Coherent breathing is a form of breathing that involves long, slow breathing at a rate of about five times per minute. Coherent breathing or deep breathing helps calm the body through its effects on the autonomic nervous system.
Whether it is practiced as part of yoga or meditation, or just as part of a relaxation strategy, coherent breathing is a simple and easy way to reduce stress and calm down when you feel anxious.
Coherent Breathing is a registered trademark of Coherence LLC. Please note that this article describes general technologies, not specific protocols or products developed by Coherence LLC.
Every day, you inhale and exhale without thinking too much. Although breathing is indeed an unconscious behavior, it is unique in that we can put it under conscious control. Coherent breathing takes advantage of the fact that by controlling our breathing, we can affect our body in a positive way.
What constitutes breathing? There is time to inhale, or to draw air into your lungs, and to exhale, when you expel air from your body.
Coherent breathing involves simply adjusting the length of time you spend in each breathing phase.
Our natural tendency is to breathe at a rate of 2 to 3 seconds each time we inhale and exhale. The amount of air we consume naturally is proportional to the length of our breath. In coherent breathing, the goal is to extend the time to inhale and exhale to about 6 seconds (if you have a longer torso, it may be longer).
This type of controlled breathing is sometimes practiced as part of yoga (the term “pranayama” refers to breathing control in yoga practice). It is also used for meditation. However, breathing control can be practiced on your own, without any fancy tools, detailed instructions or a therapist. All you need to do is to change the length of the breath.
A completely different type of breathing method is the omnidirectional breathing method, which is usually performed in a set of environments.
How coherent breathing works
How does continuous breathing slow down your body? Respiration is one of the many components of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which also includes your heart rate, digestive system, etc.
Your vagus nerve extends from your brain to the opening of your diaphragm to the intestine. Its purpose is to send signals to adjust the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems that form the ANS. This affects heart rate, digestion, and general feelings of calm. Generally speaking, when your heart speeds up, your vagus nerve slows down your heart speed, allowing it to maintain a stable elasticity rate of 70 to 100.
This is why the easiest way to activate the vagus nerve to suppress the acceleration of the heartbeat is to slow down the breathing rate. This is almost like a hacking of your nervous system-you can do something within your conscious control, and these things will have an impact on processes that you can’t directly control.
In fact, if you can get your breathing out of stress, other parts of your autonomic nervous system will follow suit, creating a chain reaction that helps reduce stress, anxiety, and related problems.
Research on the effects of coherent breathing is still in its infancy; however, there is a lot of encouraging news.We know that this way of breathing may contribute to insomnia, anxiety, depressive symptoms, stress, immune system response, alertness, concentration, vitality, post-traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit disorder
A study showed that after trying to control breathing, the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) increase; GABA is important because it has anti-anxiety effects. Another study showed that cytokine levels are lower after continuous breathing; these are all related to inflammation and stress.
If you are interested in practicing coherent breathing, the following steps will show you how to get started:
- Focus on your natural breathing. Calculate the length of each inhalation and exhalation to obtain a baseline.
- Find a comfortable position to practice coherent breathing. Put one hand on the belly.
- Inhale for four seconds, then exhale for four seconds. Do this for a minute.
- Repeat, but extend the inhalation and exhalation to five seconds.
- Repeat again, further extending to six seconds.
During this process, place your hands on your abdomen to ensure you breathe deeply from the diaphragm instead of shallowly from your chest.
You may feel as if you need to breathe deeply, or you may not be able to stop your thoughts from drifting. It’s ok! Just refocus yourself on the breath and calculate the length of the breath in your head.
If you find it feels comfortable to breathe longer, please feel free to. For some people, breathing for up to 10 seconds may be appropriate. It does not matter if the exhalation time is longer than the inhalation time.
Once you can do this in 5 minutes, gradually increase to 20 minutes. You can practice anywhere! In bed at night, while waiting in the doctor’s office, even while driving.
Don’t try to breathe hard or try to inhale more air. This will happen naturally when you prolong your breath and get used to this sensation.
You don’t have to try and practice coherent breathing on your own without help. If you encounter problems, there are many options for you to try.
Take a yoga class. Most yoga classes will involve breathing exercises where you can practice this breathing. A good coach will also check to make sure you are not holding your breath and make the most of your breathing exercises. This kind of group setting may just allow you to breathe in a way that helps calm your body.
Yes, there are workshops dedicated to breathing! Attend a seminar where you will learn how to practice coherent breathing. Most likely, you will practice with one or two other people and take turns to ensure that each of you is practicing correctly. This can be a great way to get hands-on instruction and practice on this technique.
Technology can help you practice coherent breathing. Download an app for your phone to guide you through the appropriate length of inhalation and exhalation. Smart watches may also have this technology, so please check all your devices to understand which options are available to you. Even the simplest apps can play a role in helping you breathe properly in the right time.
When breathing doesn’t help
If you have been practicing coherent breathing but still feel anxious and depressed, you may want to know what you have done wrong. It may be that negative thoughts prevent your body from staying relaxed.
Other methods such as cognitive behavioral strategies may help you manage these types of thoughts and reduce their impact. A good application is Woebot, which is a chat application that includes a thought challenger that deals with negative thoughts.
Other breathing exercises
Interested in trying other breathing exercises? You can try the following variations:
Sit on the floor or the edge of a chair. Place your hands on your abdomen and lean forward as you inhale. Then, when you exhale, bend forward to squeeze out your breath. Repeat this operation 15 to 20 more times.
Are you trapped at work and unable to be full of energy? Try to breathe vigorously in a standing position. Bend your elbows with your palms facing up. When you inhale, pull your elbows back and keep your palms upward. Then, when you exhale, push your palm forward, then turn it down, saying “HA”. Repeat 15 times.
Get advice from the VigorTip Mind podcast
This episode of The VigorTip Mind Podcast, hosted by LCSW’s editor-in-chief and therapist Amy Morin, shares some tips that can help you relax.
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Coherent breathing is a simple technique that can have a big impact. If you are struggling with stress, anxiety, depression, or other problems, try this breathing method and see if it helps. If after practicing coherent breathing, you still find that your symptoms are severe, it may be helpful to make an appointment with your doctor or mental health professional to discuss your options.