Equal breathing Noah McKenna

What is happening and how we feel changes our heartbeat and the rhythm of our breathing.

Conversely, our physiology responds to different breathing frequencies. As a magic formula for producing specific internal states just by breathing faster or slower. Our state of stress colors our mental and emotional experience. Breathing is a way to reset the system and not so much a button as a dial.

The links are bidirectional, between the breath and the mind is the autonomic nervous system.

To understand how breathing exercises work, an essential view is to look at the frequency of breathing. The duration of a single inspiration and expiration can be timed and the number of breaths per minute gives a frequency. These frequencies are the dial marks.

He breathes too fast and we enter a nice exit. But breathing is too slow and we are struck by what Stephen Porges found, the old reptile vagal system.

Between fast and slow, there is an ideal duration of breathing that puts us in a perfect stress-free state where the mammalian vagal system extends to our mood. He is calm, warm and secure, emotionally available and mentally refreshed. Spoiler alert! It happens when you breathe between 5 and 6 breaths per minute for 10 minutes.

In my last blog on natural breathing I mentioned how our uncontrolled involuntary breathing changes with our metabolic state. It responds quickly to our energy needs. When we use more energy while exercising we need to breathe more to keep up with our body’s oxygen demand. And obviously, when we are really relaxed, our respiratory rate becomes smaller and closer to an ideal minimum. However, for many people the inner psycho-emotional play of the mind keeps us at a consistently high level and therefore our breathing does not slow down optimally.

In this blog, I will talk about the overview of the different breathing frequencies and focus on the one mentioned above that gives a balanced effect. It is called equal breathing, also known as samma vrtti, coherent breathing or resonant breathing and even … even breathing.

Our rate of resting breath could be 5 to 20 breaths per minute. Because respiratory rate responds to internal energy use, it is a mirror of our stress levels. It is very healthy to have a frequency as low as 5-7 breaths per minute as a natural standard.

Someone with a respiratory rate as high as 10 or higher usually has a fast, shallow breathing style. The problem with shortness of breath will be described in another post where I talk about hyperventilation. Hyperventilation causes the oxygen supply to reduce your health deficit as severe as sleep deprivation or malnutrition.

Breathing fast for a short period of time can be a great stimulating exercise and can produce a good glow if combined with holding your breath. But I would not recommend it as a basic practice.

You may be wondering why I do not suggest that very slow breathing causes a larger and faster change to reduce stress? The answer is complicated. Going too far into parasympathetic territory is an acquired taste that can give the wrong effect to the uninitiated. Maybe you can hold your breath for 5 minutes or have years of pranayama under your belt, then okay. But it’s a different kind of magic.

We can think of the economy of the ideal breath as a kind of socially egalitarian environmentally benign finance model. The ideal is to take only what is needed and have minimum requirements.

Now some people are struggling to get to the end of the month with some chronic illness that causes metabolic difficulty. Many more people breathe excessively and hyperventilate. As if they were earning a lot of low value currency and spending it all. The ideal is to get enough energy to meet all needs, neither too much nor too little. Then the parasympathetic system can do its business of storing energy and restoring health.

I am happy to say that there is a valid and well documented relationship between respiration and metabolism. It has often been said that life expectancy can be measured in the number of breaths and there is solid physiological evidence to support this ancient wisdom.

The best respiratory rate is slow to medium depth when we are at rest.

Changing our breath quickly alters our metabolic or energy state. This happens automatically without our consciousness and is managed by the autonomic nervous system.

The incredible potential of breathing is real because by changing our breathing we can change our state of stress. The changes are also lasting, with exercise we are reshaping our rules.

To put it simply, when we breathe slowly we go into a parasympathetic state and when we breathe fast we go into a sympathetic state. The parasympathetic state is when we feel safe and when we are saving energy and healing, in fact the immune system is suppressed by the hormones of the sympathetic state.

The best way to start altering your breathing is to lower your frequency by keeping the duration of inspiration and exhalation the same. This is known in pranayama as Sama Vritti or equal breathing.

I mentioned earlier that the frequency of breathing changes the stress level in a general average way. It is also true that each inhalation elevates sympathetic activity and each exhalation transports us to the parasympathetic.

Breathing of equal length is the most balanced way to gradually decrease stress and relax and calm down.

The speed of the heartbeat responds to inhalation by accelerating and slowing down with each exhalation. This pattern is maximized when we are already relaxed but can be lost when we are stressed. The change in heart rate can be felt by taking your pulse while breathing slowly and gently. This alternating frequency is called respiratory sinus arrhythmia and is very good. Dr. Stephen Porges has done an amazing job examining how variable the heart rate is and that more variability occurs when we are in a parasympathetic state.

Therefore, the ideal way to breathe is to breathe the same. With the same length inhale and exhale. Most people will be able to do this comfortably with a 5 second count. Inhale for 5 seconds and exhale for 5 seconds, do not hold your breath and do not breathe hard. Do this for 5 to 10 minutes and then relax with natural breathing for a few minutes.

To make the most of this practice, do it in a relaxed and gentle way. Feel the air move in your nose and let it flow. Don’t be too tight with your breathing or the way you observe your breathing. Less judgment and more flow.

It is now very curious that the variability of the heart rate has a single maximum for everyone at a given frequency. Scientists have observed yoghurts as they enter their more relaxed states and have found that they breathe slowly and rhythmically with a specific frequency, regardless of the meditation technique used. Take a look at the work of Elmer Green, who conducted these studies in the 1970’s.

This ideal frequency of breaths per minute is for everyone and is between 4 and 7 breaths per minute.

Inhaling and exhaling at 5 seconds per phase takes a 10 second breath which produces a frequency of 6 breaths per minute. If you don’t have anyone to help you measure your heart rate variability, this is a good place to start.

If you have big lungs and are very fit, you may find that 6 seconds feels a little better than 5 seconds. The most important thing is to keep the count the same and breathe at this frequency for 5-20 minutes.

This exercise can be done sitting or lying down. It is ideal for relaxing the body and keeping your eyes closed while breathing through your nose. If you are a yogi, of course, you can use the asanas and mudras you want. I love teaching breathing and would use many different techniques to get the best results, but it works well with this simple example.

In yoga this is called Samma Vrtti or equal breathing and has recently been scientifically validated and renamed as coherent breathing or resonant breathing.

Breathe evenly and the breathing pattern is reflected in the heart rate that responds to changes in self-control. The self-employed are like a station of relief between the heart and the breath. Then the Autonomy extends the grace of the way our minds work.

Another very interesting thing is happening. Our diaphragm, which is a large muscle of the breath, has a second function. It moves blood away from the lungs when we inhale and into the lungs when we exhale. During equal breathing, the diaphragm begins to pump blood in phase with changes in heart rate.

All these different systems, the respiratory, the cardiovascular, the autonomous, fall into rhythm when we breathe the same.

I suggest this is the first pranayama anyone should learn. Anyone can do this practice and receive healing. But it is only the beginning of a very complex system when we also use very slow breathing, fast breathing and breath holding to give power and endurance.

If you like reading, I go into a lot of physiological detail when I do Breathing Corses and Teacher Training. The techniques are simple but multi-layered and colorful with lots of detail. I share the secrets of how to combine different techniques and how to teach it safely to get the best results.


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