Updated: Jan 12
Hyperventilation Yoga? What is that? This blog explains why actually Hypoventilation is better than Hyperventilation when we practice Yoga.
We breathe on average 3 – 10 litter per minute (5 litter on average). This amount is normal ventilation. If you breathe more, it is called hyperventilation. If you breathe less, it leads to hypoventilation. The purpose of yoga is encouraging hypoventilation.
It seems that in the first years of yoga, many people tend to over breath. You have to go to a class and listen to the breathing going on! Some breathe like they are running their first marathon but are in a simple posture.
Hypoventilation versus Hypoventilation
Hyperventilation is when one breathes more air than it is required. Chemical changes happen while over-breathing. Hyperventilation causes the carbon dioxide level in the blood to decrease. This lower carbon dioxide level reduces blood flow to the brain by causing blood vessels going to the brain to contract. So, less blood and oxygen get to the brain and less air to the alveoli.
Hyperventilation during a yoga practice brings less oxygen to the brain.
Mild hypoventilation during yoga practice can bring more oxygen to the brain.
On a physiological level reduced breathing (mild hypoventilation) calms the nerves, increases the oxygenation and blood flow to the brain and heart and reduces the feeling of being hungry after a practice, whereas increased breathing stimulates the nervous system. People might get symptoms, such as feeling over-emotional or/and dizzy or nauseous, decreasing oxygenation and blood flow to the brain. You may feel hungry after over-breathing and desire some protein-rich food.
Reduced breathing (hypoventilation) leaves the body slightly more acidic (with carbonic acid), which gives the physiological effect of calming the nervous system and the mind in general.
The relationship between breathing and diet
When a person inhales deeply and exhales deeply, and there is over-breathing, there is a release of carbon dioxide leading to reduced carbon acid in the body. Over-breathing creates alkalinity in the body. An alkaline system will crave acidic foods in its attempt to balance out.
A person who hyperventilates or breathes more than normal will desire acidic foods such as protein foods or grains. When a person hypo ventilates or breathes less than usual, there is a build-up of carbonic acid, and the internal system becomes acidic. As such a person will then desire more alkaline foods to create balance in the body - foods such as fruits, leafy greens and vegetables.
Another myth in our fitness world is that cardio means to get our heart rate up to pump the blood throughout the body. However, other ways a yogi distributes blood throughout the body and other pumps help us do so, such as through the vascular system, through muscular activation and subsequent relaxation, breathing, and movement.
Learning Point: Sometimes wrong patterns and habits can cause the opposite effect, and we must be cautious when teaching certain breathing ‘techniques’ that often lead to hyperventilation (especially beginners that overtax their nervous system with too many details, instructions and on top are told to breathe all the time. Over breathing, may give an hour of an increased feeling of flexibility and alkalinity and a feeling of a slight high.
However, in the long term, if not accompanied by extensive breath retentions, it can cause us to get undesirable physiological effects, overstimulate our nervous system, sensitise our nervous system. Additionally, we may get more prone to feeling pain, and we may compensate by eating or craving more acidic foods.
Often people are not ready to do these breathing techniques as they tense too much or because their diet is not alkaline enough, or they have not mastered the skills of bandha. The physiological effects can be so subtle that we may not even notice them for a while.
Please note that the notion that breath is good for you and the more and deeper the better leads often to hyperventilation!
One of the purposes of Hatha Yoga is to still the mind and to breathe less. Breathing less than you need at the time is called as we have mentioned already above: Hypoventilation. The purpose of yoga is to get you to be able to be in more Hypoventilation, which will lead to an increase of blood flow to the brain and heart. We need oxygen in the brain and heart; if the body perceives an increase in CO2, it anticipates more oxygen to come to the heart and brain; therefore, it expands the blood vessels. Also, Broncho expansion occurs, dilatation in the presence of higher CO2, which makes breathing easier, and you feel less out of breath.
Research on Prāṇāyāma (Breath-Control), Kumbhaka (Breath Holding) and the
Bandhas - Valsalva manoeuvre, the Mueller manoeuvre
As we have described above, Prāṇāyāma is all about to learn how to breathe less. Stilling the breath and making the breath subtle. Breathing less with occasional full exhalations has many benefits, the first one is building up carbon dioxide, which improves blood flow to the brain and heart. It brings more air to the lungs and more release of oxygen to the cells. When carbon dioxide e gets dissolved, it dissolves as carbonic acid. Carbonic acid calms the mind and the nervous system in general. Scientific research claims it also suppresses hunger.
Combined with a correct diet and bandha's correct application, less breath is best for muscle-skeletal stability, internal cleansing, and meditation.
In general, especially at the beginning of somebody's yoga journey, it has shown that people tend to overbreadth until they finally learn to breathe less in Prāṇāyāma or physical exercise.
Want to learn more, I still have a couple of places available at the next teacher training.