Deep breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, slow breathing, or controlled breathing exercises are popular in the wellness movement as a mind-body technique.
Breathing is not a form of physical exercise, in and of itself. It is a mind-body technique that can be added to various routines for an added relaxing effect.
Highlights of Deep Breathing:
- Deep breathing is a mind-body technique.
- The long term practicing of deep breathing exercises improves wellness..
- Slow breathing is the healthiest form of deep breathing.
Deep Breathing Exercises
A typical Slow Breathing Exercise might proceed as follows.
You will need an analog clock with a large sweeping second hand, and the numerals 1 through 12 clearly visible on it, along with a silent electronic kitchen timer. Set the timer to 5 minutes or to the desired length of your slow deep breathing exercise session.
- Sit quietly and comfortably in a quiet room.
- Keep your eyes open through out the entire slow breathing session.
- Focus your attention on your breathing, as well as on the sweeping second hand of the clock.
- Breathe slowly at 6 repetitions per minute. Each complete breath should last 10 seconds. Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds. And, then breathe out through your mouth for 6 seconds. As the sweeping second hand passes each number silently repeat the number to yourself: 1, 2. ... 12.
During this exercise you will be concentrating on your breathing, as well as on the sweeping second hand of the clock. If your mind drifts passively bringing it back to silently repeating the correct number on the clock. Your timer will keep you from worrying about the time. All you have to do is keep up the correct inhaling/exhaling breathing rhythm while you silently repeat the correct number. If your mind drifts, bring it back to concentrating on the clock.
It is very easy to determine how this slow breathing mind-body technique is affecting your heart. All you have to do is measure, or monitor, your pulse rate and blood pressure before, during, and immediately after your deep breathing sessions. However, the research indicates that long-term benefits come from the long-term practice of slow breathing exercises.
Deep Breathing Relaxation Exercise
Your deep breathing exercises can be changed up, in a number of different ways.
You can add variety to your diaphragmatic breathing exercises as well as elicit different effects on your body by altering the numbers of breaths per minute breathed, the relative duration of the inhalation; holding; and the exhalation phases of each breathe, by changing the force by which air is blown out of the lungs during the exhalation phase of each breathe, and finally by changing the duration of the entire deep breathing session.
- Breaths per minute, respiration rate, or rate of breathing:
- Slow breathing
- 6 or 5 breaths/minute
- Slow breathing is the healthiest method of deep breathing.
- Spontaneous, or normal uncontrolled, breathing
- 15 breaths/minute
- Fast breathing
- 20 breaths or more/minute (such as, the Lamaze childbirth rapid panting method)
- Slow breathing
- Relative duration of the inhalation, holding, versus the exhalation
phases of breathing.
- The force by which air is blown out of the lungs during the exhalation
- NEVER ever try to use forceful breathing or exhalation techniques.
- The duration of the exercise session.
- 10 to 20 minutes, twice a day, is the usual duration.
Some types of deep breathing exercises can be dangerous and harmful to your health.
Many forms of authentic Yoga breathing exercises and forms are not at all healthy for anyone to practice, and, thus, should be avoided by all beginners.
- All Fast/Rapid breathing techniques should be avoided. Yogic rapid breathing rates can get extremely high and might result in hyperventilation. Also, the research indicates that rapid breathing negatively affects your heart.
- "Heart rate, rate-pressure product ... increased significantly."
- "Bellows-type rapid and deep breathing"
- Do not ever try to use forceful breathing or exhalation techniques, because it is not safe to force air out of your mouth, nose, or nostrils under a lot of pressure.
- Practicing longer than 20 minutes is not recommended. Deep breathing for several hours at a time and other excessive durations might cause hallucinations and, thus, should never be done.
Health Benefits of Deep Breathing
Controlled breathing exercises can be used to promote wellness.
- Breathing, especially the exhalation phase, has a natural automatic relaxing
- One physical mechanism of action for this relaxing effect is the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the blood.
- Self-perceived reductions in levels of tension and anxiety.
- Slow breathing
(6 or 5 breaths/minute)
- "Slow, rhythmic, and deep breathing"
- "There was a significant decrease in basal heart rate in slow breathing group after three months of practice of slow breathing exercise."
- "Produced a significant increase in respiratory pressures and respiratory endurance."
- "Heart rate, rate-pressure product and double product decreased."
- Slow breathing (6 breaths/minute) increases resting oxygen saturation and improves exercise tolerance.
- "Several studies ... showed that 15 minutes of daily breathing
exercise lowered BP [Blood Pressure] within 8 weeks by 12.1/6.1 mmHg as
compared to 7.6q3.4 mmHg in the control group."
- "Slow breathing at 6 breaths/minute increases baroreflex sensitivity
and reduces sympathetic activity ... suggesting a potentially beneficial
effect in hypertension. ... Slow breathing decreased systolic and diastolic
pressures in hypertensive subjects ... Slow breathing reduces blood
pressure and enhances baroreflex sensitivity in hypertensive patients."
- Baroreflex is the system in the body that regulates blood pressure by controlling heart rate, strength of heart contractions, and diameter of blood vessels.
- EXPLANATION OF THE MOST LIKELY PHYSICAL MECHANISM OF ACTION FOR DEEP BREATHING: "The linkage between vagal baroreflex impairment and mortality may partially reflect patients' autonomic responses to cardiac rhythm changes. ... the body's modulatory processes (e.g., the well-known modulation of BP [blood pressure] changes by baroreflex activity), through which vagal as well as sympathetic reflexes may be controlled. ... Thus, vagal cardiac and pulmonary mechanisms are linked, and there are reasons to expect that improvements in one vagal limb might spill over into the other. ... We suggest that chronic biofeedback-induced increases in baroreflex gain, which, to our knowledge, has not previously been reported, reflects neuroplasticity [i.e., nerves that are capable of growing or developing]."
- "Baroreflex sensitivity can be enhanced significantly by slow breathing, both in health and in the presence of CHF [chronic heart failure]. This seems to occur through a relative increase in vagal activity and a reduction in sympathetic activity, as could be argued by the small reduction in heart rate observed during slow breathing and by the reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressures."
- "Slow breathing at 6 breaths/minute increases baroreflex sensitivity and reduces sympathetic activity ... suggesting a potentially beneficial effect in hypertension. ... Slow breathing decreased systolic and diastolic pressures in hypertensive subjects ... Slow breathing reduces blood pressure and enhances baroreflex sensitivity in hypertensive patients."
- Deep breathing can be used to elicits the relaxation response.
- Deep breathing can be used as a mind-body sleeping aid.,
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- Herbert Benson, The Relaxation Response (New York: Morrow, 1975). pages 114, 117, 121.
- Isadore Rosenfeld, M.D, Modern Prevention: The New Medicine, Linden Press, New York, 1986, page 68.
- Lehrer PM, Vaschillo E, Vaschillo B. Heart rate variability biofeedback increases baroreflex gain and peak expiratory flow. Psychosom Med. 2003 Sep-Oct;65(5):796-805. PMID: 14508023 [Online]