Science and Benefits of Coherent Breathing
Coherent breathing is a style of controlled, slow breathing at a rate of five breath cycles per minute. Also known as deep breathing, this breathwork technique calms the body and the mind, and helps reduce stress and anxiety.
When we are stressed (especially for a prolonged time), our stress-response system tries to adapt and cope with the change, through a surge of adrenaline, cortisol, and excitatory neurotransmitters, and this burns more energy. Repeated and chronic stress thus exhausts the stems-response system and, with time, negatively impacts our physical, emotional and mental health.
When stress persists, people can experience a wide range of discomforting symptoms. Initially, they can be tensed, worried and have trouble sleeping. With time, this progresses to more problems, such as obsessive worry, overactivity, insomnia, chronic fatigue, exhaustion, overwhelm, anxiety and depression.
Younger and healthier people have more flexible and resilient nervous system which undergoes less wear and tear in response to stress. However, any individual, irrespective of age, can use breath work to beat stress. Coherent breathing establishes an optimal balance between the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous systems. CoherentBreathing is an excellent way to reverse chronic stress—it quietens the defensive part (sympathetic nervous system) and activates the healing part of the nervous system (the parasympathetic nervous system).
Coherent Breathing Changes the Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
Every breath we take affects our heart rate—for example, our heart beats faster when we breathe in that when we breathe out. These fluctuations in the heart rate are natural and linked to the breathing rate and pattern. In the language of science, they are quantified using a metric called heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is a measure of the variation in time between two consecutive heartbeats.
A change in the HRV is an indicator of a change in nervous system activity. Namely, without conscious control, the autonomic nervous system (ANS) regulates the vital functions of the body such as the heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and digestion. ANS is divided into two branches—sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The first branch prepares the body for the “fight-or-flight” response—it is responsible for increasing the heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tone, etc. The second branch signals the body to “rest-and-digest”—decreasing the heart rate, blood pressure, etc.
HRV is therefore determined by these two sets of competing inputs, sent by the two branches of the ANS—the sympathetic(“telling” the heart to beat faster) and the parasympathetic nervous system(“telling” the heart to beat slower).
• Lower HRV indicates rigidity, aging and impairment of the system—predominance of one of the two branches of the ANS.
• Higher HRV means that the nervous system is flexible and responsive to both sets of inputs—a sign of healthy cardiovascular system and robust, resilient stress-response system.
Slow and deep breathing (the key feature of coherent/resonant breathing) increases the HRV. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, ending the predominance of the sympathetic nervous system activity. It puts an end to the “fight-or-flight” mode. The body begins to receive signals that “everything is okay,” and that it can relax. It has been scientifically proven that coherent breathing can increase one’s HRV up to ten times. Thus coherent breathing has tremendous positive effect on the overall health.
General Benefits of Coherent (Resonant) Breathing
• Coherent breathing calms the mind, reduces the mind chatter, and induces a state of calm alertness (ideal state for most daily activities at home, at work or at play).
• Coherent breathing calms the body, reduces tension, and leads to a state of deep relaxation.
• Coherent breathing maximally opens the capillaries to optimize blood flow and oxygenation of the extremities.
• Coherent breathing establishes synchrony between the electrical rhythms of the heart, lungs and brain.
• Coherent breathing reduces anxiety and insomnia, symptoms of depression post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD).
Note: Slower breathing rates (four, three, or even two breaths per minute) are particularly beneficial to yoga practitioners who want to go into deep meditative states and altered states of consciousness.Coherent breathing rate (five or six breaths per minute) are more appropriate for people who wish to still be able to perform task that require attention.