Practical medical evidence indicates that people can breathe 2-4 times more air every minute and be unaware that their breathing is too heavy. This is exactly the case for patients with heart disease, asthma, bronchitis, chronic fatigue, panic attacks, sleeping problems and many other conditions. The physiological norm for breathing is about 4-6 liters per minute, while medical research found 10-20 liters for the sick people.
Why is this? Air is weightless, and breathing muscles are powerful. During rigorous physical exercise we can breathe up to 100-150 l/min. Some athletes can breathe up to 200 l/min. So it is easy to breathe “only” 10-15 l/min at rest (only 10% of our maximum capacity), throughout the day and night and not be aware of this rate of breathing. However, in health, we should breathe only about 3-4% of our maximum breathing rate.
Usually, people notice that their breathing is heavy when they breathe more than 25 l/min at rest (or 4-6 times the norm!). Such acute episodes of overbreathing are normal during stroke, and asthma, heart, and epilepsy attacks.
The most surprising effect of any form of hyperventilation is reduced body oxygenation and shorter stress-free breath holding time (index of oxygenation). Why? There are 2 related biochemical effects of over-breathing.
First, CO2 (carbon dioxide), the gas we exhale, is crucial for dilation of blood vessels. Check it yourself. Start to breathe very heavy in and out just for 1-2 minutes, and you can lose consciousness (faint or pass out) due to low blood supply for the brain. There is another simple test to see the effects of breathing on blood flow. When you get a small accidental bleeding cut, hold your breath and accumulate CO2. Your blood losses can increase 2-5 times! But in real life, pain and sight of blood make breathing heavier preventing large blood losses and providing valuable time for blood to coagulate. It is a mechanism useful for our survival likely based on natural selection.
The second main cause of tissue hypoxia for hyperventilators relates to the Bohr effect, a physiological law discovered about a century ago. This law explains how, why, and where our red blood cells release oxygen. The release takes place in those tissues that have higher CO2 content. Hence, those organs and muscles that produce more CO2 get more O2. Try to imagine the picture: the blood arrives in certain tissues and releases more oxygen in the places with high CO2 concentrations. But when we hyperventilate, low CO2 content in all tissues suppresses O2 release from hemoglobin cells and we suffer from hypoxia.
Thousands of medical studies have shown and proved other negative effects of overbreathing, such as abnormal excitability of all nerve cells, bronchoconstriction, reduced activity of many immune cells, muscular spasms, and biochemical changes in rates and directions of many chemical reactions that require normal CO2 content.
Restoration of oxygenation and normal breathing parameters are the main goals of the Buteyko breathing method. The method was developed by Russian Doctor Konstantin Buteyko, who trained about 200 Russian medical professionals to apply this technique for various health conditions. These doctors found that if the patient manages to normalize main parameters of breathing, no symptoms are present and no medications are required for asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, and many other conditions.
There are 2 parts in his system: breathing exercises and common sense activities, which, as they found, influence breathing. For example, when we breathe through the mouth or sleep on the back at night, our oxygenation index can drop 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. Many other factors are useful for better oxygenation, as Russian doctors found, for example, raw diets, good posture, normal thermoregulation, relaxation and meditation techniques, forgiveness, moderation, hatha yoga postures, cold shower, etc.