Breath & wellness

Breathing and heart rate are intimately tied to the bodily expression of emotions. Patterns within heart rate variability are more significant than the simple rate. In states of stress, anxiety, anger and sadness the variation tends to be disordered and chaotic. In positive emotional states such as love, social connection and gratitude, the variation tends to be ordered and rhythmic. There are multiple approaches to breathing that are associated with improved physical and emotional health. Two are described here.

Coherent breathing involves conscious breathing at the frequency of 5-6 breaths per minute, often coupled with visual imagery and conscious relaxation of the body. Breathing is the only autonomic function under easy voluntary control and is a quick way to reduce your heart rate and stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system.

By breathing in a regular coherent rhythm, your body takes advantage of the fact that the heart rate rises with exhalation and falls with inhalation, resulting in optimal heart rate variability and vagal tone. Coherent Breathing-based mind-body practices have a growing body of evidence that supports improvement in general wellness, pain level, anxiety, depression and PTSD.  It’s easy to do:

  • Diaphragmatic (Belly) Breathing at the rate of 5-6 breaths per minute
  • Equal periods of inhalation and exhalation
  • Conscious relaxation of “bridges” during exhalation

There are very few risks associated with coherent breathing. Be aware it may exacerbate severe asthma or COPD. If you feel dizzy at 6 breaths per minute, just change to or 5 or even 4 per minute until you can build up.

4-4-6-2 breathing is a breath-counting exercise that has been shown to be useful when you need to calm down quickly.

  • Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds
  • Hold for 4 seconds
  • Breathe out through your nose or mouth for 6 seconds
  • Hold for 2 seconds
  • Repeat as often as you need to

4-4-6-2 breathing training video

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5-minute coherent breathing exercise

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