Why Coherent Breathing?
There are a lot of breath practices out there to try, but how do you choose the one to focus on, with limited time to dedicate to such things? For me, it is a combination of maximum overall benefits, a feeling that something is working when I am practicing it, and a good solid evidence base. Coherent Breathing for me, scores high on all of these.
Dr Brown and Dr Gerbarg in their book, “The Healing Power of the Breath” talk about how it is possible to strengthen, balance and increase resilience in the stress response system.” By activating our rest and repair part of our nervous system, and settling the defensive, energy burning part of our arousal system, we can create a more flexible nervous system. This can provide us with the energy when we need it but enable us to return to a state of calm quickly.
There is a good evidence base that Coherent Breathing increases Heart Rate Variability too, which is now a frequently used method of testing our health. Higher HRV is a sign of good health as it shows that the heart can change quickly between different states of activity and action in the autonomic nervous system. Coherent Breathing is a core practice of the Breath-Body-Mind program developed by Dr Gerbarg and Brown, and it is one of the main breath practices that I teach in all my classes.
For me personally, doing 20 mins of this breath practice at least 5 times a week, which Dr Brown describes as the “therapeutic dose” is definitely helping. I love the time out it provides me with and how I feel after. I am more alert, my energy levels are higher and my ability to cope with everyday challenges is better. In short, I feel less frazzled by life.
So what is Coherent Breathing and how do you do it?
Most people breath naturally between 12 and 20 breaths per minute. Coherent Breathing involves consciously slowing your breath to around 5 or 6 breaths per minute, cutting your normal breathing rate to around half. Stephen Elliott, the originator of the science behind this breath practice states that:
Coherent Breathing involves conscious breathing at the nominal frequency of 5 breaths per minute with comfortable depth AND conscious relaxation of certain anatomical zones.
You can think of this breath practice as being “coherent” as it allows your heart rate, brain wave and metabolic rate all to be in a sweet spot for your optimal health. To put it simply, this pace allows the rhythms across the body to synchronise and therefore are coherent across the system, making it more efficient. It is simple practice, but might take a bit of getting used to but once you master it, you can practice it anytime you like, while washing up, taking a walk, doing your work, playing with the kids…
How long should I practice it for?
20 mins is ideal but better to start with less time and get used to it and work up to 20 mins. If you are suffering from anxiety or depression for instance, Dr Brown and Dr Gerbarg recommend trying out 2 sessions per day until you start to feel better and then coming back down to 1.
When I practice Coherent Breathing I use the “Breathing App”, this has been really helpful as you can set a timer for how long you want to practice for. You can also set what frequency you want to start with and find what suits you. I started with 6:6 and worked my way down to 5:5.
You can download this for free on the Apple and Google app stores:
As I start to focus on my breath I imagine all of the little cells in my body breathing with me and almost sighing with relief that they get to rest and rejuvenate, you may well have a different imagery!
What is the evidence base for the impact of Coherent Breathing?
Reduced pain, increase energy, improve sleep, reduce symptoms of depression and/or anxiety, improve emotional control, reduce stress and facilitate better decision making. You can find more specific scientific evidence about the power of resonant breathing in this article on the heartrateplus.com website. There are also many videos on the Coherent Breathing YouTube Channel if you are a visual learner, and enjoy the science on the following websites.
You may also enjoy this YouTube video of Dr Brown teaching, which is a nice one to follow.
Simple beginning steps to practicing Coherent Breathing
- Find a comfortable place to lie down or sit up on a cosy chair with a back rest. Place a hand on your belly if that helps you keep focussed on breathing in your belly, rather than your upper chest
- Breathe in through your nose with your eyes closed, or lower your gaze if it is more comfortable.
- Taking your time, breathe slowly to the pace of one, two, then breathe out through the nose.. one, two. Repeat this a few times then extend the count by one so breathing in, one, two, three and breathing out, one, two, three… repeat a few times
- Work your way up to where if feels comfortable and only progress with the counts when you feel ready. With practice you will be able to reach 5 in and 5 out and you can use the apps to help you with your timing.
With this type of breath practice, it is not about taking full lung breaths but small smooth, gently soft breaths that feel almost effortless. It may take a bit of practice but you will get there and you might start to feel better sooner than you think.
If you want to try this practice as a one to one you can contact me and we can arrange something. It can really help at the beginning to have someone guide you until you get used to it. Alternatively, you can join one of the groups I run and learn with a small bunch of supportive others. The Breath-Body-Mind organisation also run workshops periodically in the year and you can find out about those through the Minded Institute. That is how I learnt. 😊