A man relaxing, with a cloudy sky in the background - Tidal Breathing

How to Master Tidal Breathing for Optimal Oxygenation

Tidal breathing refers to inhaling approximately forty percent and exhaling sixty percent. The exhaling process is considered passive, as it doesn’t require muscular control or activation.

This type of breathwork may occur more naturally in some people than others, and it’s based on tidal volume, also known as Vt, which is the calculation of how much air moves through your lungs as you inhale and exhale during rest.

It’s important to determine the volume of oxygen you take with each breath and the overall amount of air intake and exhalation.

The Process of Tidal Breathing

We perform tidal breathing naturally when we’re relaxed, so you don’t have to try to inhale or exhale for a specific time or hold your breath. Tidal breathing parameters are measured by the depth of how exhalation in its passive or relaxed state, known as functional residual capacity, or FRC.

This determines the range of lung movement, from their expansion during inhalation, and the point at which they balance between the recoil of the rib cage.

Tidal volume and breathing can vary considerably based on many factors, such as age, health, and size. Infants, for example, have significantly lower lung capacity, whereas a healthy, fit adult can have a much larger lung volume.

Typically, there is a variance between the tidal volume for adult men and women, where women have a volume of 400 mL, and men have 500 mL. These numbers may vary based on other characteristics, as these figures are general.

How Is Tidal Volume Measured?

Vt or tidal volume is measured using spirometry when a person breathes at rest. It’s a non-invasive method, which determines how well your lungs function, and the volume of air that your respiratory system can handle.

Some health conditions impact the level of Vt, which is important to take into consideration. These include lung disease, COPD, sleep apnea, airflow obstruction, and other respiratory conditions and illnesses that impact the lungs’ capacity.

Optimal Oxygen Through Tidal Breathing

Ideally, you’ll want to have a balanced tidal volume, where your lungs inhale forty percent and exhale sixty percent. While natural, healthy breathing should reflect this closely, some factors can restrict your lung’s volume, which can be addressed through various treatments, including breathing techniques focusing on the cardiovascular system.

One method for optimizing your oxygenation involves counting to four with inhalation, then exhaling for a count of six, which corresponds with the amount of air you need for a healthy tidal volume.

A pregnant woman practicing yoga

What Causes Abnormally High or Low Vt

There are a number of symptoms to observe, which may indicate a low or high tidal volume. When there are certain health or medical conditions, which can impact your lungs’ capacity, which affects how well you breathe at rest.

One of the most commonly observed symptoms is when a person struggles to inhale if they have moderate to severe emphysema or lung disease. Cardiovascular illnesses and damage to the airways can also cause this to occur.

Symptoms of Low Tidal Volume

You may experience hypoventilation, also known as low tidal volume, when you experience difficulty breathing at night, sleep disturbances, insomnia, lethargy, anxiety, and in more severe cases, delirium. In this state, you may notice changes to your tidal breathing pattern, which can be more severe in a child or newborn.

You may also experience low oxygen levels in your blood, leading to higher levels of carbon dioxide, known as hypercapnia. While you may not notice any symptoms with mild hypoventilation, it will impact your health and well-being as it becomes more severe, over time, without treatment.

In serious cases, there is a risk of developing respiratory acidosis, where the lungs can’t properly release all the carbon dioxide that the body produces.

Symptoms of High Tidal Volume

Over-breathing, or hyperventilation, is also known as high tidal volume. People tend to breathe this way in a moment of panic or high stress, which can cause a number of symptoms.

Tidal volume may increase during pregnancy, which is often noticed with a fast heart rate, high blood pressure, and hypertension. A high tidal volume can also displace the rib cage, especially during pregnancy, which can cause discomfort during the later stages.

The type of symptoms you may encounter include a sense of terror or fear, much like a phobia, agitation, chest pains, and stiffness in your arms, legs, hands, and/or fingers. You may also feel lightheaded, almost to the point of passing out.

Essentially high tidal volume becomes more severe in cases of acute hyperventilation in situations of emotional distress and anxiety. Deep signing and spontaneous breathing can also contribute or be a sign of high tidal volume, though chronic hyperventilation may not be as obvious or noticeable initially.

Final Thoughts

Tidal volume is an important way to measure the function of our respiratory system and how it impacts our overall health. Practicing tidal breathing techniques that promote healthy oxygen intake can significantly affect your physical and mental health while helping you feel less stressed and impacted by certain medical conditions.


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