Breathing technique goes global for Patrick

Patrick McKeown: “I knew it worked for asthma and learned that it could help people with snoring, panic attacks and stress as well as helping children with dentistry issues,” he says of the Buteyko Breathing method. Photo: Iain McDonald.
Patrick McKeown: “I knew it worked for asthma and learned that it could help people with snoring, panic attacks and stress as well as helping children with dentistry issues,” he says of the Buteyko Breathing method. Photo: Iain McDonald.

Lifestyle – Judy Murphy hears how the success story of a Galway practitioner is now being adopted in the world of sport

When Patrick McKeown placed his book, Close Your Mouth, in the waiting room of a Californian dentist a couple of years ago, he could never have guessed what would ensue.

Patrick, who lives between Moycullen and Spiddal, is an expert in the Buteyko Breathing method, called after Russian medic Konstantin Buteyko, who developed the technique in the 1950s.

Dr Buteyko’s research in Russia led him to discover that several diseases, including asthma, were caused by chronic over-breathing.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but according to Dr Buteyko, people with asthma take in too much air rather than too little. This causes the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide to be out of kilter, which has adverse effects on the entire body. The science is pretty technical, but Buteyko’s treatment requires a person to reduce their breathing so that they feel a need for air. The Buteyko Method is all about breathing through the nose rather than the mouth to reduce the intake of air into the body.

Studies have proven that Buteyko Breathing works for asthma and hay fever, as well as a range of other conditions, including anxiety and sleep disorders.  Dentists and orthodontists have long recognised the benefits of nose-breathing, especially for children, as it helps the face to develop properly and prevents conditions such as asthma and sleep apnoea later in life.

Mouth-breathing has been shown to adversely impact the shape of someone’s face. For that reason, Patrick has been working with dental specialists in Ireland and the US for years, teaching them about the Buteyko Method. It was during one of his trips to America that he left copies of his book, Close Your Mouth in the Californian dentist’s waiting room.

A patient, who suffered from asthma borrowed it and read it, following the exercises that Patrick had set out for improving breath control.

This man’s asthma improved and he contacted Patrick for a couple of face-to-face training sessions on Buteyko Breathing via Skype. It transpired that he was a literary agent, whose clients included Richard Branson, the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela.

Patrick, who had already self-published six books on Buteyko Breathing, mentioned that he was working on a new book on its role in sports and fitness.

The agent asked him to send on what he had written and Patrick did.

“He told me it was too technical and to write it as though I was talking to someone down in the pub, in lay language,” explains Patrick, who has first-hand experience of how the Buteyko method can control asthma.

He’d suffered from the respiratory condition since childhood and, despite two decades of using inhalers and taking other medication, it was only when he began practising Buteyko Breathing as a 26-year-old that he managed to bring it under control.

The Trinity-educated marketing graduate was so impressed that he changed his career. Patrick began researching the Buteyko Method, travelling to Russia and meeting Dr Buteyko, who died in 2003. Since then, Patrick has trained thousands of children and adults in this breathing technique, while emphasising that people who are on medication for asthma or any other condition should only quit if and when their doctor gives approval. He is not a doctor and he would never advise people to stop taking inhalers, he says. He just wants people to have their asthma under control.

People can learn to achieve this via a series of exercises and small lifestyle changes which help the body to use oxygen more efficiently.

Patrick now gives talks and lectures all over the world, travelling regularly to Europe and America to share his expertise.

Here in Ireland, he has worked with Professor John Fenton of UL and Limerick Regional Hospital, on a research programme which showed the Buteyko Method benefits people who suffer from rhinitis and hay fever.

In the office attached to his Moycullen home, Patrick has folders and files from leading international medical journals offering proof that the Buteyko Method can address a broad range of health issues. But while he’s in demand internationally, including increasingly at medical gatherings, the Irish Asthma Society has never engaged with him. He contacted the organisation in 2005, asking it to investigate its efficacy, but “there was no interest”.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.