It’s time to breathe!

A good deep slow breath can calm our nerves and lift our spirit. A growing number of scientific studies in the field of Contemplative Neuroscience (e.g. by in Caroline Thompson in 2009) are reporting descriptions of mental and bodily effects stimulated by meditation.
  • In the eastern tradition, the act of breathing is an essential aspect of most meditative practices. It is considered a crucial factor for reaching the meditative state of consciousness.
  • In western culture, breathing techniques were developed independently from any religious or spiritual belief or purpose, and nowadays are mainly used for therapeutic aims (e.g., biofeedback, progressive relaxation, autogenic training). These breathing techniques based on slowing down the breath frequency are often referred to as paced breathing (Stancák et al., 1993). Paced breathing has been associated with relaxation and well-being (Jerath et al., 2015).

Within 10 seconds of being born, the shock of the new world startled our lungs into action as we gasped our first breath. Averaging 16 breaths per minute, that’s about 23,000 breaths a day. By the time we are 30, we would have inhaled and exhaled 30 million times?

Fast breathing is mutually linked to anxiety and stress as expressed by Homma and Masaoka in their paper on Breathing Rhythms & Emotions in 2008. When we are worried or under stress, we tend to breathe fast. Those quick, shallow, and unfocused breathing contribute to a host of problems such as anxiety, depression, and even high blood pressure.

In March 2020, David Robson published an article “Why slowing your breathing helps you relax”. This BBC article gives us some useful insights on the benefits of breathing correctly. It’s time we breathe properly and in a more controlled way. David shared that scientists are finding that a particular frequency of breath – at around six exhalations a minute – and that is 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out, can be especially restorative, triggering a “relaxation response” in the brain and body.

With so many of these now, It is not surprising that Mindfulness, Meditation, and Breathwork have all gained the attention of major corporations. They hope that the practice could help staff to focus their minds and to cope with the daily stresses of their job.

The HeartMath techniques I coach, help people lead a healthier and fuller life away from the stressful daily challenges faced by many. HeartMath breathing techniques have helped many.

  • Mindfulness is passive as it encourages you to “watch the breath”.
  • HeartMath Techniques, on the other hand, are proactive – it requires you to actively change the way you breathe. Those slow, deep breaths set off a cascade of physiological responses that accelerate your descent into a more complete state of relaxation.

The deep slow breathing technique helps you achieve a harmonious state, where the heart, mind and body are united in both cooperation and flow to increase efficiency, and effectiveness and achieve better outcomes. This is what we call Coherence.

By repeatedly stimulating the vagus nerve during those long exhalations, slow breathing shifts the nervous system towards that more restful state, resulting in positive changes like a lower heart rate and lower blood pressure. Cultivating greater control over our lungs can bring many benefits to our mental and physical health.

In a more recent study by Hassan Jafari at King’s College London, it was also shown that deep breathing can improve people’s management of pain. This may be due to the psychological comfort that comes from slow breathing, as much as any direct physiological changes to the pain sensitivity. Some scientists have suggested that breathing techniques could even help patients cope with chronic conditions like arthritis.

The messages are clear:

  • Avoid Fast breathing as it accentuates anxiety and stress,
  • Six breaths per minute are optimal as it triggers a “relaxation response” in the brain and body,
  • Proper breathing helps us relax, recover, increase our pain management, and
  • The relaxation prepares and helps us sleep better too, so why not try it and experience it for yourself!

As we navigate through our hectic daily lives, always remember to slow down and take a long deep breath whenever we can, as it is Time to Breathe properly for our own good!