When I first encountered the work of Konstantin Buteyko, I was immediately very skeptical of the principles; they seemed counter-intuitive to me. Asthmatics, like me, and people with other respiratory and systemic disorders, were being asked to “breathe less”! When I was younger, it always seemed that whenever I was agitated or upset someone would be there to tell me to “Relax! Take a deep breath!”.
Asthma, and related problems like COPD and sleep apnea, result in sufferers not being able to get enough oxygen. The “cures” that are traditionally offered are remedies that open the breathing passages to allow sufferers to get more oxygen into their lungs. This is exactly the opposite of what is needed, according to Buteyko theory and practice.
What Konstantin Buteyko described was something called chronic hyper-ventilation syndrome, or CHVS, which is the actual cause of asthma and the other problems mentioned. Buteyko believed that most, if not virtually all, people breathe too much. The result is a slow physiological train wreck, where the imbalance between oxygen and carbon dioxide leads to something called the Bohr Effect . This is when the hemoglobin in the blood picks up oxygen from the lungs, but due to a deficit in carbon dioxide in the blood, is unable to deliver the oxygen to the tissues and organs in the body. This leads to a down-stream perception of oxygen deficit, which can trigger more breathing.
So, what then is asthma? Konstantin Buteyko posited that the bronchospasm characteristic of an asthma attack is simply the body’s natural defense mechanism trying to restore balance throughout the body by limiting the amount of oxygen coming into the lungs. A similar response is thought to happen in those who develop sleep apnea, as well as COPD .
What does it mean to breathe less and why would one want to do that? If you were to watch an infant you would likely not be able to tell whether the baby was breathing at all. Indeed, 911 emergency operators report taking frantic calls from distressed parents who think that their baby has stopped breathing. The operator first asks if the baby is awake, then when the parents check, the operator hears a baby crying. This is the way we all breathed when we began life, and herein lies the key to remedying asthma and other respiratory disorders.
Since Western medicine hasn’t been able to come up with a cause, It could be argued that asthma isn’t actually a disease at all. A physician can recite chapter and verse of what influences may trigger an asthma attack, but, when pressed, cannot tell you what the actual root cause of the disorder is. In fact, before medicine started developing medications to defeat bronchospasm, asthmatics usually outlived their non-asthmatic peers because the self-regulating mechanisms kept their systems in better balance through this corrective measure, especially the immune system. Not incidentally, asthmatics of the days before “corrective measures” also had a better pH in their systems as a direct result of better regulation of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
It is not melodramatic to state that, once asthmatics started being medicated, they started getting worse, and dying. If one were to listen to several ads on television for asthmatic medications, the likely result might be to think, “What insanity!” There is more than one remedy where the disclaimer is given: “Use of this product may increase your risk of dying of an asthma attack”. What the modern medications are doing is exactly the opposite of what’s needed. The body is telling the person to breathe less to get back in balance.
One might ask: “Is The Buteyko Method a cure for asthma?”. No. It is a process to learn how to manage asthma without medication and to eliminate the possibility of dying from an asthma attack. It is often said that once you are asthmatic, you are always asthmatic. If one is to revert to the old bad habits of a lifetime, the problem may well rear its ugly head again .
We call our system of management the Buteyko Method and Lifestyle training. It is not a medical process, but one of education through mindfulness and the relearning of healthy behaviors. Think of it as getting our breathing to where proper respiration becomes first nature, not second nature, for we are ultimately remembering the way we breathed as infants. It is how we were meant to be.
I offer a caveat here. This training is sometimes referred to as an elite method, not because it is special, but because it requires of a trainee three specific qualities: Intelligence; Motivation; and Discipline. First, the intelligence to understand one’s own processes and the educational material itself. Second, the motivation to embark on a training that is often not easy, recognizing that the journey is a way to freedom from this often-frightening disorder. And third, the discipline to apply oneself to learning and practicing the Buteyko Method as taught. There is a significant commitment of time and resources that is required, but the rewards are many: better health; a more positive outlook on life; a stronger constitution, to name a few.
I have gotten my exercise-induced asthma under control through application of the method. I have trained asthmatics, the oxygen-dependent, sleep apnea sufferers, and more, and I say with complete confidence that everyone who learns and faithfully applies the method gets significantly better by the time the training is over. Full remediation becomes a project for life, but it gets easier as one experiences the reassertion of one’s birth right, the right of proper breathing, and your life becomes the expression of your first nature, the way nature intended.