IN, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 OUT, 6, 5, 4, 3, 3, 2, 1, IN, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 OUT, 6, 5, 4, 3, 3, 2, 1
I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week – probably my favourite breathing technique and something that has a fascinating history.
I’ve long used Eddie Stearns breathing app to help me time breathing sessions to 5 breaths a minute (thus the above of in for a count of 6 and out for a count of 6, no pauses all connected) and find it incredibly peaceful and restful. It’s the one thing that I always suggest to anyone who wants to use something effective and easy to help with how they feel.
It’s always been my go to technique, after a hard days teaching, a particularly taxing workout or when I’m feeling tired and anxious. 10 minutes, lying down, eyes shut and listening to the app sound rise and fall, I tune int this whilst repeating on the exhale “Just let go”. Within 3 breaths I immediately feel calmer and in tune with my body. More often than not I finish the session and doze, sleep or lie still and let the relaxation wash over me and enjoy feeling refreshed. When I started the practice I wasn’t sure of it’s background or it’s efficacy, but this something that I’ve understood in more detail over the last 3 years. And in some regards it is utterly fascinating.
James Nestor writes & talks about his learnings with regards 5 – 6 breaths a minute, as something that is central to many long-standing human religions, where the person leading the congregation in prayer would use a call and response mantra that works in exactly this rhythm – Listen to the mantra for your inhale, repeat for your exhale. This commonality I found fascinating and certainly gives enough support to a practice that really works. So why have diverse faiths on all over the world been drawn to it (and has been studied by Bernadi when looking at the effect of the Rosary and Yoga mantras in a 2001 paper).
Looking at the physiological impact it does seem that slowing your breath down to the constant connected 5 to 6 breaths a minute is the ideal resonance for your body and more importantly your autonomic system. That balancing act between parasympathetic & sympathetic sides, letting everything settle in perfect harmony and that resting state dropping into a synchronistic rhythm with your heart. In light of this it would make perfect sense. If your body is calm, working in unity, then it would not only feel incredibly comforting, but also allow your body / mind axis to relax. Something that is talked about in Stephen Porges Polyvagel theory. Using your nose to breathe, your diaphragm to slowly rise and fall, heart to come into line, everything begins to feel better.
It’s come back into my mind as I’ve been re-reading my Oxygen Advantage trainers manual with the intention of both refreshing my mind and reading certain scientific papers that Patrick quotes to help understand his ideas at a deeper level. This brought to the forefront of my mind when I read various papers on the advantages of using slow breathing at altitude. Something that is going to be key for me when I travel to Nepal in November to take part in the Manaslu trail race. It has been proven that slowing your breathing down in the way suggested, at altitudes of 5400m will help improve oxygenation of the blood by 10% (from around 80% to 89% SPO2) – which after a days trail running in the mountains is going to be key. It will also help reduce my heart rate and help calm my blood pressure. Two things that should help me recover.
So if this isn’t something you’ve tried before, to destress, relax or want to try out of curiosity I highly recommend it.