Doctor Buteyko's Discovery Trilogy by Sergey Altukhov

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Volume One

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Volume Two

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Volume Three

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Indepth Buteyko Course

Buteyko Course by Sergey Altukhov

Buteyko Breathing Exercises

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Buteyko Short Novel
The Carefully Hidden Great Medical Discovery - the story of the Buteyko Method

Jogging and the Buteyko Method summary

Dr. Vladimir Novoselov's work with the Buteyko Method, summary

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Doctor Buteyko's Discovery Trilogy
by Sergey Altukhov

Volume 1 was published in 1990

Professor K.P. Buteyko approved the first volume in March 1990.

This translation is of the more detailed Two-Volume Edition published in 1993

Volume One

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Free chapter from Volume 1:

Volume 1 : The Destruction of the Laboratory from the more detailed (Volume 1&2) Two-Volume Edition published in 1993

Buteyko discovers the Diseases of Deep Breathing

Stalin had been dead eight years, and Buteyko had hated him since childhood.

The Doctor was born in 1923 in the village of Ivanitsa in the north of sunny, fertile Ukraine. His father was a carpenter and his mother a seamstress. Kostya (as Konstantin Buteyko was known by his family) was looked after by his older brother, Volodya. By the standards of the time, they weren’t badly off; no-one in the family went hungry.

Volodya died of acute pulmonary inflammation while he was still a child, then in 1929, the Buteykos moved to the village of Popovka near Konotop in northern Ukraine so that Kostya could go to school. There, the Buteykos were caught up in ‘collectivisation’ - Stalin’s policy of forcibly consolidating small private farms into larger collective ones under State control. Behind closed doors, Buteyko’s father often cursed the Communist Party for herding people into these collective farms, seizing their grain and leaving them to starve, while his terrified mother tried to hush him.

“All those sheep just do whatever that cursed Georgian says,” Buteyko’s father raged. “But one day someone will get even with dear old Joe, and then he’ll know all about it.”

Buteyko inherited his father’s hatred of Stalin, a hatred his mother silently shared. Until he made his great Discovery at the age of 29, his most fervent wish was to destroy the dictator, whatever it took, and take his revenge for the bandits who came to people’s houses and plundered almost every last grain of corn. Only his Discovery would supplant this desire. Buteyko make his Discovery in just a few moments, but his path had been leading him towards it, step by step, for 29 years.

From his youth, Buteyko was unusually interested in machinery. When he left school in Konotop, his dream was to create an incredible craft that could burrow into the earth, sail, and fly to other planets, and to work on this idea he enrolled in the automotive engineering faculty of Kiev Polytechnic Institute in 1939. But at 6 am on 22 June 1941 Hitler’s bombardment of Kiev began, and Buteyko and his course mates rushed to join up. The others became tank commanders, but because of his youth, Buteyko was sent to be a mechanic in a convoy that supplied medicines to the front and brought back the wounded. This he did for the rest of the war. He was near Berlin when the ceasefire was announced. He brought back a column of captured German vehicles to Moscow for the Ministry of Health, and decided to stay in the capital to continue his education. This time, however, he wasn’t going to study automotive engineering but medicine. Having seen so much blood and death at the front, he resolved to study the human body as intently as he had studied machinery. Even at that time, he felt there was something wrong with modern medicine. As a child he had noticed that if he fell sick, his grandmother would treat him with herbs. Her teas, ointments and tinctures were usually highly effective, but if his mother called in eminent doctors, they would prescribe useless tablets and injections.

At the front, Buteyko learned to be such a good mechanic that he could identify a fault just by listening to a vehicle’s engine. He wanted to reach the same level of expertise with regard to the human body, and believed that the ability to reach a rapid and accurate diagnosis using the simplest means was one of the pinnacles of medical achievement. At the end of summer 1946, Buteyko entered the first year of the Medical Faculty of Moscow Institute of Medicine No. 1, but by his second year, he was already thoroughly disillusioned.

“They’re absolute blockheads!” he complained to a former comrade from the front who asked him how his studies were progressing. He gazed sadly at the columns at the entrance to the Institute, where they had met. “And I have to say that medicine in this country is in an awful mess. They’ve got everything back to front.” Noticing that his friend, usually so straightforwardly credulous, was smiling, he continued bitterly, “What use is it to diagnose diseases once they’ve developed? We should be able to prevent them long before they appear.”

“So what have you decided to do?” asked his friend, beginning to listen more attentively.

“I’m going to transfer to preventive medicine!” said Buteyko resolutely. He turned the collar of his worn army greatcoat up higher - the November wind was icy. “Prevention is far better than cure.”

“Well, give it your best shot and who knows, you might end up in the Academy of Sciences,” said his friend in an attempt to cheer him up, and dragged him off to the nearest cellar bar.

Buteyko was finishing his third year when this friend next visited on a business trip. They went to the same bar.

“Well, how’s the preventive medicine going?” asked his friend, pushing a glass of red wine towards him.

“Fine,” said Buteyko, who was drinking mineral water instead of wine. He had exchanged his army greatcoat for a pale grey jacket. “Hygiene is so important, right from birth. Or even better, from the moment of conception! That’s why I’ve started to study gynaecology and obstetrics.” He saw that his friend was dumbfounded. “Why are you making a face? Do you think that’s not for real men?” he asked.

“Well, why not, someone needs to take care of women in labour…” his embarrassed friend spluttered.

“It’s not just about labour.” Buteyko struggled to make himself heard above the music. “Mankind is becoming a degraded species and our future depends on the babies that women give birth to!”

“I suppose you’re right,” said his friend in a conciliatory tone, again sliding a glass towards him. People had started staring at them.

“A baby’s health depends 80% on its mother.” Buteyko swallowed half his bottle of mineral water in a single gulp. “Mothers conceive and then carry their children for nine months. And then they breastfeed.”

“Of course, of course,” his friend hastily agreed and gestured to the waiter.

“It’s important whether the mother smokes or drinks while she’s pregnant,” continued the animated Buteyko. “And who monitors this process? Who looks after women in childbirth? Obstetricians! So they’re the most important doctors!” he concluded triumphantly.

Throughout his life, Buteyko put his heart into practically whatever he did, but he studied medicine with particular enthusiasm. He was a straight A student and top of his year. The Institute’s library was not enough for him. Only qualified specialists were normally allowed to use the larger central medical library, but a special exception was made for him because of his excellent marks. Buteyko dived into the vast ocean of books.

Academician Kvater, the Institute’s Head of Gynaecology, noticed Buteyko’s extraordinary efforts and suggested he investigate a particularly tricky illness: preeclampsia. And his teacher and idol, Academician Dariev, advised him to look at malignant hypertension. According to some, these are in fact the same disease, but it is known as ‘preeclampsia’ in pregnant women. So from his third year, Buteyko researched these two topics like a man possessed. And as a result, the same thing happened to him as to many other medical students before him: towards the end of his studies, he too developed this virtually incurable disease. He had been an excellent sportsman who trained for hours, boxed well and feared nothing, but now he was helpless in the face of impending death. His graduation with distinction from the country’s top medical school and postgraduate studies under Academician Dariev meant nothing to him if he only had 18 months to live. At times his blood pressure reached over 212 systolic, he had a terrible headache and his heart felt as if it was being squeezed in a vice. Buteyko was in the Soviet Union’s largest centre of medical expertise and yet no-one could save him. Even cancer seemed mild in comparison. Cancer could be treated in its early stages, malignant tumours could be cut out and the patient could have radiotherapy. The progress of the disease could be temporarily halted, sometimes for long periods. But patients stood no chance with malignant hypertension - it would destroy the strongest body within a year or two, as Buteyko knew only too well. He had access to scarce medicines and even drugs from abroad. He was studying under the country’s top specialist in hypertension, Academician Dariev, and still he was doomed! Drugs would have no effect and he was afraid to tell Dariev the whole story in case he was excluded from postgraduate study. But to judge by his sympathetic expression, Dariev had guessed most of it - he looked at Buteyko as if he was already lost. Dariev considered Buteyko one of his best students and had sometimes hinted at big plans for him.

Then suddenly at the beginning of 1952, a miracle happened. Buteyko not only slowed his progress to the grave, but reversed it. His face became suffused with a healthy glow and his grey-blue eyes shone for the first time in months.

The miracle occurred on 7 October 1952, a night that Buteyko would remember for ever. Although his secret hatred of Stalin had recently become particularly acute (Buteyko was dying and had not managed to finish off the mortal enemy of the Ukrainian people), it now paled into insignificance along with his other dreams and plans. That night, Dr Buteyko would make the Discovery for which the medical mafia would vilify him for years and make nine attempts on his life - including poisoning, road accidents, and attempts to lock him in a psychiatric hospital. He would pay for his Discovery with estrangement from his wife and family.

But Buteyko’s Discovery was capable of saving hundreds of millions of lives - of which his own was only the first. It could have given him a comfortable life in the West had he wanted. His Discovery signalled a revolution in medical science as it had existed for thousands of years. One day people all over the world would celebrate the anniversary of his Discovery, for which the Doctor deserved a Nobel Prize and his name to be written in golden letters in the annals of world medicine for centuries to come. People saved from suffocating asthma attacks, hypertensive crises and diabetes would worship him as an icon, and patients would queue for days to see him.

On that Moscow evening he found a way to save himself (and millions of others) from physical suffering, but subjected himself to years of emotional anguish that was no easier to bear. The medical establishment stuck their knives into him, both metaphorically and literally - if Buteyko’s Discovery became standard medical practice, their scalpels would rust from lack of use. And what would happen to pharmacologists if his Discovery made mountains of pills redundant and left warehouses brimming with the prized medicines that were in such short supply? A furious army descended on the pioneer and tried to crush him. Dr Buteyko was forced to live with the weight of their enmity for the rest of his life.

It just seemed like an ordinary day. It was evening and Buteyko was on duty in a hospital, surrounded by a horde of noisy students who were also staying for the night shift. He was enthusiastically describing how his ideal doctor would diagnose illnesses.

“Just think,” he stepped to one side to let past a nurse wheeling a trolley of medicines, “how do doctors mostly conduct an appointment with a patient? The patient has hardly come in before the doctor tells him to undress, turn around and breathe in.” Buteyko acted it out to show what he meant. “We send urine, blood and faeces to be analysed.” Buteyko turned his head away from the imaginary patient and handed an invisible sheet of instructions to one of the students. “No-one actually looks at the patient - no-one notices his eyes, the way he walks or his mood. But you can tell a lot from these things - sometimes almost everything.”

Buteyko had only been working as a doctor for about a month, but he wasn’t just sharing his own experience. He had absorbed the opinions of his mentor, Academician Dariev, who detested the overly formal and bureaucratic way doctors treated their patients.

“The patient is right in front of you. He hasn’t said a word, but you can tell a lot about him. Here’s a concrete example.”

The Doctor turned to a well-built young man in grey striped pyjamas who was walking towards them with an awkward gait.

“Here’s a typical asthmatic!” stated Buteyko categorically. “You can see that he swallows air like a fish.”

The young man was indeed breathing with difficulty. The students glanced at each other in wonder. They liked this energetic teacher with his lack of vanity.

“I’m afraid you’re wrong, Doctor,” the patient croaked. “I don’t have asthma, I’ve got malignant hypertension.”

Buteyko saw the eyes of a dark-haired, pretty student cloud over with embarrassment and felt he was burning with shame. She had been gazing at him with such adoration just a few moments before.

“It can’t be malignant hypertension!” exclaimed Buteyko as he followed the patient’s slow progress along the corridor with his eyes. “That careful, restrained gait, shortness of breath, open mouth - they’re typical signs of asthma. But he says he’s got malignant hypertension. How could that be?”

The pretty student’s face, flushed with discomfiture, and the hushed mutterings of the other students only spurred him on. Dr Buteyko’s diagnoses were rarely wrong, let alone so short of the mark! Suddenly a thought flashed across his mind: what if the deep breathing that was typical of asthmatics and so pronounced in this hypertensive patient was not an external sign of the disease, but the reason for it? He felt dizzy with excitement. Saying he was urgently needed elsewhere, he sent the students away and hurried after the hypertensive patient.

A short conversation with the patient confirmed his nascent hypothesis. This 21-year-old patient was a weightlifter, which meant he inhaled and exhaled deeply as he squatted then lifted barbells. Buteyko remembered his own training. He too had lifted heavy weights and puffed like a steam engine. He had been forced to give up sport when he became ill, but he still breathed deeply.

Buteyko shut himself in the staffroom alone. The cramped room was dimly lit by a table lamp and outside it was dark. The window panes rattled slightly from the gusts of north wind. He had managed to leaf through about half of the patient’s case notes when he felt a hypertensive crisis beginning. They usually came on in the evening or at night. He would feel the blood throbbing like a hammer in his temples, a sure sign of a sharp rise in blood pressure. The back of his head would feel as if it was on the point of splitting, his pounding heart would be seized with pain and his right kidney would ache. From habit, Buteyko put his hand in his pocket for the medicine that he always carried, then abruptly pulled it out again. What good was medicine if the underlying cause still existed? And that very evening, he had begun to suspect that deep breathing was the reason for his hypertension. So he needed to take the bull by the horns. ‘Physician, heal thyself’ echoed through his mind.

Buteyko laid the patient’s case notes to one side. He took his hands from the desk, leaned against the chair’s hard back, and began to breathe more shallowly. No deep inhalations or strong exhalations, he told himself. Breathe as shallowly as possible. Just breathe a little.

He felt as if he was running out of oxygen. He wanted to open his mouth and swallow great gulps of air, but he restrained himself. A minute passed, then two, then three, and the miracle occurred. A true miracle. Buteyko’s headache began to disappear and the pounding in his temples ceased. The pain in his heart subsided, leaving him feeling wonderfully relaxed. His aching right kidney felt as if it had been soothed with a hot compress.

“It worked!” Buteyko pushed up the left sleeve of his lab coat slightly. The yellow hands of his watch showed quarter to eleven. “It actually worked!” Buteyko couldn’t quite believe it. He deliberately took several deep breaths and his symptoms instantly began to return. He reduced the depth of his breathing, and the symptoms disappeared again.

He had been right! His hypothesis had been proven in a very concrete fashion. He couldn’t stay in the cramped staffroom a moment longer - he needed to confirm his findings using seriously ill patients! He was a scientist after all (albeit a young one) and knew that a successful experiment on himself was insufficient proof.

In Ward 14 on the third floor, Buteyko found an elderly patient who was blue from an asthma attack and looked as if he was about to lose consciousness. Nurses were rushing around. They had already tried everything, including pure oxygen.

“Close your mouth and don’t take long breaths,” Buteyko ordered him in a deliberately peremptory tone.

“But I can’t…” gasped the old man, trying to grab the rubber oxygen pipe from Dr Buteyko.

“Close your mouth!” urged Buteyko. “And press your hands to your chest.” He crossed the old man’s bony hands on his chest. “Stay as quiet as possible. Don’t breathe deeply.”

He gently pressed the patient’s hands to his chest. In two minutes, the terrible bluish tone disappeared from the man’s cheeks. He no longer grasped for the oxygen pipe, but instead gazed at Buteyko as if bewitched. The attack had clearly started to pass.

Until 3 am Buteyko visited as many wards as possible. Asthma attacks, angina, ischemia, and hypertensive emergencies all seemed to succumb to shallow breathing. Patients who had been rescued from terrible attacks stared at him in wonder as he left their bedsides.

At 3.10 am, Buteyko was again sitting at the desk in the staffroom. He hadn’t put on the overhead light, but was using the old table light with its green shade. The wind had started to die down and the window panes rattled less. The lampshade cast a shadow on the uneven surface of the wall opposite his table. Buteyko had his elbows on the desk and his head cupped in his hands. The powerful technique that he had discovered that night had undeniably worked. Encouraging a seriously ill patient to breathe more shallowly would bring him out of semi-consciousness and enable him to lead a full and healthy life. Encouraging him to breathe more deeply would lead him directly to the Pearly Gates.

It was possible to cure people without pills, injections and surgery! Buteyko raised his head. The high priests of the cult of medicine would never believe it - or they wouldn’t want to. They would think he was mad. Who was he, after all? A greenhorn. And his Discovery would turn modern medicine on its head. Buteyko clutched at the desk top. If the medical establishment had not believed poor Ignaz Semmelweis and murdered him in an insane asylum for suggesting that surgeons should wash their hands with chlorine solution before operating, then they would certainly not believe him.

The lamp flickered and for a moment lit up the far corner of the room, where old files were piled up. To the over-wrought Buteyko, it seemed that sympathetic eyes were gazing at him from the dark corner. He had seen those eyes once in an old engraving in a book - they were the eyes of the murdered Semmelweis…


Doctor Buteyko's Discovery Trilogy

by Sergey Altukhov