Coherent or resonance breathing (5 breaths a minute for most people, with no gap between the in and out breath – so breathe in for 6 seconds, out for 6 seconds), has huge effects on many health parameters as hundreds of scientific studies have shown. It brings the electrical rhythms of brain, lungs and heart into resonance, and improves Heart Rate Variability (a vital factor in resilience to stress).
Essentially it balances the nervous system and scientific studies have shown that the effects of coherent or resonance breathing supports the innate ability of our body, nervous system, and emotions to restore themselves through the balancing of the complementary branches of our autonomic nervous system, which control our heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, respiration, and many other automatic functions of the body.
There have been hundreds of scientific studies performed on resonant breathing since 1963, which show a wide array of benefits, including:
• Increases pulmonary function
• Lowers blood pressure
• Has positive applications for anxiety and depression
• Improves baroreflex gain
• Improves heart rate variability (many linked benefits including reduction of inflammation)
• Tones the vagus nerve
• Increases resiliency
• Increases the ability to handle stress
• Leads towards emotional balance
• Clinical improvements in asthma
Apps can really help focus and guide breathwork; otherwise it’s easy to drift off into daydreaming or sleep, especially when we are breathing lying down. They are also helpful to play in the car or anytime you need them. I am sure there are many apps, but the two I have worked with so far are “Breathing App” and “Breathe+” You need to set it to 6:6 (in for 6 seconds, then out for 6 seconds), or if that’s too slow then start at 5:5 or 4:4 and gradually work towards 6:6. Children will probably need to stick to 5:5 until their body mass increases to adult size. Those 6 foot or taller may need slower to achieve resonance, say 7:7.
Do a minimum of 10 minutes coherent breathing a day; if it works for you 5 minutes on waking, and 5 minutes at bedtime can be good. It’s a loving act of kindness that can help us be present with ourselves as well as setting us up for a calmer day and better night’s sleep. You can build up to more – I generally do 20 minutes.
If you are depressed or anxious then you definitely need to be doing more – build up to 20 minutes twice a day and maintain that. If you find the bedtime session isn’t relaxing enough for sleep maybe do it after work instead, and just focus on the basic diaphragmatic breath at bedtime.
You can do this practice sitting or lying down, (even driving – so long as it doesn’t make you sleepy). Lying on your back with knees bent, feet hip width apart and knees touching can be very relaxing (Constructive rest position). You can put your hands on the lower belly to feel the breath moving via the diaphragm in this position but it's not absolutely necessary to breathe diaphragmatically with coherent breathing, just the regular pattern of breath is enough.
The effects and benefits of this practice build over time, so it’s important to keep at it and try to breathe daily. Some days it may feel easier than others, depending on how much tension you are carrying, don't worry just keep going with it, and talk to me about any issues arising. Over time you will learn to just initiate this breathing anytime at all when you need to calm your nervous system. Unlike other breathing practices, Coherent Breathing is designed to bring balance to the nervous system, creating the state of “relaxed aliveness”, an alert yet calm state which is optimal for carrying out daily activities.
If you want to learn more, then “The Healing Power of the Breath” by Drs Gerbarg and Brown, comes with a CD which guides you into what they call "Total Breath" which is several breaths - including Coherent Breathing - wrapped up in one simple practice.
They talk about other kinds of breath too, including one the Russian Special Forces use to increase focus, so it’s a very comprehensive guide. However just working with an App is enough for now.
Here are two helpful breathing Apps ...
This one is free and has a very helpful information section as well as links to information videos. Developed by yoga teacher Eddie Stern and Deepak Chopra. This doesn't have settings suitable for those who are 6 foot or taller though.
This is free (if you can put up with the adverts) and is a bit more sophisticated than the Breathing App, in that you can set it to have a nice sound AND a nice moving image at the same time, plus there's more variety on the settings. It doesn't come with all the great information videos though.