Buteyko: The breathing technique that saved me (and my trip)

MANILA, Philippines - I was worried, and a bit desperate.

My cough, phlegm and on-and-off fever had been going on for 3 weeks. Sleep came only with difficulty.

Ever since I had gone down the vegetarian route more than 5 years ago, natural remedies like herbs had always worked for me. But they did not work this time.

Even doctor-prescribed antibiotics — that I was finally forced to take after a few weeks — had no effect. A pulmonary specialist suspected my condition to be the adult onset of asthma (the condition runs in our family), and prescribed steroids and anti-allergy drugs.

I knew steroids could cure, but they could also destroy the body, severely weakening the immune system.

Were they really my only option to get cured?

To make my anxiety worse, I was looking forward to a 7-week solo backpacking trip. How could I go in my condition?

The answer came to me almost by providence.

Through my Internet research, I stumbled upon a breathing technique called Buteyko which has been proven to relieve asthma, allergies, sleep apnea and other respiratory problems. Medical research trials across different countries found asthma sufferers eliminating or significantly reducing their medication after doing Buteyko for two weeks.

And, by happy coincidence, the Buteyko teacher who conducts workshops in different Asian countries was in the Philippines that time.

JAC VIDGEN, SENIOR BUTEYKO practitioner and Asia's Buteyko teacher. Photo from Jac Vidgen

JAC VIDGEN, SENIOR BUTEYKO practitioner and Asia's Buteyko teacher.

Photo from Jac Vidgen

I wasted no time getting in touch with Jac Vidgen, the Buteyko teacher.

Upon learning about my predicament, he advised me to start learning the method immediately. He also commended my vegetarian diet but said it was not enough to maintain good health.

“How many times do you eat in a day?” he asked me. “Compare that with how many times you breathe in a day.”

He then said that humans breathe around 20,000 to 30,000 times a day.

He had a point: if we strive to eat correctly, the same should go with breathing correctly.

Jac then made a bold promise that no doctor I saw ever made: that I would be able to go off on my solo backpacking trip after I learn how to practice Buteyko.

The most powerful information I learned with practicing the Buteyko method is the importance of carbon dioxide.

Oxygen has always been hailed as the life-giver; thus, deep breathing has always been emphasized in almost all physical activities, even in meditation.

But I learned through Buteyko that when we lack carbon dioxide, our bodies’ cells would not be able to use oxygen, no matter how much oxygen we breathe in.

The danger of over-breathing is that we deplete the carbon dioxide in our bodies. 

JAC TEACHES BREATHING THE Buteyko way. Photo from Jac Vidgen

JAC TEACHES BREATHING THE Buteyko way.

Photo from Jac Vidgen

In fact, the founder of the Buteyko method, Russian medical doctor and scientist Dr. Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko, said respiratory illnesses are generally caused by over-breathing. Symptoms like phlegm or excess mucus are actually the body’s defense response to the lack of carbon dioxide. 

There are ways to reduce over-breathing:

The Buteyko workshops, meanwhile, do not just give lifestyle advice but also teach breathing exercises for optimal breathing and for relief from respiratory conditions (even for other problems like dizziness and constipation).

Special attention is given to each student, and this continues long after the workshops.

In the workshops, Jac gave us students breathing exercises, with variations based on each student’s current condition and medical history.

Over the next few weeks, Jac monitored each student’s breathing and lifestyle, including eating and sleeping. He insisted that we give him a call regularly to report how we are doing, and always, always when we have questions or symptoms.

JAC CLOSELY MONITORS THE progress of his students. Photo from Jac Vidgen

JAC CLOSELY MONITORS THE progress of his students.

Photo from Jac Vidgen

In less than two weeks, all of my symptoms were gone, just in the nick of time for my solo backpacking trip.

Amid all my trekking, swimming, snorkeling and daily exploring for 7 weeks, I experienced none of my old symptoms.

For me, Buteyko is a lifesaver. - Rappler.com


(Buteyko teacher Jac Vidgen is holding Buteyko workshops in the Philippines this month. For more details on Buteyko and the workshop schedule and locations, visit www.buteykoasia.com. Author Claire Madarang is a traveler and a vegetarian – that is, until she sets foot on beaches and coasts with fresh, bountiful seafood. Follow her adventures and thoughts on traveling light in the outer and inner journey at www.iamtravelinglight.com.)