On the “paradox” of hyperventilation

Massimiliano Sassoli de Bianchi
13 min readApr 8, 2020

The name “Bohr” usually evokes one of the fathers of quantum mechanics, the famous Danish physicist Niels Bohr, who among other things enunciated the so-called complementarity principle, emphasizing the presence of dual aspects in our way of interacting and observing reality. Few know, however, that Niels’ father, Christian, was a physiologist, and that in 1904 he discovered an important effect underlying the physiology of breathing, which today bears his name, highlighting a somewhat paradoxical relationship between lung ventilation and oxygenation of the organism.

Practitioners of respiratory techniques certainly have an interest in knowing the Bohr effect, and other effects related to it, but I realized that it is rarely the case, even among experts, which gave me the stimulus to write this note. Let me start by saying that I am not a physiologist. What I am going to expose is therefore to be taken into consideration only in indicative terms, as an invitation to deepen the decidedly complex theme of human respiration.

More than thirty years ago, I approached a practice known today with the term of rebirthing, which uses intense breathing, without pauses, similar to the circular breathing of Yoga, of which we find traces in texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra, and in traditions such as the Sufi. It is only a partial similarity, however, as the yogic circular breathing (little known also among Yoga practitioners) is an active procedure, perfectly balanced and controlled, both for the duration and uniformity of the breath and for the management of the (explosive) passage between the two respiratory acts, with the air passing only through the nose, using the Ujjayi technique, while the breathing used in rebirthing (also called “circular”) usually takes place in an irregular and rather unbalanced way, without a predetermined rhythm, mainly through the mouth and with an attitude of the practitioner which is predominantly passive, which can lead to a possible lowering of his natural energy defenses, therefore also opening to possible negative “subtle” influences (of course, this is not a problem if the environment in which you practice is “energetically clean,” but how many operators are able to guarantee this?).