Even though breathing is a natural, reflexive behavior, many people do not know how to breathe correctly. The body tries to compensate for bad breathing by using temporary defense mechanisms. If a person continues the incorrect breathing, the body may start relying on the defensive breathing, which may lead to dysfunctional breathing patterns. The six dysfunctional breathing patterns are hyperventilatory, clavicular, thoracic, paradoxical, periodic, and hypoxic. These patterns may occur individually or in combination.
Hyperventilatory. A rapid-breath pattern (averaging 20 breaths/minute) that uses the intercostals muscles and limited diaphragm movement. It is predominantly thoracic (see below) in nature. Caused by poorly managed anxiety, it presents itself as very shallow, very rapid, and compounded by sputtered sighs (periodic) and gasps (clavicular). Symptoms are panic, anxiety, and shock. The body uses this type of breathing when it is attacked in an effort to gain more oxygen for the fight-or-flight syndrome.
- Clavicular. In this pattern, the collarbones and chest raise while drawing the abdomen inward and upward. Person may inhale through the mouth in an attempt to get more oxygen.Using the accessory muscles to breathe consumes more oxygen than it provides. These students fatigue quickly.
- Thoracic. These are “chest-breathers” who breathe by lifting the rib cage up and out using the intercostals muscles with little abdominal movement. The upper lungs get air but the lower lobes, which receive the greatest blood volume, do not get sufficient air. These students are usually aggressive and fatigue quickly. They may get a "stitch in the side" due to cramps in the overworked intercostals.
- Paradoxical. In this pattern, the abdomen contracts during inhalation and expands on exhalation; the opposite of normal. Many beginning students use this type of "reverse breathing." It is characterized by clacicule or thoracic inhale followed by hypoxic breath retention and periodic sighs. These students fatigue quickly.
- Periodic. This pattern is characterized by rapid-shallow breathing followed by a holding of breath and a heavy sigh. It is an over reaction to CO2 concentrations in the bloodstream. This panting flushes the CO from the bloodstream, which causes the brain to shutdown respiration until the CO2 level raises to appropriate gas mixture and then restart shallow, rapid breathing without intervention following the sigh. This pattern may be created through sustained anxiety or by post-traumatic stress syndrome.
- Hypoxic. This pattern is characterized by holding the breath during exertion. This raises intra-thoracic pressure, which may cause fainting, increase in blood pressure, and hypoxia (lack of oxygen). May students exhibit the pattern when lifting a heavy weight or performing push-ups. These dysfunctional breathing patterns reduce oxygen delivery to the lungs and stress the breathing muscles, resulting in heavy breathing and fatigue, which leads to even more heavy breathing and fatigue. To counter these dysfunctional breathing patterns, students must relearn the proper, reflexive breathing of their childhood.