We recently attended a training by Dr. Inna Khazan on overbreathing and its clinical implications. The information presented is helpful to people who have tried breathing techniques and found limited success, and also we found it to be eye-opening and just interesting. Overbreathing refers to either inhaling or exhaling more air than is medically necessary. A common misconception regarding breathing, something I’ve heard from clients multiple times (and which I did not even know was untrue until taking this training), is that people breathe more deeply or more rapidly in order to “get more oxygen in.” It turns out that about 21% of the air we breathe at sea level is oxygen, and about 15% of the air we exhale is also oxygen. This means that we naturally exhale about ¾ of the oxygen we inhale, or in other words we have far more oxygen in the air than we actually need. Deep breaths are not necessary to get more oxygen, there is plenty of it in the air at all times. Dr. Khazan provided a wealth of information on how carbon dioxide and oxygen are important to our blood acidity, the gist of which is that carbon dioxide is not just a waste product to be expelled as quickly as possible, but instead should be released at a natural and comfortable pace in order to balance how acidic or how alkaline our blood becomes. Deep breathing, as it is commonly understood, involves taking in long and deep breaths which are then exhaled at the same speed as the inhale, if not even faster. This pace of breathing leads to overbreathing, taking in more air than is medically necessary and exhaling faster than is medically necessary. In this situation, carbon dioxide is being exhaled faster than is necessary, which leads to an imbalance in blood acidity and can worsen anxiety symptoms, ironically often the very symptoms deep breathing is supposed to mitigate. The guidance we received around correcting overbreathing involved helping clients discover their natural breathing rhythm, and for the purposes of this blog you should take away that it isn’t really the deepness of a breath which is helpful, but rather the natural pace of inhaling and exhaling. Instead of taking as deep a breath as possible and exhaling it quickly, try returning to a pace of breathing which feels natural, the pace at which you breathe unconsciously.
- Anthony Crisanti, MA
Dr. Khazan’s website: https://innakhazan.com