• Harry Chamas

Breath Control does NOT = Hyperventilation

Hello all, this blog is written in anger.


I have just read another post claiming that any breath manipulation is hyperventilation. The conspiracy goes all the way to the top - even most education systems no longer teach any form of breath control during the breathe up (or relaxation phase as they like to call it now) citing the same reason.


This just drives me nuts! Why? because -


  1. It's just not true.

  2. Breath work opens the door to all kinds of positive experiences reaching far beyond freediving.


Allow me to try and calm myself down to explain.



First some definitions


Hyperventilation occurs when the rate or tidal volume of breathing eliminates more carbon dioxide than the body can produce. This leads to hypocapnia, a reduced concentration of carbon dioxide dissolved in the blood.


Hypoventilation (also known as respiratory depression) occurs when ventilation is inadequate (hypo meaning "below") to perform needed gas exchange. By definition it causes an increased concentration of carbon dioxide (hypercapnia) and respiratory acidosis.



So this tells us that it is possible to raise, lower or maintain our CO2 levels. Normally this is done unconsciously, but as humans we have the ability to take control of our breath. Some think this is a throwback to living semi aquatically during a period of our evolution.


Now, for the sake of argument lets make some assumptions.


1. A freediver should take the time to develop an awareness of his/her respiratory muscles. Therefore having the sensitivity to know if he/she is breathing above, below or within his/her tidal volume.


2. A freediver should have the sensitivity to feel when he/she is breathing faster, the same or slower than usual.


3. For this example the freedivers tidal volume is 0.5 and breathes 10 breaths per minute.


This means the freediver breathes 5 litres of air per minute in order to maintain a consistent level of CO2.


Now let's do some children's maths -


Example 1 - the freediver breathes within his/her tidal volume but only breaths 4 breaths per minute.

Does he/she hyperventilate, hypoventilate or maintain normal ventilation?


Example 2 - The freediver breathes within his/her tidal volume and breaths 6 breaths per minute.

Does he/she hyperventilate, hypoventilate or maintain normal ventilation?


Example 3 - The freediver breathes to the the full extent of his/her vital capacity (5 litres) and only takes 1 breath per minute.

Does he/she hyperventilate, hypoventilate or maintain normal ventilation?


Is it possible to breathe in these ways? absolutely. Are any of these an appropriate way to ventilate? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on what you are manipulating your breath in order to achieve.



Now let's leave the argument that breathe control = hyperventilation there. The logic is so basic that if there is someone out there that still doesn't understand... well I'm sure they have bigger problems going on than how our breath effects the CO2 in our bodies.


So why does this grind my gears so much? surly there are plenty of things missing or wrong with freediving theory at the basic level.


The reason I am so riled up is - you are getting short changed by being told not to learn breath control. There is a peace, a focus and a joy that can come from breath work. It can be a tool to alter or enhance your state. And an anchor to bring you to peak performance.


This has been known for thousands of years, breath work has been used to create trance states since the ancient times, more "recently" (5000 years ago) it was incorporated into the science of yoga and validated by study after study in modern day science.


Learning how to breathe was one of the main things that drew me to take a freediving course, and my journey onward to India in order to learn more about pranayama is one of the most fulfilling roads freediving has lead me down.


Alter your breathing in the correct way and it has positive effects throughout your entire being. The physical, the mental, your central nervous system, your hormonal system can all be put into the desired state for freediving!



In order to go deep into the ocean, we are required to develop a deep awareness and control over our self.

The breath allows us to take control of aspects of the self which are usually entirely autonomous.

Learning breathe control is not just the duty of a freediver but a valuble tool for any human alive.

This is why I use Pranayama training with everyone I coach in person and as a part of my distance coaching.


Don't just believe me? feel it for yourself -


  • Sit or lie comfortably

  • Spend some time paying attention to your normal breath (tidal volume)

  • Become aware of the point your inhalation finishes

  • Notice the exhalation is a passive relaxation of the respiratory muscles

  • Now start to control the exhalation, let it become smooth and slow

  • Be sure you continue to breath the same volume of air

  • Let the breath slow as you reach deeper states of relaxation

  • You should not feel short of breath

  • Let the breath guide you into deeper states of relaxation and the deeper relaxation allow you to slow the breath further


Now did you just hyperventilate, hypoventilate or maintain normal ventilation?


Almost certainly you were somewhere on the spectrum of hypoventilation, well done - you have proven an unbelievable amount of freedivers wrong. Apart from that how did you feel? Pretty chill I bet. The real beauty is the more you practice this type of breathing, the better you will feel, the sooner you will reach this state and the easier it will be to alter a negative state.


Rant over


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