Professor Konstantin Buteyko, M.D.

Konstantin ButeykoKonstantin Pavlovich Buteyko was born in 1923 near Kiev in the Soviet Union. His father was an enthusiast for machines and technological achievements and young Konstantin followed in his father’s footsteps. His studies at the Kiev Polytechnic Institute were interrupted by World War II. After the war, medicine started interesting him and he enrolled into the First Medical Institute in Moscow at the age of 23.

In 1952, when he graduated with Honors, he was given the opportunity to establish a functional diagnosis laboratory in Moscow. In 1958, Professor Meshalkin, the director of the Siberian branch of the USSR Academy of Science, invited him to join the Institute of Experimental Biology and Medicine.

A crucial moment in Buteyko’s life was during his third year in medical school. He was given a practical assignment which involved a lot of monitoring of heart rates with a stethoscope.
One day, when he asked a patient to breathe deeply, the patient passed out. Buteyko consulted with other doctors and they thought the cause might be oxygen oversaturation of the brain. But Buteyko was not satisfied with this answer and so one night, he came up with the idea that certain diseases might develop as a result of deep breathing. He was able to test out this hypothesis on the most convenient patient – himself. He was suffering from a severe form of high blood pressure called malignant hypertension. He tried breathing in a shallower manner and that immediately relieved his headache and reduced his rapid heat beat. When he breathed deeply, his state became worse. He felt that he might have found the true cause of his disease. In that same night, he tested his hypothesis on different patients who had trouble with their respiratory organs, were suffering from angina pectoris or felt chest pain. He asked them to breathe more slowly as well as make their breathing shallower and this relieved their symptoms. When they took deep breaths again, they started feeling worse.

Buteyko kept researching his theory for another month. He wrote down endless data, trying to meet medical criteria. He thought it was almost impossible that such a simple and effective thought never occurred to anyone else. In addition to that, his hypothesis was not in accordance with the general belief that deep breathing is the key to healthiness.

Luckily, Buteyko was able to conduct clinical studies on two hundred people (both healthy and sick) from 1958 to 1959 while working at the institute in Siberia. In January 1960, he presented his work to the Scientific Forum. He described his experiment, which showed the linear relationship between the depth of breathing (hyperventilation), the concentration of CO2 in the body, vessel spasm, and the patient’s health. Most of his colleagues were stunned. Buteyko said that treating diseases like asthma, hypertension and angina pectoris could be cured without surgery or the use of high-tech medical and pharmacological methods. Even though the members of the Forum were not impressed by Buteyko’s idea, the Forum chairman Meshkalin allowed him to continue his research. Now the best equipment was made available for Buteyko and he was able to carefully monitor the functions of the human organism and the changes that occurred when his breathing method was applied. The data was analyzed mathematically and the findings were scientifically justified. Two hundred medical specialists were part of the experiment as well. They were studying the method and at the same time applying it to themselves to cure their own conditions. Statistics show that up until 1967 more than 1000 asthma, hypertension or angina pectoris patients were cured. Despite its success, the Buteyko method was not officially medically established. According to Buteyko, the surgical lobby was simply too strong. Surgeons saw a threat in such a successful and simple method that diminished the status of the scalpel.

But Buteyko did not give up. He stuck to his research and in January 1968 the Soviet Ministry of Health allowed him to conduct a trial at the Institute of Pulmonology in Leningrad, but under one condition: He had to accept patients that could not be treated by conventional methods of medicine. They agreed that the method would be entrenched into standard medical practices if Buteyko will successfully cure at least 80% of the patients. In a short period of time, he cured 44 out of 46 patients. After continuing with the therapy, even the two remaining patients showed improvement. The official results of the trial were sent to the Ministry of Health and the minister shockingly ordered the laboratory to be closed and every staff member to be let go without any offers of alternative employment. This was a surprise to Buteyko and everyone involved in the trial.

Despite this catastrophic decision, the method survived thanks to Buteyko’s team that continued to treat patients. After some time, the cured patients started pressuring the medical system and eventually, the second official trial was conducted at the First Moscow Institute of Pediatric Diseases in 1980. The study showed an amazing success rate (some reports even say it was 100% success rate) of the method that was already known to the public by then. This time, the results were officially recognized and the Soviet government approved of the method.

Professor Buteyko passed away in 2003.

Today, his method is established in the UK, New Zealand, Australia, the USA and Russia. It is slowly being recognized in other parts of the developed world, especially in the European Union. It is delightful to hear that there are more and more studies that confirm the success rate of the method, as well as that there is an increasing number of patients that report of their recovery. It is also important that official western medicine is accepting the implementation of more subtle non-invasive methods and that it understands that breathing is a part of the physical, mental and spiritual dimension of humans.