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Over-breathing during biofeedback breathing

If you notice that practicing biofeedback breathing makes you feel lightheaded or dizzy, its possible that you are breathing too deeply, or “over-breathing.”

Over-breathing is very common when learning biofeedback breathing. The slower pace of breathing can make some people people feel they may run out of breath. Other people consciously or unconsciously feel like they need to breathe very deeply in order to do a good job or get the benefits of biofeedback breathing.

Why do I feel lightheaded?

We breathe oxygen (O2) in and carbon dioxide (CO2) out.  If the inhale is very effortful and deep, this may lead to low CO2 in the blood, which can cause lightheadedness. Slowing down the inhale can help lightheadedness go away.

How can I tell if I am overbreathing?

If you notice dizziness and lightheadedness and see your shoulders or chest moving a lot when you do HRV biofeedback, it is likely that you are overbreathing. If you aren’t sure you can try taking this questionnaire to see if the symptoms of overbreathing match what you are experiencing. 

Helpful tips to reduce overbreathing

If you think you might be overbreathing, think about breathing “low and slow”. Getting comfortable breathing slowly is the first step in biofeedback breathing, and it is ok to focus on breathing comfort for as many sessions as you need when beginning biofeedback breathing.

  • Breathe less deeply.  Think: “Low and slow”
  • Breathe through pursed lips. 
  • See if using the sound cues helps you tune in with less effort
  • To retrain your breath, put your hands on either side of your lowest ribs, with a gentle pressure. Now, see if you can tune into the feeling of slow, steady expansion, using the breath to move your hands outward. 
  • Notice if you feel a temptation to rush to the next breath. Let your body naturally tell you when you need to breathe, rather than your emotions.
  • Count silently to 5 on each inhale and exhale, while following the rhythm of the pacer.  Then, turn the phone over for a few breaths and see if you can tune into the sensations of this new rhythm in your body.  Can you allow the breath to flow in a slow, natural way?
  • Try alternate nostril breathing to quiet your mind and slow down your breath.