Hyperventilation/Overbreathing/Hypocapnea/Hyperinhalation/Shallow Breathing/Quiet Breathing

Hyperventilation/Overbreathing/Hypocapnea/Hyperinhalation/Shallow Breathing/Quiet Breathing


If you start here and understand this OBWINDOW page well enough it may help you understand the balance of  the factors below.

Above OBW8 creates tension. Below OBW3 creates tension. Breathing deeper but still easy and not forced is the key.

The easier breathing volume is in the lower large lobes of the lungs. Shallow breathing is counter-intuitive; it is in reality chest breathing because the higher chest portion of the lungs have much less volume so trying to breathe there gets you nowhere but anxious and frustrated/stressed.

Most people when asked to take a deep breath will head right up to the upper chest. They try to breathe deeper, send the effort upward in the chest but can't get any volume so they try harder and make things worse.

This is hyperventilation-Overbreathing. It is confusing because the "hyper" implies you are breathing too much when in reality you are breathing too high chest. Healthy deeper breathing in the lower abdomen-front-sides and back is to me really HyperInhalation. It has an unhealthy connotation. Hyperventilation is unhealthy connotation.  

Quiet breathing is simply your automatic breathing depth, balance and rate (belly dominant) at rest with no need for deeper breathing except on occasion every few minutes or so. 

Hyperventilation/overbreathing causes lessened oxygen supply to the blood is in many ways a maladaptive response to stress. Hyper-inhalation done properly can create monumental energy and health benefits.The Nijmegen Questionnaire below in red has some key aspects of what are commonly regarded as hyperventilation symptoms when they appear too often. 

Chest pain, feeling tense, blurred vision, dizzy spells, feeling confused, faster or deeper breathing, short of breath, tight feeling in chest, bloated feeling in stomach, tingling fingers, unable to breathe deeply, stiff fingers or arms, tight feeling around mouth, cold hands or feet, feelings of anxiety. To me this Questionnaire is grossly inadequate and a small sampling of what might really be termed Unbalanced Dysfunctional Breathing. 

Hospital admissions for possible cardiac or neurological disorders are extremely common and many patients with UDB carry an assortment of incorrect diagnosis with bottles of corresponding ineffective or even harmful medications.

Faster than quiet breathing is mostly looked upon by the western medical community as hyperventilation. It carries a bias of being the wrong way to breathe; there is an illness connotation to it.

That is largely because  medical science does not clearly differentiate between healthy fast and unhealthy fast breathing and may mistakenly call healthy faster breathing "overbreathing". 

There are different types or qualities of fast or forced deeper breathing. 'one example is the relaxing and energizing breathing such as from our Better Breathing Exercise #1 

Bad breathing is over-stimulating dominant high chest breathing or so fast we get dizzy or disoriented because the excess energy is intolerable. So rapid breathing can also be bad, or good depending. Even the belly dominant rapid breathing can cause disorientation. Low and slow is usually best.

When the faster breathing  is predominately chest it can still be somewhat appropriate but only in the sense that it resolves an immediate emergency or is appropriate to a joyful activity and then reverts back to healthy slower deeper easier balanced breathing as soon as the particular event is over.

Wild animals seem to do that (adapt and recover) much better than most humans but humans can be trained to adapt by developing their breathing in an optimal fashion. Many forms of martial arts train to rarely if ever even in combat, breathe excessively in the chest. "soft belly" is an often taught strategy. 

Most gas exchange perspectives say hyperventilation sharply reduces the level of carbon dioxide in the blood. I see this as important in many ways and misleading in others. 

"Overbreathing"* means bringing about carbon dioxide (CO2) deficit in the blood (i.e., hypocapnia) through excessive ventilation (increased “minute volume”) during rapid, deep, and dysrhythmic breathing, a condition that may result in debilitating short-term and long-term physical and psychological complaints and symptoms.

The slight shifts in CO2 chemistry associated with overbreathing may cause physiological changes such as hypoxia (oxygen deficit), cerebral vasoconstriction (brain), coronary constriction (heart), blood and extracellular alkalosis (increased pH), cerebral glucose deficit, ischemia (localized anemia), buffer depletion (bicarbonates), bronchial constriction, gut constriction, calcium imbalance, magnesium deficiency, and muscle fatigue, spasm (tetany), and pain" Dr. Peter Litchfield.

*Note: “Overbreathing” is a behavior leading to the physiological condition known as hypocapnia, i.e., carbon dioxide deficit. “Hyperventilation,” although nomenclature synonymous with hypocapnia in physiological terms, is often used as a clinical term to describe a controversial psychophysiologic “syndrome” implicated in panic disorder and other clinical complaints."

In other words, no matter how much oxygen we may breathe into our lungs, if the O2 is taken in in a certain way then our sympathetic nervous system will dominate, constrict the blood vessels including the brain and our body will experience a shortage of oxygen.  It's like the old saying "the hurrieder I go the behinder I get". 

A severe asthma attack is one example of this. Panic attacks and aspects of many seizures are as well. The lack of oxygen and or increased carbon dioxide switches on the sympathetic nervous system which makes us tense, anxious and potentially irritable.  So in some sense many may need to become more tolerable to increased levels of CO2. 

I partially disagree with the gas exchange overbreathing carbon-dioxide-is-the-major-marker perspective. Yes it is pure and standard science that a certain level of millimeters of mercury must be present for optimal transfer of oxygen to the cells. 

But my research leads me to believe that a significant issue or way this is influenced is more about the way and depth the nervous system is stimulated, ie., whether PNS parasympathic/abdominal, breathing, or SNS sympathetic, high chest dominant.  

I have observed people breathing chest  or belly or both intensely for hours without any signs of distress, but rather with signs of bliss and joy. The key to "over-breathing" is more about balance between the high chest SNS and abdominal PNS breathing pattern.

The way one takes an in-breath  stimulates the ANS in a good way or a bad way or something in between. CO2 levels are influenced this way, but they are not always the dominant theme like the CO2 gas exchange proponents seem to believe. CO2 is the effect, not the cause. UDB is often the cause.

This is further demonstrated when massive extra oxygen is utilized during exercise or rest and then the CO2/O2 relationship does not seem so relevant if at all. But AFTER that O2 experience the UDB patterns can return albeit probably less so. 

Our evolution and survival often necessitates having fast responses. The shortest distance between two points is the straight line connecting them. High chest dominated "sympathetic" breathing causes constriction and what I call "hypervigilance"; a stronger and physically closer connection to the reptilian survival brain. 

But FUN is a part of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) as it is balanced with parasympathetic nervous system PNS. Kind of like cocoa (PNS) mixed with milk to make milk chocolate (more SNS) or DARK chocolate (more PNS(. I often train people to get their breathing's "taste of chocolate".

Abdominal breathing invites expansion and increased energy toleration.  It has much more of the vagus (parasympathetic-rest-digest-heal) nerve action engaged with it and allows for the INFORMED/TRAINED neo-cortex as well as parasympathetic relaxation response to "buffer" the survival instinct. You think you see a snake and pull back. It is really a telephone cord and you relax.

High chest breathing generally hyper-stimulates, causes increased breathing rate, lowers blood CO2 amounts causing vasoconstriction and exacerbates nervous system distress.  It causes blood vessel contraction and makes O2 less transferable to the cellular system and your brain. 

Once the high-chest dominant breath ceases, adaptations need to occur to raise CO2 levels that dilate vessels to allow for replenishment of CO2 balance. Optimal oxygen uptake is not possible without proper CO2 presence.  Alkaline forming nutrition is also relevant.

Techniques of rebreathing into a paper bag are no longer recommended because significant hypoxia and death have been reported in people who are hyperventilating for organic reasons (eg, pulmonary edema, metabolic acidosis), increasing pCO2 and decreasing O2 may be disastrous.

In addition, paper bag rebreathing is often unsuccessful in reversing the symptoms of HVS because patients have difficulty complying with the technique and because CO2 itself may be a chemical trigger for anxiety in these patients.

There are many that make their breathing worse by overthinking it and ab-reacting in varied situations of life. I call it situational hypocapnea. It is also called OVERBREATHING. I had one client who flew me to NYC several times and Wyoming to train her boyfriend and even then she kept regressing from my hands-on-work which she loved until one day she figured out what she was doing to herself by over thinking or overreacting to her breathing. Walks in the woods helped a lot.

Fill out this form for more insight into situational hypocapnea


We need to remember that sometimes it is good to be ungrounded and unbalanced as with being able to laugh or cry wholeheartedly, change one's rigidity, one's attitude and or achieve quantum shifts in awareness and ability by altering one's emotional anatomy.

  When done in a healthy way, it will help to  change sympathetic/parasympathetic balance toward more harmonious levels. Parasympathetic response also relates to one's balanced grounded power base.

Sympathetic enervation can be fun or excitement which is often good. Zealotry and hyperbole are examples of excitement or fun without seemingly realistic parasympathetic, neocortical/rational accessed reality checks and physical groundedness.  

To repeat, parasympathetic enervation accompanies relaxation and lessened activity such as rest, digest and heal.  Sympathetic relates to action, anxiety, fight/flight/freeze/fake it, fumble and FUN. FUN is sympathetic enervation that is balanced with enough parasympathetic enervation. Silly squeaky giggles to deep gut guffaws come to mind.

There are other relevant influences towards hyperventilation such as nutrition and toxicity that veers one toward anxiety or confusion.  But, barring congenital challenges, toxicity, or nutritional considerations, I believe that it is primarily when sympathetic enervation becomes dominant without the proper amount of parasympathetic balance, that anxiety states occur to invite hyper constriction of blood vessels and signs of overbreathing/hyperventilation. 

As I said before I am partly discouraged with the use of  the "overbreathing" word as it implies that breathing more is bad. It is not QUANTITY, it is BALANCE that is more important. Sympathetic Dominant Unbalanced Deep Breathing or SDUDB is the label I believe should be used to describe hyperventilation. 

This is proven time and again by a person's ability to withstand the agony of the dentist office or birthing babies aided ONLY by well developed breathing techniques and zero use of customary pain killers. 

Nutrition and toxicity aside, low CO2 caused vasoconstriction does not happen so much or at all when the parasympathetic nervous system is strong enough to maintain nervous system parasympathetic dominated balance.

Another way this manifests in real living conditions is with maintaining reasonably relaxed self control and centering during extreme states of stress or "courage under fire". Ahhhhh! -- Insights and contradictions from martial arts taught in all of our programs.

Healthy HyperINHALATION (HI) or Balanced Deep Breathing BDB partially or fully charged breathing as energetic aspect  of healthy "quiet" breathing is a more objective way to look at the good kind of increased breathing, ie, depth and rate, which focuses on the nervous system balance as opposed to just CO2/O2 relationship which is often the effect and not the cause.

To re-emphasize, having watched over a million breaths of transformational breathwork clients, I have observed -with the help of a pulse oxymeter, that quick-deep or quick-shallow breathing, if dominated by belly, back and side breathing, most often increases the level of oxygen in our blood.

By gas exchange standards, this would seem to reduce the CO2 ratios, invite constriction and inhibit O2 transfer into the cells but this MAY or MAY NOT not occur depending upon how well the breather is able to relax and stay dominant parasympathetic. Key factors are how well they adapt, tolerate or become accustomed to the increase in physical energy (chi, prana, Qi, pneuma etc).

Dominant front, side and back abdominal breaths allow the nervous system to remain calm and to stay out of the potentially vaso-constrictive "anxiety/survival responses", CO2 depletion, and high chest, sympathetic breathing pattern.

We get more energized and in touch with our power without being overwhelmed with oxygen deprivation. The key is HOW this occurs and that is a lot of what our breathing development programs improve.

To repeat. 
It is too much sympathetic, high chest breathing.  There is a HUGE difference between over-breathing parasympathetic (abdominal) and over-breathing sympathetically. It is not over-breathing. It is the way we breathe more than we need to, and how we distort or maintain internal and nervous system balance. See UDB.

Certain schools of allopathic medicine presently lump everything into one word -hyperventilation- which is grossly inadequate. So this prejudice distorts and increases the importance and relevance of carbon dioxide.

The effects of carbon dioxide levels are very important and permit tremendous insight and without them we can fail to help many in need. We must recognize that this is an imbalance that has a cause, and the cause is unbalanced breathing.

I steadfastly believe that higher O2 levels and the way we balance them with adequate CO2 levels are primary factors in developing and maintaining internal balance and optimal health.

There are instruments that can easily record the CO2 levels and help gauge therapeutic progress. I believe that science will support my thesis that a stronger emphasis/stimulation of the parasympathetic "rest, digest and heal" aspect of the nervous system, produces  "safe" increased levels of oxygen, peptides, endorphins and subtle energies of the various forms of what the ancient - and modern -breathing practitioners call chi, ki, prana, pneuma, spiritus etc.

The arteries, including the carotid arteries going to the brain, remain more open, thus allowing increased flow of energized blood throughout the brain and body. It feels great, sometimes even ecstatic. Gospel singing is an example of this experience, as well as some forms of chanting, and transformational breathwork.

How often is chest pain caused by hyperventilation? 
One study suggests that up to 90% of non-cardiac chest pain is thought to be induced by hyperventilation (De Guire et al 1992).

Syndrome X refers to patients (mainly women) who get a history of angina with a positive exercise test, but normal angiography. This is thought to be due to a functional abnormality of coronary circulation.

Can hyperventilation cause a heart attack?

In very rare cases, people who hyperventilate can have lower carbon dioxide blood levels that can cause a spasm of the blood vessels that supply the heart. If you already have heart disease, this spasm may be enough to cause a heart attack.

The majority of patients with hyperventilation, the chest pain is due to UDB and attempted over-inflation of the lungs. Without thinking about it, you might use your chest muscles to try to expand your rib cage. This extra muscle work will feel like shortness of breath, and you'll have difficulty in taking a deep breath. Your chest muscles will become tired, just like your legs tire after a long run.

How can hyperventilation be differentiated from a heart attack?

The diagnosis of causes of chest pain should ALWAYS be made by a doctor. Clues that will be helpful include:
• Hyperventilation symptoms usually last longer (hours as opposed to minutes)
• Hyperventilation symptoms usually happen in younger people or stressed out adults
• Hyperventilation symptoms can get better with exercise but often worsen such as in sports induced asthma
• Hyperventilation pain will not be improved by heart medication

How does hyperventilation affect the functioning of the brain?

Chemical changes happen in the blood due to UDB.  Hyperventilation causes the carbon dioxide level in the blood to decrease. This lower level of carbon dioxide reduces blood flow to the brain, which may result in weakness, fainting, dizziness, and confusion.

To protect the brain from damage one will faint and resume normal breathing to restore blood flow to the brain. Studies have shown that oxygen to the brain can be reduced up to 60% via chronic hyperventilation.

Increased Energy Developed Safely

Breathing practices are most often safe when the body’s sensing mechanisms are engaged on a moment to moment basis to monitor against excessive or inappropriate breathing related energy. But many people are so far out of balance that the "breather"  may have forgotten about or never have felt (due to traumatic birthing or infancy) a state of wholeness and balance.

This puts practices such as singing or voice training and the teachers that comprise this population in a completely new light and shows how singing can be not only a performance-personal growth tool, but a health modality as well.

Though they are often monumentally powerful healing and energy paradigms, many Qigong and Pranayama teachers are often at a disadvantage in teaching their art forms because their students may be lacking fundamental, internal breathing balance and coordination, plus subtle aspects of feeling and kinesthetic feedback, and do not internally sense themselves in ways familiar to these paradigms. Making sound can give tremendous insight to this missing link, and the vocal/speech trainer becomes an integral part of the Optimal Breathing system.

To address this problem I developed advanced breathing development techniques in the Optimal Breathing Kit and the Optimal Breathing School that bring the person back into balanced mechanical breathing coordination; safely, rapidly and without medication, hyperventilation or discomfort.

The long term answer to optimal breathing is not in surgery, steroids or inhalers, but in establishing one's internal homeostasis and maintaining it on a moment to moment, day to day basis, even when the proverbial stuff hits the fan.

I work on and train people in techniques, exercises, nutrition and insights that will permanently keep you out of future breathing trouble. My self help programs are guaranteed to help a great deal. My private sessions take the progress further and faster. Our school trains others to do what I do Self Help Course to Rapidly Improve or Eliminate your Breathing related hyperventilation

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