12 October 1996
Updated 06 January 2006
This is not intended to be a DIY manual. I will not accept any liability for accidents which might happen to DIY experimenters. You are urged to consult your doctor about anything described in this document which you intend to try.
My son was a chronic asthmatic up to 1994 when he was 14. He was on steroids, Intal (Sodium Cromoglycate) and was taking at least 8 puffs of Ventolin a day. He required occasional hospitalisation, and a nebuliser several times during the day and night, at certain times of the year.
I was sceptical when I heard about Buteyko, but asked the clinic to send me a scientific paper on Buteyko's work. This they did. I received Kazarinov's "The Biochemical Basis of KP Buteyko's theory on the diseases of deep respiration"
I was impressed with the thoroughness and consistency with which Kazarinov addressed the fundamental biochemical basis for Buteyko's theory, all of which looked extremely plausible. So I booked Alex into the course.
The clinic was arranged over one week for a few hours every evening. The Russian presenter, Alexander Stalmatski, had been telling us that the first rule was to breathe through the nose and not the mouth. After a while he quite bluntly picked on Alex for sitting there open mouthed. I interrupted him and told him that Alex had never been able to breathe through his nose and he was being unrealistic. I recalled a few months earlier how Alex had told me: "Dad, just for once I wish I could breathe through my nose like everybody else."
On top of that, I knew that Alex had a different kind of asthma, one that was not caused by hyperventilation. His asthma was caused by allergy. As far as I was concerned the instructor could get the whole of the KGB to jump on him, but he would'nt get a breath of air through his nose.
Stalmatski quickly rounded up all the youngsters (about half a dozen) in the same condition. They disappeared for about ten minutes and all came back with mouths closed and breathing normally through their noses. He explained that they had done Buteyko breathing exercises and that the nasal passages were part of the respiratory system and responded to the treatment in the same way as the lungs did.
Since that evening Alex has never touched another puff of Ventolin. He gradually weaned himself off the Steroids and has had no more medication and now has no more asthma attacks. He also doesn't need to do any more exercises.
Buteyko theory on asthma is that it is a condition of chronic hyperventilation a condition which, while not recognized by mainstream medicine, nevertheless is well represented and described in the medical literature. This is not the same as plain old "hyperventilation", which is recognised as one of the triggers for an asthma attack. Chronic hyperventilation is the result of the effect of chronic stress and first world life style on the breathing center. It is characterised by excessive breathing ALL THE TIME.
Now your doctor, in all likelihood, won't agree that there is such a condition. Current western medical thinking insists on looking only at the asthma triggers. It took the renegade Professor Buteyko to look beyond the triggers at the biochemistry of the asthma condition to find the actual root cause of asthma. His theory answers questions that your practitioner will in all probability not be able to answer satisfactorily. Questions such as:
Buteyko tells us that with the asthmatic the problem has developed over time and so the long term compensating mechanisms (such as is performed by the kidneys) have already taken over. In other words your system has latched up into an abnormal physiological state. The bronchioles continue to stay close to being constricted to conserve carbon dioxide. This means that you have a restricted capacity to accommodate moment to moment variations in breathing. A little extra breathing as would be caused by hyperventilating, emotional stress, anxiety, exercise etc. will cause you to blow off even more Carbon dioxide making your bronchioles go into spasm.
And when you're having an attack you obviously can't breathe more because you would be blowing off even more Carbon dioxide thereby aggravating an already bad situation.
To make matters worse, low blood Carbon Dioxide results in poor oxygenation of the tissues and you develop a hunger for oxygen. That means you breathe even more and so the cycle maintains itself.
But apart from the bronchospasm and air hunger, abnormally low carbon dioxide also deranges the biochemistry of the blood, interfering with all the systems such as the nervous system, immune system and hormonal system. Allergic hyperresponsiveness is seen to be a result of a poorly functioning immune system.
How does swimming help? Well, in the case of swimming you have restricted breathing. Much of the time your head is under water and so you can't breathe as much as you want. Underwater swimming would probably be best of all because you have to hold your breath for longer periods.
Young asthmatics, with all the hormonal changes going on, sometimes spontaneously revert to normal breathing as they develop. That's how they grow out of it.
So what is the solution?
Our Buteyko therapist taught us to breathe less. We were told that when you're having an attack you should fight the urge to grab more air and breathe less.
But preventing an attack is much easier than trying to stifle an attack that is already under way. In an interview Professor Buteyko said about his method: "The essence of my method is in decreasing the depth of breathing. You would ask me how. The best way is through relaxation of the muscles that potentiate the breathing action. What then occurs is a sensation of having insufficient air if the breathing is reduced. These are all the instructions - the whole of the method." You need to do this often and for extended periods. When you do, this exactly reverses the process that has made you habituate to low levels of CO2 in the first place.
However, most people will experience difficulties trying to implement this process. Things will go wrong, you may make your breathing worse and the physiological changes that come about during the process have to be monitored. In addition you will hit roadblocks and will need help to get past them. These are all areas in which a good experienced Buteyko practitioner can help you.
Because a number of long term compensation mechanisms have to be restored to normal, the healing process may take some time.
There are several reasons why a clinic will give you far greater benefit than a DIY approach.
Buteyko Clinics usually give a money back guarantee based on certain mutually agreed criteria. They usually also give you free follow up treatment. This is particularly useful for those who have difficulty with the discipline of performing the exercises. Check first, though, to make sure your practitioner provides these undertakings.
The following is what I recollect being taught at the clinic:
Everything revolves around conserving Carbon Dioxide. This, of course, simply means slow, shallow breathing.
Now I can already hear you ask "How can I breathe through a blocked nose?" Well, of course you can't, but you can unblock your nose with Buteyko Exercises. do not use decongestants. Your nose is telling you that you're breathing too much.
If your nose is chronically blocked through asthma, breathe out normally, pinch your nose and perform some physical activity to build up CO2 while holding your breath for as long as is comfortable. Then resume normal gentle breathing through your nose. You may have to repeat this once or twice, but you will find that the nose just opens up.
Make sure you adjust the steroid dose IN CONSULTATION WITH YOUR DOCTOR.
Buoyed by initial dramatic successes, many patients get off their steroids too soon and then have a relapse. . At that point it is easy to give up and return to overdosing on Ventolin.
Cut back on Ventolin. Use it as a last resort on an "AS REQUIRED BASIS". You won't need your doctor's permission for that. He'll be happy if you use less. Your Ventolin use will be dramatically cut right from the beginning by slightly reducing your breathing.
This is how the youngsters were relieved of chronically blocked noses. They were told to hold their breath at end of normal expiration and then do as many "Squats" as they could. They then relaxed and resumed normal, but stifled shallow breathing. The build up of Carbon Dioxide just opened up the nasal passages. (I did'nt believe it either until my son came to sit next to me with his mouth firmly shut and breathing through his nose for the first time in many years.)
If this is not a cure, then what is? His theory is plausible and his treatment works.
In the west there have been many excellent investigative TV Documentaries and newspaper reports on Buteyko. There has been pressure on the medical establishment from both media and patients, but so far the doctors have toughed it out, in spite of the astonishing results of the various clinical trials that have been held investigating Buteyko.
You can help by spreading this information. Talk about it with friends and get back to the Asthma support group with your experiences. Help others by supporting them through those difficult times when they're struggling with their exercises.
Peter Kolb, Biomedical Engineer
Telephone: 61-8-9293-5414 (Western Australia)