That breathing is essential for survival is common knowledge but proper breathing is a highly important key to mental and physical health. –Vijai P. Sharma, Ph. D., Mind Publications
In the progression of aging, many of our bodies’ systems become starved of nutrients and oxygen. As a result, blockages occur in blood vessels and nerve fibers in the form of plaque, inflammation and compression that frequently tend to lead to slowly failing tissues and organs.
One ultra simple technique to deliver much required oxygen to all parts of the body is through our manner of breathing. Most of us tend to breath shallowly and quickly. This is a learned or conditioned behavior arising from repeated situations that present stress in our lives. This is very understandable. It has happened to almost all of us!
Many of us may be well acquainted with pranayama, the form of yoga devoted to the manner and practice of breath. Pranayama asanas (techniques) involve many forms of breathing configurations and methods and can be extremely valuable as a practice in contributing to our levels of youth, vitality and well-being.
At the same time, we can pare down to the very core essence of the breath. After all, there is great truth in simplicity!
Just the mere act of self-regulating by slowing our number of breaths per minute can create what Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School has coined as the relaxation response.
The Relaxation Response is a helpful way to turn off fight or flight response and bring the body back to pre-stress levels. Dr. Benson describes the Relaxation Response as a physical state of deep relaxation which engages the other part of our nervous system—the parasympathetic nervous system. –Marilyn Mitchell, MD, Psychology Today
In this vein, authors Richard Brown and Patricia Gerbarg call this form of breathing “coherent breathing.” They say, “‘Coherent breathing’ is a simple way to increase heart-rate variability [HRV] and balance the stress-response systems.”
Twelve to eighteen breaths per minute seems to be the average unregulated rate of breathing for most adults. Scientists have tested people at a whole range of possible breathing rates and concluded that the ideal breath rate is somewhere between three and a half and six breaths per minute. At this rate, the electrical rhythms of the heart, lungs and brain synchronize with each other coalescing in a kind of synergy that delivers expanded levels of vitality.
This self-regulated, slowed, deliberate manner of breathing is actually a concept known for many centuries by spiritual adepts. When Zen Buddhist monks, for example, enter into zazen (deep meditation), they breathe at six breaths per minute.
Very tall people will want to breathe on the low end of the scale–close to three and a half breaths per minute while children under ten years of age will optimally breathe at the rate of six to ten breaths per minute. An easy rule of thumb to accomplish six breaths a minute is to do five-second inhales and five-second exhales. Each five-second increment multiplied times six equals 60 seconds.
Dan Brulé, author of Just Breathe: Mastering Breathwork for Success in Life, Love, Business, and Beyond says,
Studies show measurable benefits with just five minutes of paced breathing at a rate of six breaths per minute, three times per day. You can reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels (that’s the stress hormone!) by up to 20%.
HeartMath Institute shares valuable information about a whole variety of self-regulating techniques for physical, mental and spiritual vitality including the “six breaths a minute” technique sharing that,
… studies have shown increases in parasympathetic activity (vagal tone),* reductions in cortisol and increases in DHEA,** decreases in blood pressure and stress measures in hypertensive populations, reduced health-care costs and significant improvements in the functional capacity of patients with congestive heart failure.
It is important to note that the DHEA increase mentioned in the previous paragraph is known to be responsible for the prevention of aging, improvement of sexual function, enhancement of athletic performance, and the treatment of osteoporosis.
HearthMath Institute counsels us to look at this kind of breathing as heart-focused even though we breath with our lungs and diaphragm. They say,
Heart-focused breathing is about directing your attention to the heart area and breathing a little more deeply than normal. As you breathe in, imagine you are doing so through your heart, and, as you breathe out, imagine it is through your heart. (In the beginning, placing your hand over your heart as you breathe can help you in directing your focus to your heart.)
*Vagal tone is an internal biological process referring to the activity of the vagus nerve (the tenth cranial nerve), which originates in the medulla oblongata of the brainstem. The vagus nerve serves as the key component of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, which homeostatically regulates the resting state of the majority of the body's internal organ systems that operate on a largely subconscious level, such as the heart, lungs, eyes, glands and digestive tract.
**DHEA (dihydroepiandrosterone) is a naturally occurring weak androgenic steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands with benefits such as the prevention of aging, the improvement of sexual function, the enhancement of athletic performance, and the treatment of osteoporosis.
Mitchell, Marilyn, MD. "Dr. Herbert Benson's Relaxation Response: Learn to Counteract the Physiological Effects of Stress." Psychology Today 29 Mar. 2013: Web. <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/heart-and-soul-healing/201303/dr-herbert-benson-s-relaxation-response>.
Brown, Richard P., and Patricia L. Gerbarg. The Healing Power of the Breath: Simple Techniques to Reduce Stress and Anxiety, Enhance Concentration, and Balance Your Emotions. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2012. Print.
McCraty, Rollin. Science of the Heart: Exploring the Role of the Heart in Human Performance. Boulder Creek (CA): HeartMath, 2001. Print.