Breathing is an essential function of life, but many of us don’t give much thought to how we breathe. It is the process by which our bodies take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide, allowing us to survive and function properly.
What if I told you that there is a way to breathe that can improve your mental and physical health? This is where coherent breathing comes in.
Coherent breathing is a technique that involves breathing at a specific rate to achieve a state of balance and relaxation.
It is also known as resonant breathing, and it has been shown to have a wide range of benefits for the mind and body.
In this article, we will explore:
- the benefits of coherent breathing,
- how to do it,
- and 9 tips to help you improve as you practice coherent breathing
What is Coherent Breathing?
Coherent breathing is one of several pranayama or breathwork techniques that fall under the umbrella of “mindful breathing.” These techniques involve focusing on the breath to calm the mind and body.’
Coherent breathing is a type of breathing exercise that involves inhaling and exhaling at a specific rate. The goal of coherent breathing is to achieve a state of coherence, which is a state of physiological and psychological balance.
The idea is for the exhale to be equal in length to the inhale.
The ideal breathing rate for coherent breathing is five breaths per minute, which is slower than the average breathing rate of 12-18 breaths per minute.
This slower breathing rate is believed to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the “rest and digest” response.
According to Michael Shea, the founder of the Coherent Breathing Institute, coherent breathing is the fundamental quiescent rhythm of the body. In this rhythm, the heart, lungs, and brain are in sync, and the body is in a state of coherence. When our heart and brain are in coherence, we experience a sense of calm and relaxation.
The practice of coherent breathing can help individuals achieve this state of coherence, which can lead to numerous health benefits.
5 Benefits of Coherent Breathing
There are several benefits to practicing coherent breathing. Here are some of the 5 most significant benefits:
#1: Reduced Stress and Anxiety
Coherent breathing has been shown to reduce stress levels by lowering the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body.
When we are stressed, our body produces cortisol, which can lead to a host of negative health effects, including high blood pressure, inflammation, and a weakened immune system.
Coherent breathing helps to counteract negative effects by promoting relaxation and reducing cortisol levels.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Complementary Therapies in Medicine, practicing slow breathing techniques leads to a significant reduction in stress and anxiety levels among participants.
#2: Improved Heart Health
A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews found that practicing slow breathing led to a significant reduction in blood pressure related to heart health among participants.
Coherent breathing can also improve heart health by reducing not just blood pressure but also affecting heart rate variability (HRV).
Heart rate variability is the variation in time between successive heartbeats, which is a measure of the heart’s ability to adapt to changes in the environment.
HRV is an important indicator of cardiovascular health, and research has shown that a high HRV is associated with better physical and mental health outcomes. Coherent breathing has been shown to increase HRV, which can have a positive impact on overall health.
#3: Improved Sleep
Coherent breathing can also improve sleep quality by promoting relaxation and reducing stress levels.
Poor sleep is linked to a range of negative health outcomes, including an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and chronic health conditions.
A study published in the Journal of Psychophysiology found that practicing deep breathing before bedtime led to enhanced vagal activity and improved sleep quality among participants experiencing insomnia.
#4: Improved Mental Clarity
Coherent breathing has also been shown to improve cognitive function by increasing the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the brain. This can lead to improved focus, memory, mental clarity and overall cognitive performance.
A study published in the Frontiers in Psychology found that practicing slow, deep diaphragmatic breathing, which is a crucial part of coherent breathing, led to improved cognitive function and sustained attention among participants.
#5: Improved Mood
Coherent breathing has been shown to improve mood by increasing feelings of calm and relaxation. This can be especially helpful for people who suffer from anxiety or depression.
Dr. Chris Streeter, an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University, recently completed a small study in which she measured the effect of daily Iyengar yoga and coherent breathing on people with diagnoses of major depressive disorder.
After 12 weeks of coherent breathing and daily Iyengar Yoga, the subjects’ depressive symptoms significantly decreased.
In contrast, the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid, a brain chemical that has calming and anti-anxiety effects, detected within their system, went up, revealing the mood-boosting effects of Coherent breathing.
How to Do Coherent Breathing
Coherent breathing is a simple technique that can be done anywhere and at any time. Here are the steps to do coherent breathing:
Since this breathing technique involves breathing at a specific rhythm, it may be helpful to have a stopwatch or timer next to you to cue you for when to inhale and when to exhale. Prepare this before starting to practice.
- Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit or lie down, whichever feels more comfortable and supportive for you.
- Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths at your natural pace. Start to notice the natural rhythm of your breathing. Simply notice, without changing your breath. Count the length of each inhale and exhale to obtain a baseline.
- When you feel ready to start, place one hand on your stomach, inhale deeply for four seconds, filling your lungs with air. Then exhale slowly for four seconds, emptying your lungs completely. Repeat this for one minute.
- Repeat, but extend your inhalations and exhalations to five seconds each instead of four seconds if you feel comfortable. Continue for approximately one minute.
- Repeat, but extend your inhalations and exhalations to six seconds each instead of four seconds if you feel comfortable. Continue for approximately one minute.
To conclude, slowly let go of the technique and return to the normal rhythm of your breathing. Allow yourself to breathe naturally for at least a minute or two before resuming your daily activities.
9 Tips for Practicing Coherent Breathing
Now that you know the benefits of coherent breathing and how to practice it, here are some tips to help you with coherent breathing:
- Practice at the same time each day: Practicing coherent breathing at the same time each day can help to establish a routine and make it easier to remember.
- Start with a short practice: If you are new to coherent breathing, start with a short practice of just a few minutes and gradually increase the duration as you become more comfortable. Once you’re able to practice coherent breathing for five minutes, you can gradually work your way up to ten, fifteen or even twenty minutes.
- Practice in a conducive space: You can practice anywhere. In bed at night, while waiting at the doctor’s office, or even when driving. What matters is that the space feels welcoming, safe and supportive for your coherent breathing practice.
- Find what feels right: If you feel comfortable taking even longer breaths than four to six seconds, feel free. Breaths as long as 10 seconds may feel right for some people. It’s also okay to have a longer exhale than an inhale.
- Use a timer or guided meditation: To help you focus on your breath and maintain the rhythm, you can use a timer or a guided meditation that incorporates coherent breathing.
- Choose a comfortable position: Coherent breathing can be practiced in any comfortable position, whether it’s sitting, lying down, or standing. Experiment with a few different positions and find what works best for you to support coherent breathing.
- Practice regularly: It is important to maintain a regular and consistent practice to see the benefits of coherent breathing. Start with shorter sessions and gradually increase the time as you become more comfortable with the practice.
- Combine with other relaxation techniques: Coherent breathing can be even more effective when combined with other relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness or even other breathing techniques including Nadi Shodhana or Ujjayi pranayama.
- Be patient: Like any new practice, it may take some time for you to feel the benefits of coherent breathing. Be patient and keep practicing consistently.
Coherent breathing is a simple yet effective technique that can help regulate your nervous system, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve overall health and wellbeing.
With regular practice and incorporating this simple breathing practice into your daily routine, you can experience the benefits of this powerful breathing technique and lead a happier, healthier, more relaxed and balanced life.