Breathing for Wellbeing - Coherent Breathing


One of my favourite practises to teach individuals and organisations has to be Coherent Breathing, also known as Resonance Breathing.


The term 'coherence' in general can mean the quality of forming a unified whole, something that flows in a connected way or just being consistent. In physics two beams of light are coherent when the phase different between their waves is constant. With this in mind Coherent Breathing is a practise where the practitioner's rate of breath is consistent, their exhale and inhale being of equal length


More specifically, it is a slow and relaxed diaphragmatic style of breathing first named by Stephen Elliott (ideally done nasally but can also be also done in by nose and out by mouth, especially if this is more comfortable) at roughly 4.5-7 breaths per minute, with an average of 6 breaths per minute being seen as an optimal point for the average person.


There are many empirically tested benefits of Coherent Breathing:


- Increase of Heart Rate Variability (HRV). HRV is a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat, and common measure of the health of the autonomic nervous system. The effects of coherent breathing on HRV are most amplified at 3-4.5 breaths per minute if the practitioner is over 6ft tall and if under this height at 4.5-6 breaths per minute (Brown & Gerbarg, 2012)


HRV regulates many systems in the body, including blood pressure, breathing and digestion via the Vagus Nerve. Low HRV has been linked with many health conditions including worsening depression or anxiety, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease


- It strengthens the lungs by accessibly and slowly increasing the capacity to breathe in and out. Stronger lungs mean deeper and more successful breathing day-to-day and is particularly important as we head into winter


- It balances the autonomic nervous system, making it a great practise to teach to mixed groups. By breathing at a coherent rate, the practitioner balances both the sympathetic and parasympathetic parts of the autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system, the part that is responsible for 'fight/flight' is subtly engaged each time we inhale, and the parasympathetic nervous system ('rest/digest' or more commonly now viewed as 'safe/social') is subtly activated each time we exhale. The majority of people lean more towards the the sympathetic part of our nervous system but those with certain conditions such as depression might lean too heavily towards parasympathetic ('freeze' response). By keeping the length of each part of the breath equal it brings these two parts into harmony and balance


- Coherent breathing builds resiliency or the ability to respond to stressors adaptively. As both parts of the nervous system are activated equally in this style of breath, it places a gentle stress on each part of the autonomic nervous system by lengthening both parts of the breath. This helps to increase the range of each part of the nervous system and when the ANS has a greater end range it becomes more flexible in our response to stressors. We can mobilise more easily when action is required and we can come back into a relaxed state when action is no longer required


- It's an easy to replicate practise that is suitable for nearly all populations. It after some guidance there are lots of resources online to be able to practise solo


My favourite online resource has to be YouTube for audio and video tracks to breath (I've linked my favourite here), as well as using Insight Timer (which is an incredible free meditation app) where there's a 25 minute track by Joseph R Robertson


Moreover breathing at a coherent rate using an ocean or ujjayi breath (a gentle engagement of the muscles of the upper throat to create a gentle, wave like noise) simultaneously can be seen to increase the calming benefits of slow breathing, particularly when it comes to the exhale. This is something that can be worked on and can be a way of developing the practise over time


I have taught coherent breathing in yoga studios, gyms, NHS patients and corporate clients and also offer 30 minute regular or one off classes in it as part of my office yoga offering


Contact me now to book in your Coherent Breathing workshop or class - leanneantonia@gmail.com










Sources https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5575449/

https://eddiestern.com/the-breathing-app/

https://www.britannica.com/science/coherence

Yoga for Mental Health – Heather Mason and Kelly Birch, 2019

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