When Jennifer and Russell casually invited Professor Buteyko to come to the first international conference on Buteyko therapy in the west, little did they think he would actually accept the invitation. Not only did he accept it, but he even offered to hold a practitioner training workshop over two weeks. And again I have to thank Jennifer for inviting me to take part in this workshop.
The three day conference was just a sensational success. Even as the conference opened with a traditional Maori ceremony and singing in the conference hall, the delegates from all over the world were treated to one of the most emotionally charged spectacles I have ever witnessed, when Professor Buteyko took to the podium and delivered a traditional Ukrainian song in the most magnificent baritone voice (picture). People were choked up with emotion and moved to tears. Two teams of television reporters who were at the airport to cover his arrival, came over to film the start of the conference and hold an interview with the great man.
Through Leo Volkov, the interpreter, Dr. Lioudmila Buteyko gave us the history of her husband including how he survived nine assassination attempts. Two days later she provided us with the kind of insight into Buteyko therapy that we have been waiting to hear. In the mean time there were many other interesting presentations on many aspects of Buteyko therapy in the west. We heard from Dr. Patrick McHugh about the Buteyko clinical trial his team has been conducting in Gisborne and the difficulties they had. We heard that when the Asthma Foundation refused to contribute funding to the trial, both his staff and Buteyko New Zealand volunteered their time and expenses for nothing. Dr. McHugh also provided an hour long address on conventional asthma management.
We also heard about the clinical trial in Scotland in which Wendy Haddock participated and on which Jean McGowen is doing a PhD. Most of us could follow what Jean was telling us in spite of the overpowering Scottish accent. But I think the American delegates had a bit more of a problem with it..
There were many other interesting talks, and Jennifer and Russell also arranged some great social events. Professor Buteyko's keen interest in Maori culture was rewarded with the "hungi" that Russell arranged in his back yard. This is a meal cooked under ground. Russell was happy to have his lawn dug up for the event. The Americans were bemused by the "wet sex" that the Maoris were reported to have had over the food baskets. It turns out that New Zealanders have a peculiar pronunciation in which all the vowels are transposed. The truth is that the Maoris had put "wet sacks" over the food baskets before covering it all with earth. (Photo)
While the men folk were doing the cooking, the women entertained us with some great traditional Maori singing. Professor Buteyko was in his element. They unfortunately didn't make it to the dinner dance the next evening, but they did enjoy a trip to the Hawkes Bay Wineries on Sunday. (Photo)
The stunning success of this conference is a tribute to Russell's "can do" approach and Jennifer's remarkable juggling skills. I've never come across anyone who can tirelessly juggle so many balls at the same time and never drop one!
When the conference came to an end, I don't think there was a delegate present who wasn't acutely aware that history was being written. It is through the work of this group of dedicated pioneers that Professor Buteyko's work is today changing the lives of so many people all over the world.
Professor Buteyko, his wife Dr. Lioudmila Buteyko and her son Dr. Andrey Novozhilov stayed on for two more weeks to provide advanced practitioner training to nine of the lucky people who managed to get one of the much sought-after places. Susan Neves and Tina Browning from the United States, Joan Stuart and Jean McGowan from the United Kingdom, Jennifer and Russell Stark from New Zealand and Tess Graham, Paul O'Connell and I from Australia were the lucky ones. In addition, Alison Brooker, Jacqueline Lattenstein and Denise Kelman managed to be present when the Buteykos demonstrated their technique on some of the most difficult cases around.
Typically each lesson was followed by a meeting at which we were able to confer with the Buteykos. Thereafter one of us would cook dinner. These dinners were wonderful opportunities to get valuable insight into the man to whom we owe such a huge debt.
Can I just say that all three of them, and particularly Lioudmila, turned out to be immensely popular with everybody. She was just so caring and gentle with the patients. As was to be expected, the Professor is a wonderfully colourful character with a great sense of humour and with apparently no particular interest in political correctness. He could not have achieved what he has by following convention. He is very friendly, down to earth and easy to please with simple things. He is as comfortable rubbing noses during traditional Maori ceremonies as he is doing Bruce- Lee impersonations. He is interested in everything from sea-shells to philosophy: especially philosophy. In fact if you were to ask him about the physiological principles on which his work is based he would answer in terms of big-picture philosophical concepts. My impression is that he no longer has much interest in questions relating to technical work he did 50 years ago. He has moved on from there with a focus on philosophy. Too bad the rest of us have been left behind. But the technical questions were all easily answered by Dr. Andrey Novozhilov.
My lasting impressions of Professor Buteyko are of a kind, caring and friendly old man with a quick wit and a lateral train of thought. The reverence and esteem in which he is held in Russia have not tainted his generous and open human spirit at all. He remains as open and approachable as any one of my best friends.
Dr. Andrey Novozhilov is also very approachable and direct. He has a vast amount of experience in the application of Buteyko therapy to all sorts of CHVS related disorders and is happy to help with any of the technical questions anyone fires at him.
Spending time with these three great people has been one of the major highlights of my life. I understand that they will be travelling abroad, specifically to the United States early in the New Year. I know that Tina and Susan will put on a great welcome for them.
We have learned a lot from the Professor, Lioudmila and Andrey. There will be changes to the way in which the Buteyko technique is taught within the BIBH. The emphasis will be away from therapeutic pauses and more towards achieving relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing, and physical exercises designed to help relaxation. The aim of these changes is to make it easier to make reduced breathing a habit.