In the 1960s, before the first Soviet manned spaceship missions it was crucial for Soviets to find the optimum air parameters and investigate the relationships between air compositions and breathing, body oxygenation, symptoms, and health. This confidential project was organized and funded by the Soviet Ministry of Aviation and Space Research in Novosibirsk. A young aspiring PhD Konstantin Buteyko, MD, an Honour Graduate of the 1-st Moscow Medical Institute was selected as a manager of the respiratory laboratory to lead this physiological project in Novosibirsk (Academgorodok). He was provided with the most advanced equipment, best available personnel and all other resources.
Doctor Buteyko studied breathing 24/7 measuring over 30 fundamental physiological parameters of the body in real time (see the picture), literally with each breath. He came with many startling conclusions related to breathing and body oxygenation. He found that virtually all sick people (asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.) have heavy (deep and frequent) respiratory pattern breathing 2-4 times more air 24/7. However, this heavy and deep breathing pattern reduces oxygenation of the body and produces many other negative physiological effects. Dr. Buteyko concluded,
"Therefore, during deep breathing carbon dioxide becomes smaller, oxygen smaller, breath holding time smaller, breathing frequency higher, and automatic pause is absent" (Dr. Buteyko KP, Public lecture in the Moscow State University on 9 December 1969 [in Russian], published in the Soviet national journal "Nauka i zhizn'" (Science and life), Moscow, issue 10, October 1977. )
He also investigated influence of numerous lifestyle and environmental factors on breathing and oxygenation. Many of his observations are confirmed by hundreds of separate western studies, but Buteyko was able to put al ideas together, as a science which describes the role of breathing in control and modulation of the cardiovascular, immune, nervous, and digestive systems of the body.
Buteyko also discovered that it is easy to measure body oxygenation using a simple test. He stated, "Oxygen content in the organism can be found using a simple method: after exhalation, observe, how long the person can pause their breath without stress." (Buteyko, ibid.) How to do the oxygenation test?
After your usual exhalation, stop breathing, pinch your nose and count your stress-free BHT (breath holding time) in seconds. Keep nose pinched until you experience the first stress or desire to breathe. Practice shows that this first discomfort appears together with an involuntary push of the diaphragm or swallowing movement in the throat. (Your body warns you, "Enough!") If you release the nose and start breathing at this moment of time, you can resume your usual breathing pattern (in the same way as you were breathing prior to the test). Do not extend breath holding too long. This is the most typical mistake. The oxygenation test does not interfere with your usual breathing. The test should be easy and not cause you any stress.
Soviet doctors found that the following relationships generally hold true:
1-10 s of oxygen - critically and terminally ill patients, severely sick, usually hospitalized.
10-20 s - most patients with mild forms of diseases, numerous complaints and, often, on daily medication.
20-40 s - people with poor health, but often without serious organic problems.
40-60 s - good health.
Over 60 s - perfect health, when many modern diseases are virtually impossible.
Buteyko developed the breathing self-oxygenation therapy (the Buteyko method) to boost or restore oxygenation of the body. The oxygenation test became the main measuring tool for about 200 medical professionals who taught the Buteyko oxygenation therapy to hundreds thousands of Russian patients with asthma, heart disease, bronchitis, and other conditions. Their typical success rate was about 90% for asthma and heart disease. Most of the patients did not have symptoms and did not require any medication after 1-2 months of the self-oxygenation therapy. The Buteyko method was officially approved by the Health Ministry of the USSR in 1985.
These oxygenation doctors also applied the breathing therapy on themselves. Maximum breath holding time of Doctor Buteyko and some of his colleagues (after full inhalation) was up to 10-12 minutes! They found that people with such superior body oxygenation (about 3 minutes for the oxygenation test) sleep only for 2 hours naturally. Normally, this therapy was used by Soviet astronauts.
There are two parts in his breathing system: breathing exercises and common sense activities, which, as they found, influence body oxygenation. The final goal of the Buteyko breathing method is to have light, relaxed, and slow breathing pattern with over 60 s of oxygen in the body.
Lifestyle factors can produce strong effect on breathing and tissue oxygenation. For example, Buteyko revealed that breathing through the mouth or sleeping on the back at night can reduce the oxygenation index (stress-free breath holding time) almost 2 times! In relation to other activities, Doctor Buteyko even suggested simple rules for better oxygenation: "Eat only when hungry and stop in time", "Go to sleep when really sleepy and get out of the bed in the morning", "Exercise with nasal breathing only", etc. As Russian self-oxygenation doctors found, many other factors are useful for better oxygenation, for example, raw diets, good posture, normal thermoregulation, relaxation and meditation therapies, forgiveness, sleeping on hard beds, moderation, hatha yoga postures, cold shower, etc.
All these discoveries are useful in order to deal with those chronic conditions which exist only in conditions of tissue hypoxia. These include asthma, heart disease, chronic fatigue, bronchitis, cancer, acne, sexual importance, diabetes, and many other disorders.
For over 20 years after completion of this secret project, Buteyko could not travel abroad due to the classified nature of his studies. Only in the 1990s were he and his pupils able to travel to the West, share some of his discoveries and train breathing instructors. There are no over 300 Western Buteyko practitioners teaching elements of this self-oxygenation therapy in Australia, the UK, Holland, and New Zealand.