How to Breathe: Coherent Breathing

Inhale. Exhale. It should be as simple as that, right?! And what does HRV (heart rate variability) have to do with coherent breathing?

Nina Chin Apr 19, 2022
How to Breathe: Coherent Breathing

Breathing–or shall I say, breathing correctly– is an important part of our autonomic nervous system (ANS), which is responsible for our heart rate, digestion, and general feeling of calm.


By slowing our breathing we send signals to our nervous system to slow down our heart rate, regulate our digestive system to generally calm down.




What is Coherent Breathing?

In coherent breathing, the goal is to breathe at a rate of 5.5 breaths per minute, which generally translates into inhaling and exhaling to the count of 5.5 seconds. The purpose of this type of breathing is to increase heart rate variability (HRV).


 


What is heart rate variability(HRV) ?

A measurement of the balance and activity of the sympathetic nervous system  (SNS aka fight or flight mode) and the vagus nerve (of the parasympathetic nervous system – PNS) that both innervate the atrioventricular (AV) node in the right atrium of the heart.


HRV refers to the variations in time between each heartbeat. The number of times your heart beats per minute naturally rises when you inhale and slows down when you exhale. The exact amount the heart rate accelerates or decelerates varies.


HRV refers to the variations in time between each heartbeat. The number of times your heart beats per minute naturally rises when you inhale and slows down when you exhale. The exact amount the heart rate accelerates or decelerates varies.


 


A higher HRV is good!


Our heart rate constantly adjusts to new situations or stressors. When you have a high HRV, this means that your stress levels are low and have a healthier parasympathetic (rest and digest) response rate.


 


Why HRV is so important


HRV is what we need to thrive under pressure. HRV indicates the body’s ability to quickly ramp up, and then quickly relax and recover. Along with its association with cardiac health, HRV is linked to performance, including the ability to self-regulate, inhibit negative thoughts and make objective decisions.



 

Let’s look at how stress & HRV correlates


Stress activates our sympathetic nervous system, our fight or flight mode, which speeds up heart rate and decreases the variability between beats.


When the heart doesn’t need to beat fast in order to pump blood to the muscles, it can be more flexible and vary the time between beats. In summary, stress decreases HRV (not the goal), relaxation increases it (our goal).


Breathwork is known to boost HRV. Breathing exercises can reduce stress and increase HRV. By controlling our breathing, we control our minds and bodies.


We control the amount of oxygen that enters the body and the carbon dioxide that we release. We consciously can adjust the chemical makeup of our own nervous system and are able to trick our body into feeling safe (even when we may feel stressed or anxious).


Diaphragmatic breathing and deep belly breathing can help release endorphins in our body and therefore spread a sense of calm.





How to: Coherent Breathing



  1. Sitting upright or lying down, place your hands on your lower belly.
  2. Slowly breathe in through the nose, expanding your belly, to the count of 5.5.
  3. Slowly breathe out (through your nose) to the count of 5.5, releasing your belly.
  4. Work your way up to practicing this pattern for 10 to 20 minutes a day.

 


If you’re new to breathing exercises, try breathing in and out to a count of 3 and then gradually work your way up to a count of 5.5.


 Try this breathing video




Benefits of Coherent Breathing


Finding your calm

More energy

Improved sleep

Reduced blood pressure

May reduce symptoms of depression and/or anxiety

Increased performance

Improved emotional control

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