14th December 2017
By Dr Marc Russo, Danielle Santarelli (PhD), Dean O'Rourke (B.Ed. H & PE (Hons), MBIBH)
The act of controlling one’s breath for the purpose of restoring or enhancing health has been practiced for thousands of years amongst Eastern cultures. One example is yogic breathing (also known as pranayama), which is performed during yoga and meditation. Because of their claimed health benefits, practices like yoga and meditation have become increasingly popular in the Western world, and hence, so have controlled/slow breathing practices. Despite this, breathing techniques remain relatively untouched by the medical community.
We recently published an article on slow breathing (click here) that reviews the current research findings on the effects of controlled respiration in humans.
The article focuses on the major effects that slow breathing has on the respiratory system, the cardiovascular system, the cardiorespiratory unit (i.e. how respiratory mechanics interact with the heart and blood flow), and the autonomic nervous system (i.e. rebalancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems). Research supports slow breathing techniques as having numerous positive physiological effects.
The article also discusses what might be the optimal breathing technique for human health. It would seem that optimal slow breathing would be a breathing rate of about 6 breaths per minute with equal inhalation and exhalation times (5 seconds breathing in, 5 seconds breathing out). Breathing should be through the nose, not the mouth, and should exercise the diaphragm (i.e. belly / abdominal breathing). Slow breathing techniques may be easily taught and practiced and don’t seem to cause any negative effects according to current research.
We hope that our article will encourage further research into the effects that slow breathing may have, not only in health humans, but in disease states too, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, hypertension, depression, anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even chronic pain.
The article is free to view online in the European Respiratory Society’s educational journal Breathe - you can find it here.