Chronic Hyperventilation

What is chronic hyperventilation?

Physiology books tell us that the average rate of breathing while at rest is approximately 12 to 18 times a minute (a rate which qigong and yoga practitioners, breathing therapists, and others have demonstrated is faster than it needs to be). In observing our breath, many of us may notice that we breathe even faster than this so-called average rate. Many of us, without knowing it, habitually “hyperventilate”—that is, we take quick, shallow breaths from the top of our chest. These quick, shallow breaths sharply reduce the level of carbon dioxide in our blood. This reduced level of carbon dioxide causes the arteries, including the carotid artery going to the brain, to constrict, thus reducing the flow of blood throughout the body. When this occurs, no matter how much oxygen we may breathe into our lungs, our brain and body will experience a shortage of oxygen.

The lack of sufficient oxygen switches on the sympathetic nervous system—our “fight or flight or freeze” reflex—which makes us tense, anxious, and irritable. It also reduces our ability to think clearly, and tends to put us at the mercy of obsessive thoughts and images. Some researchers believe that hyperventilation can actually magnify our psychological problems and conflicts, and that chronic hyperventilation is intimately bound up with our anxieties, apprehensions, and fears. For many of us this is a common condition. Those who work seriously with yoga, qigong, or natural breathing, however, find that their breath rates slow dramatically, in some cases down to a resting rate of three or four breaths per minute. This has many benefits, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Copyright 2010-15 by Dennis Lewis

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