote him recently to share her incredible progress. Since starting on the Buteyko Method, she’s lost 35 kilos, hasn’t used a nebulizer, cut down significantly on her relief and preventive medication, and has traveled thrice in the last year without having to lug along her suitcase of steroids and puffers. “It’s an extraordinary example,” beams Vidgen. “But I get them every day.”
Touching testimonies like these are clearly reward enough for a man who, despite his attraction to alternative forms of treatment (he’s tried yoga, vegetarianism, vitamins and minerals), was led to the Buteyko Method because he needed a job fast. Financially indisposed at 44, Vidgen (whose professional background includes catering, theater and event organizing in Sydney, Australia), accepted administrative work from the company that brought in Alexander Stalmatski, Dr. Buteyko’s leading protege‚ and Vidgen’s mentor. Inspired within weeks by how safe and effective the method was, Vidgen trained extensively under Stalmatski and was eventually allowed to teach in Sydney. The Australian brought the Buteyko Method to Asian shores in 1994 when he supervised two patients while vacationing in Bali. Upon the advice of a friend, Vidgen then introduced the method in Manila in late ’96, and has made it a point to return to the country regularly for workshops. (Vidgen may be contacted through his e-mail, email@example.com)
Interestingly, Vidgen, a tall and wiry guy of 50, is a one-man operation: he funds his own trips and receives no recompense from any association or the 75-year-old Dr. Buteyko, whom he has not met. But Vidgen, whose days are always as fresh and free-flowing as the air around him, isn’t complaining. “Helping people and working with people is challenging, demanding and very exciting,” he affirms. “It’s a very satisfying and rich life and I like it that I move at a pace I can define.”
Small Breaths of Fresh Air, Thailand Tattler Magazine, Thailand
SMALL BREATHS OF FRESH AIR
We are normally told to breathe in deeply to get oxygen into the lungs. The man who started a new breathing technique says that for therapeutic results, the oppposite is true.
By DJ Bee, Thailand Tattler December 1999 Issue
As a radio DJ here in Thailand I’m quite used to being told that I talk too much but I must say I was a little taken aback when I met Jac Vidgen and he told me that I breathed to much! My bottom jaw almost hit the floor.
“Keep your mouth shut” he snapped before breaking out into a cheeky chuckle and adding “and breathe through your nose!”
Lost for words, I sat and listened as Jac went on to explain the basic principles of Buteyko, a breathing technique which is used by Russian Cosmonauts and Asthma sufferers worldwide. Before promising to keep my mouth shut, I persuaded Jac to let me sit in on one of his sessions to find out more.
The technique, which he travels Asia teaching, trains people to learn to recognise their own over-breathing patterns and how to retrain their breathing to normal levels. The method is getting worldwide attention with a documentary in the UK on the BBC and numerous programs on Australian TV, while here in Asia, Jac was recently featured on a special Buteyko CNN report as the first person to introduce the method to the region.
The results he told me were astounding. Immediate relief from the symptoms of asthma, sleep disorders, allergies, and stress to name just a few.
Furthermore long term practice brings huge benefits in sports performance, respiratory conditions like emphysema & COAD, weight control and skin disorders.
Even children as young as four years old have benefited from the technique.
The method was developed by Dr. Konstantin Buteyko, a Russian respiratory physician, who discovered that the stresses of modern living have resulted in most of us chronically overbreathing, which creates imbalances in oxygen/carbon dioxide levels, causing reduced oxygen supply to the cells and a myriad of breathing disorders and general ailments.
Buteyko’s research suggests that these illness develop as the body endeavors to compensate for the imbalance caused by incorrect breathing habits.
Jac was introduced to the method by a friend, who was teaching the technique in Australia and needed help with administration and promotion. Initially, he was employed to telephone past patients in Melbourne from Sydney, to tell them that they were coming back with the next workshop and invite them for a free follow up.
The first question he asked them was how they were doing. He spoke to hundreds of people, very quickly it became apparent to him how devastating asthma was in peoples lives and how successful the method was. The response made him very excited. He also realized that previously, he had always thought he was fairly fit and if anyone had asked how his breathing was, he would have told them it was fine.
He’d learned yoga and how to sing with no problems. When he took time to observe his own breathing he realized the he too was overbreathing.
It suddenly dawned on him that he’d been plagued with 44 years of constant irritation from chest, sinus and throat infections, allergies and hay fever.
He realized that he too needed to sort out his own breathing. Once he did, he alleviated all the problems. In the last six years he hasn’t taken any antihistamine, antibiotics or decongestants for anything in the respiratory region.
What also happened was, he needed less sleep, his energy levels became higher, his immune system got stronger and didn’t feel the need to take any Vitamins. Jac added that medical studies indicate that all asthmatics overbreathe and, in fact, it seems over ninety percent of people breathe incorrectly.
Yet current conventional medicine rarely looks at people’s breathing habits from a diagnostic perspective.
So, three days later I sat with Jac and his patient (lets call him Mr A) an Asthma sufferer who gets attacks at least once a week. Jac explained that he would he teach us how to retain and use our CO2 ( Carbon Dioxide ) as a natural smooth muscle dilator by following a strictly supervised program of breathing exercises.
He added that the program wasn’t difficult, but a coach was needed because although in essence method is fairly simple, it’s easily misunderstood and often has to be modified to suit a patient’s state of health.
Dr Buteyko himself says that the technique should never be learnt from books or videos because practitioners need to see what’s going on and give the patient feedback in the early stages.
First of all, Jac got a detailed history of our health. He then took our pulse and proceeded to teach us how breathe to less through our nose.
The thought crossed my mind that this was the first time that I had ever paid any serious attention to something my life constantly depended on. We eattwo or three times a day, we breathe twenty thousand to thirty thousand times per day and we can go without food for days, but we can’t go without air for more than five minutes.
Towards the end of the first session both Mr A and myself both felt immediate improvements in our breathing. Jac gave us a routine which we were to practice at home that night and the next day. Throughout the following day I paid close attention to my breathing and avoided deep breaths through the mouth. The result was quite amazing although I slept less and had a big drop in appetite my energy level increased and the usual stressful day at work was a breeze while people around me puffed and panted I stayed calm and centered.
Over the course of the next sessions Mr A also felt big improvements in both his breathing and general health. He told us one day that while out shopping he did have an asthma attack but instead of puffing on his inhaler he used the Buteyko method and overcame the attack easily.
Scientific trials conducted in Australia have shown that asthmatics are able to reduce relief medication by at least 90% and preventative medication by 50% after practicing the Buteyko Technique.
Great news for asthma sufferers but the drug companies manufacturing inhalers may gasp at the inevitable cut in sales.
So next time sometime tells you to take a deep breath, think twice, and tell them to check their physiology books.
Waiting To Exhale, Bangkok Metro Magazine, Thailand
ISSUE No: 48 July 1998 SECTION: Features WRITER: Phil Cornwel-Smith
Waiting to Exhale
Did you know we’re all mildly hyperventilating? Phil Cornwel-Smith learns from the Buteyko method how breathing less can cure asthma, allergies, stress and even snoring.
“You don’t need to wear a mask in Bangkok if you know how to breathe”
“Though some results are miraculous, they’re in fact earned, logical and physiologically based.”
Who Breathes the Buteyko Way?
Russian cosmonauts, to conserve air in space.
World Champion and Olympic bronze medallist kayaker Ramon Andersson.
Olympic athletes, including rower Emmily Snook and swimmer Matthew Dunn.
10,000 sufferers of respiratory ailments in Australian and New Zealand alone.
Patients in Russia’s health system, where it’s been an integrated treatment since 1981.
“Take a deep breath.” Sound advice when you’re under stress you’d assume and a common response around the world, but not according to Jac Vidgen, an Australian practitioner of Buteyko, a self-corrective method of breathing. He urges you to “breathe less”!
“What they’re really saying is control your breathing,” he explains. “It’s only very recently as upright creatures that we’ve experienced stress the way we do. Our heart rate and breathing increase and chemical changes occur. Now, that’s appropriate for a hunter or fighter, [but not] for someone sitting behind a desk or in traffic. Our respiratory centre, part of that bank of computers in the rear of the brain that controls the body’s automatic processes, has been reprogrammed by the culture we live in.”
Don’t be alarmed – you can change it back! “In the 1950s, Russian respiratory physician Dr Constantin Pavlovich Buteyko, found that by re-training incorrect breathing habits, chronic patients significantly improved in a whole range of breathing related conditions, such as allergies, sinusitis, hayfever, anxiety, sleep apnoeia, emphysema and chronic fatigue syndrome, but the easiest [to improve] is asthma.”
“I was trained five years ago by a Russian protégé of Buteyko, Alexander Stalmatsky, who’d been brought to Australia [where 10% of the population is asthmatic], then New Zealand, where in the two countries we’ve had more than 10,000 patients and 30 practitioners,” says Vidgen, who’s giving a lecture and clinic at Marisa Collection over July 21-30. Buteyko’s now become a hot fad in the UK, the USA and on the World Wide Web, but it’s actually rooted in logic.
Consider this: “You eat two to four times a day. If you don’t eat you can live for a month. If you don’t drink you can live for days. You sleep two to ten hours a day; if you don’t sleep you can live for a week. Exercise is good three times a week, but you don’t have to exercise to live. You breathe 30,000 times a day. If you don’t breathe you die within five to ten minutes. That primary function has profound effects on the body and mind.”
Now compare public knowledge about diet with widespread ignorance about our intake of air. “In physiology books normal breathing at rest is 4-6 litres of air per minute to balance body gases and metabolic function,” explains Vidgen. “We breathe 10-20 times a minute, which should mean 0.25 to 0.5 litre per breath.” Problem is most people in this industrial century have come to breathe two, three, four or even more times that. That means you and I are hyperventilating!
“Hyperventilation for most of us means ‘huh-uh-huh-uh-huh’ [demonstrating a heaving chest and wheezing], but if you were to pant that’d be between 30 and 50 litres per minute. So we’re talking about a relatively low level of hyperventilation. Now unless your very well trained that’s very hard to recognise.”
So why don’t doctors ever test our minute tidal volume? “We’ve discussed this with high ranking physicians in Australia. One response was: ‘It’s not diagnositically interesting, because it’s easily influencable by the patient’ – which is exactly why what we do works!” exclaims Vidgen, aghast. “But if a patient can influence their own health, that’s highly threatening to allopathic modern medicine.”
And Vidgen’s due to encounter opposition to this method from Thai medical doctors during a panel debate at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand on July 29 from 8pm.
Sounds like the usual naturopathic anti-establishment mantra, but Jac feels that the “valid alternative treatments” similarly tackle symptoms and not causes, and invade our bodies with chemicals. “We don’t invalidate other approaches,” he asserts. “We give people tools and a structure, but the only thing that can consistently change it is you. People have to be willing to take a new level of responsibility for their health.”
“If you’ve been doing something wrong enough for long enough, when you try to change it, it’s got to feel uncomfortable. It causes headaches, just like fasting for a day would,” says Vidgen, comapring it to the Alexander posture technique. Because books, videos or tapes can’t overcome what habitually ‘feels right’ nor manage individual response and progress, Buteyko’s best taught by an expert and Vidgen plans to train up locals on twice-yearly visits to Bangkok, Bali and Manila.
“At first you feel, ‘I’m not getting enough air.’ Of course that’s not true,” says Vidgen of the initial discomfort of pauses between breaths in the training. Most people think breathing’s just about getting oxygen; actually it’s a discomfort level of carbon dioxide that triggers inhalation – something we habitually override.
“When you hyperventilate you’re gasping oxygen in, [but] exhale carbon dioxide faster than you make it. Now you’d say ‘what does that matter, it’s a waste gas.’ We prefer to call it an end product and before you get rid of it, CO2 plays a range of important functions. It’s the forgotten chemical.”
“The result is you don’t absorb oxygen effectively from your blood, your pH in your blood and respiratory system tends to shift to alkaline, and the muscles that surround your myriad smooth vessels will be inclined to spasm or constrict.” That’s not just your brochial tubes, but also the micro-vessels in your brain, your cardiovascular passages, your digestive and reproductive passages and all your blood vessels.” You breathing’s probably increased on hearing that!
The spasming during an asthmatic attack is because they’re not getting enough carbon dioxide – a natural defence mechanism undermined by non-emergency use of oral puffers to open bronchial tubes artificially. “I firmly believe one reason asthma’s worse these days is the availability of bronchio-dilatory drugs: Ventalin, Bricanol, Theadur, Theofalin,” says Vidgen combatively, “though they’re wonderful in life or death situations.”
Puffers are commonly used in Thailand at the slightest slightest sign of discomfort, when they should be on preventatitve therapy, such as steroids. “Many people have a great fear of that, but in fact our bodies make cortico-steroids,” he says. “When you don’t breathe correctly you don’t make enough of them and they’re the very chemical you need to help control your breathing.”
This phenomenon is akin to antibiotics and anti-histamines weakening your immune system, which, Buteyko claims, is another beneficiary of correct breathing. As are cardio-vascular, hormonal, neuro, circulatory and digestive systems, sugar and cholesterol levels, common colds, allergies, anxiety attacks and even snoring. In fact, Buteyko breathing has been an integral part of the Russian health system since 1981 and is used to treat complains as diverse as angina, haemorroids, varicose veins and even cancer.
If you want individual or family training, Vidgen can do that, but prefers one-to-one in a group, because of the benefits of feedback. His two-hour workshops are on three consecutive days, with breaks to practice before and after the fourth session, plus a fifth, “to fine tune things so the person’s confident, clearly aware of what it’s doing and how to manage it according to their life. If you need follow up, I do that for free,” he offers. “Very few people have that need.”
To my shock, his test of my breathing efficiency (I’m average) instantly relieves my pollution-induced congestion. “If you breathe too much bad air, guess what, you get a blocked nose,” laughs Vidgen. “It’s your body telling you: breathe less. You don’t need to wear a mask in Bangkok if you know how to breathe.” Bad news for Ventalin shareholders.
“Most people would say their skin’s the most exposed part of their body to the air,” he adds. “In fact if you spead out your skin it’d cover a few sqaure metres. If you spread out the alvaeoloi pockets from your lungs they’d cover a football field. Now, if you use the wrong hole you’re exposing unfiltered, non-humitity controled air at the wrong unregulated rate to this huge mass of tissue. Your nose is a much better regulator [and] a very efficient filter.”
“We usually look at health in terms of insurance, or fixing things,” he observes. “Buteyko’s an investment in your long term health, which most of us don’t do very often.” And you can imagine its value to athletes, divers, actors and singers. Australian Olympic swimmers, rowers, kayakers and ironmen already use it, as do Russian cosmonoauts in space, for obvious reasons.
“We like asthmatics because we know they’ll work hard and get quick improvement,” grins Vidgen, who overcame hayfever, sinusitis and psoriasis through Buteyko, even though his breathing still isn’t perfect. “Those I’m seeing in Bangkok have reduced relief medication by about 90% in four sessions. Though some results are miraculous, they’re in fact earned, logical and physiologically based.”
Vidgen recommends mild lifestyle changes in eating, sleeping and exercise habits (“Aerobics done with the mouth open is a joke.”) You might assume your breathing’s most natural during sleep, but it’s often at its worst, as morning phlegm reminds many of us. “Humans probably breathe better when not lying flat,” says Vidgen, who recommends dozing on your side (left is better due to bronchial layout); on your back is an absolute no-no.
“It’s most people’s experience that they get shorter and more efficient sleep, better energy levels and a decrease in hunger,” he says, further claiming: “If you’re overweight, it’ll usually result in you losing weight.”
As Buteyko detoxifies the body, suppressed symptoms temporarily recur and smokers expel some startling substances. “Serious smokers justify continuing to smoke by saying they’ll be able to deal with it better,” remarks Vidgen. “And you know, they’re right! Wouldn’t you want a strong body if you’re going to put even more garbage into it than you get out of the air?”
But health freaks aren’t always on target. I’d filled my 5.5 litre lungs in my daily yoga regimen with pride, only to learn I’ve simply gotten better at deep breathing bad air! Gulp.
“Actually how those yogic masters of pranayama breathe in ordinary life is hardly at all,” says Vidgen, observing how humans with a high consciousness – priests, yogis, monks, martial artists – usually have highly trained self-discipline of their body, mind and breathing. There’s an inseparable relationship between your breathing and your mind.” And when meditating, sure enough, my breath settles to the imperceptible level textbooks recommend.
Essentially, Buteyko’s about restoring pre-modern norms. Native American braves trained to hunt through their breath not moving a feather held under their nose, says Vidgen. “They also slept with their babies, holding their lips closed. What a good idea. Train children to breath correctly and they’ll have a much healthier life.”
Copyright 1998 by Bangkok Metro Magazine.
Breathe Easy, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong
South China Morning Post // Friday December 16 2005
Do you inhale using your mouth or your nose?
Karen Pittar and Tara Jenkins speak to a Buteyko practitioner who says proper techniques for life’s simplest task can have numerous benefits
AT 34, AMANDA was the picture of health.
She was fit and healthy, wasn’t overweight, exercised regularly, and ate well.
So it was an unwelcome surprise when – in early 2003 – she started experiencing chronic fatigue, unrelenting sore throats and distressing respiratory problems.
‘Initially, the doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me. I was constantly on antibiotics and had to undergo a battery of tests,’ she says. ‘I was eventually diagnosed with a depleted immune system and severe adult-onset asthma. The doctors told me I’d have to learn to live with the condition and be on high doses of medication for the rest of my life. I felt totally out of control and I hated taking the drugs.’
It’s a story that Buteyko practitioner Jac Vidgen hears on a daily basis – and one he believes he has the answer to. Discovered by Russian doctor Konstantin Buteyko in the 1950s, the Buteyko technique is drug-free and is believed to reverse a wide range of chronic health problems – most notably asthma, allergies, and sleep and anxiety disorders.
It’s based on the premise that people ‘over-breathe’ and breathe through our mouths when we should use our noses. ‘The nose is a temperature control, a filter and a dehumidifier for the breath coming in and a regulator for the breath coming in and out. None of these roles are effectively fulfilled by the mouth,’ says Vidgen.
‘The mouth is designed for talking, eating and drinking and not for regular breathing.’ According to Buteyko practitioners such as Vidgen, over-breathing has a poisonous effect on the body – impeding oxygenation, overexciting the nervous system and upsetting metabolic processes. Advocates of the Buteyko method believe so strongly in the importance of breathing through the nose that they tape their mouth closed at night.
Amanda says that initially, taping her mouth at night was unnerving. ‘To begin with, I didn’t like it, but now I would feel uncomfortable not doing it,’ she says. ‘When I started practising Buteyko, I was sceptical. But within a few months, I was drug-free and I haven’t looked back.’ She says her medication is still in the bathroom cupboard, but she hasn’t used it since.
According to Vidgen, the bottom line is that everyone who practises Buteyko sees benefits. ‘The person needs to make slight modifications to their lifestyle, practise some exercises, develop an understanding of their own breathing and learn to breathe through their nose.’
He says anyone who’s willing to develop more optimal breathing patterns will see improvements in some areas of their wellbeing, as evidenced by four clinical trials carried out in Scotland, Australia and New Zealand. The trial results show that three months after adopting the Buteyko method, there was a dramatic reduction in asthma symptoms, as well as a 96 per cent reduction in bronchodilator use and a 49 per cent reduction in anti-inflammatory preventer medication.
However, Kenneth Tsang, professor of respiratory medicine at Hong Kong University, says that while he’s not opposed to the technique, there are a number of important considerations people should take into account. ‘The Buteyko trials are not stringent when you look at the current gold standard. The number of patients tested is very small, some involve only a handful – about 30 or 40 cases,’ Tsang says.
‘Additionally, some of the studies test a lot of variables, from lung function to quality of life to symptoms; it’s very worrying when you have a small number of subjects and test a large number of variables as, undoubtedly, you’ll have problems in incidental findings. When you invest your health in something, it has to be stringent.’
Tsang goes on to say that, because the Buteyko technique requires the patient to make significant changes in so many different areas of their life, it’s impossible to know exactly which aspect of the treatment is making the difference.
‘It covers a lot of issues, such as advice on lifestyle, education on medication, exercise, nutrition and general relaxation techniques,’ says Tsang. ‘These components are all individually very important to any illness. When you change so many aspects of a person’s life, they do alter. ‘Whether or not it’s because of the exercise or the relaxation that you use less asthma medication, it’s hard to judge.’
He also says the practice does place a lot of demands on people’s personal lives – nutrition, exercise and relaxation rules. Many people in Hong Kong don’t have the time for that. Vidgen acknowledges you have to put in the groundwork to see results. ‘
The average person is lazy. They’re not interested in their wellbeing,’ he says. ‘For some people, it’s hard but it’s also very hard for some people to have the problem they’ve got. If you’ve emphysema and you’re using a nebuliser and oxygen every day just to get around, it’s worth sitting down and doing half an hour three or four times a day, just practising breathing exercises.’
The result, Vidgen says, is that such people use much less oxygen, don’t need the nebuliser as much and get around more effectively. He says people using long-acting bronchodilators are weaned off them within a few sessions of working with him. ‘Once they’re off those, they may take their inhaled steroid, of course, and then use Ventolin as they need it.
‘A few days later, they don’t need it – they’ve removed half their combination drug and it just works, over and over, and over again. All you have to do is teach a mild asthmatic how to use breath control and the symptoms reduce. This is not about ‘don’t take medicine’, it’s about how can we take less and how can we address the underlying problem and not just manage the symptoms.’ While Tsang understands that some of his patients want to come off medication, he stresses this must be done only under strict medical supervision as it may interfere with the treatment
Vidgen nose the best way to beat stress
According to Buteyko practitioner Jac Vidgen, it’s fundamental that children are taught to breathe through their noses instead of their mouths to alleviate a range of conditions including respiratory problems.
‘Look at children today and see the way they’re breathing,’ he says. ‘They all have their mouths open. I teach people of 25 who have never breathed through their nose. Their passages are all closed up, but within three days they are breathing through their nose 70 per cent of the time.’
Vidgen says children as young as three can learn the technique and it’s not just for treating respiratory problems. ‘In Australia today, many orthodontists are sending children to Buteyko because we teach children to breathe through their nose and consequently, the teeth form much more naturally and healthily,’ he says.
Vidgen also believes intense stimulation and stress from birth are the root cause of over-breathing. ‘When we experience intense stress, our body doesn’t distinguish between threatening and non-life threatening situations.
‘It always reacts the same way – increasing heart rate, adrenaline and the body tells you to breathe more.’ He says children today are intensely stimulated from birth.
‘Busy mothers-to-be in Hong Kong run around and over-breathe and when the child’s born they want an intelligent child so they put mobiles in the cots, play videos and so on. Stimulation like that is interpreted by the brain as a kind of stress, so the baby over-breathes.’
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