Rhythmic breathing

In our yoga practice we try to improve the ability to listen to our nervous system.  The relationship between breath and the nervous system is something that we can all relate to.  Our breathing rate slows down in a relaxing situation – parasympathetic nervous system;  while, in a threatening situation, it speeds up – our sympathetic nervous system.  These two systems working together maintain homeostasis but it is very easy to lose our balance and get stuck in the sympathetic system.  We all seem to be busy and time is becoming the great luxury.

Yoga helps us to move towards homeostastis, to feel more balanced and in Balanced breathing  (November 2017), I mentioned Vicky Turner (Balance. Live Well) describing fast breathing as being a modern malaise.  She outlined Coherent Breathing:

……… 6 breaths per minute – breathing in for 5 and out for 5. The goal of coherent breathing is coordinating your breathing rate with your heart rate so that the pumping action of the heart and the pumping action of the breath work in sync and not against each other as can happen with uncoordinated stressful breathing……

Dr Alan Watkins uses the term Coherence when explaining Heart Rate Variability (HRV)  and how this affects us . Watkin’s company is in the business of leadership performance and this must be taken into account when watching the clip – by conserving energy executives can make better decisions is the maxim.  However,  monitoring of HRV does help to highlight imbalances in the nervous system. Have a look at the You Tube clip

Under pressure, we “stumble” – seems obvious.  Watkins presentation is the second of two entitled ” Being Brilliant Every Single Day” and he gets a little carried away by his own performance but it is effective “theatre”.  What is interesting for us yoga practitioners is that he presents the keys to cardiac coherence as:

  • Rhythm –fixed ratio of in:out breath
  • Smoothness –even flow rate in and out
  • Location of attention

We don’t do much on fixed ratio – some people dislike counting their breaths – but recently we have practised the 5 in: 5 out (Vicky Turner) and  Watkins’ suggested 4 in: 6 out.  Joe Griffen, psychologist and co-founder of Human Givens Institute writes that the 7:11 ratio ….. is the most powerful we know and has been used for thousands of years throughout the world…..

We work on the exhale being the releasing breath and thus lengthening the exhale is the key for relaxation – as is diaphragmatic breathing in contrast with shallow chest breathing.  A 2017 report on the effects of  diaphagmatic breathing upon attention, negative emotions and stress,  studied 40 healthy adult employees of an IT company in Beijing.  After 20 sessons over 8 weeks, all participants’ displayed improvements but researchers could not use the study to guarantee ongoing improvement.   The salient factor for ongoing well-being was frequency of the sessions and regular practice , preferably daily.    We know this ourselves, of course – see Blog Practice makes for more practice.

We focus upon movement in the belly and in the ribs most sessions; we spend time on smooth, even breathing.  I agree with Watkins that focus away from the “noise” in the head and dropping the attention onto the body is beneficial.  I am more unsure about Watkins’ guide to focus attention upon the heart:

…….When we focus on our heart or the middle of our chest we are more likely to experience a positive emotional state because the heart is where most human beings experience their positive emotion. We say ‘I love my wife with all my heart’, we don’t say ‘I love her with all my brain’. So when someone has a positive emotional experience it’s usually felt in the centre of the chest and consciously shifting our attention to that area can actually facilitate positive emotional experiences……   http://www.completecoherence.com

Watkins is providing strategies for energetic leadership and decison making but I was unsure about such intense focus for those with dealing with medical issues – heart, diaphragm, lungs; those coping with loss?  I asked the experts – my students.  Someone kindly gave me feedback and permission to post this:

…….Directing your breathing around the heart makes wonderful sense to me as there are many heart breathing meditations in many ancient traditions this is just western science catching up I think. 🤔 I found it interesting that he had a bit of a laugh about the chakras at one point the crown chakra if I remember but then talks about breathing through the heart which in essence is the same as using the heart chakra for meditation ie visualising the heart whilst breathing rhythmically and evenly through the heart isn’t this the same? 

He talks about the electrical energy output of the heart being so much greater than the brain etc this is what ancient traditions have always known. 

What I like about his take on it is the simplicity just breathe in rhythm and evenly although again he does take a pop at alternate nostril breathing but this is actually again saying the same. Alternate nostril breathing is rhythmic and even.  However for many people some yogic breathing practices will appear to be very complicated with too much instruction.  His way of remembering and how to do it is simple and effective I think……

I am very grateful for this perspective and it helps me to balance my tendency towards scepticism.  Let me know what you think.

Meanwhile, whilst marshalling my thoughts, I found this clip from a new production interesting.







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