A Simple Way to Support Yourself With Breath

When I’m working with clients, I often guide them through breath and presence practices to help them discover deeper reservoirs of capacity. Right now, I’m noticing that breath practices are giving my clients access to places of strength, calm, and peace. They are learning that these states can coexist with and respond intelligently to the suffering that’s happening across the world.

Effective breath practices regulate your nervous system so that you can skillfully meet opportunities and challenges. I’ve chosen today’s breath practice for two reasons:

  1. It’s been shown to help you be more resilient by bringing your heart, lungs, and brain into a synchronized rhythm
  2. It’s extraordinarily simple

The practice — Coherent Breathing– consists of breathing at a rate of 5-6 breaths per minute. The average adult breathes at a rate of 12-20 breaths per minute. This practice slo-o-o-o-o-ows you down so that your body can optimally support you.

Getting Started

Here are two options for learning Coherent Breathing:

Easing In — especially useful if you’ve never done any kind of breath practice or you like to adjust to new practices gradually

  • Breathe through your nose with your eyes closed. For each step, count slowly and silently in your mind as you breathe.
  • First two breaths: Breathe in for 2 counts,, breathe out for 2 counts
  • Next three breaths: Breathe in for 3 counts, breath out for 3 counts
  • Next four breaths: Breathe in for 4 counts, breathe out for 4 counts
  • Next four breaths: Count a little more slowly as you breathe in and out for 4 counts
  • Begin to inhale for 5 counts and exhale for 5 counts, and voila! You’re at 6 breaths per minute.
  • If you feel challenged at any of these steps, stay at that rate for some additional breaths so that you can work your way into it more slowly

adapted from Brown and Gerbarg, The Healing Power of the Breath

Getting Right to It — if you’ve got more experience, like to dive in, or are a visual or auditory learner

  • Apps like My Cardiac Coherence (Android) or IBreathe (IOS) help you to align your breathing with the correct time intervals. They both have visual and audio cues that you can use to guide your practice. There are many breathing apps and you already may have a favorite. What I like about these two is simplicity of design so that there is little to distract from the breathing.

How Long to Practice

Start with 5 minutes a day. Any amount of this practice will support the strengthening of your nervous system.

If you find it useful, gradually work up to 15-20 minutes a day. At about 15 minutes, there can be a deeper shift in your body when your nervous system settles down. It’s similar to when you begin an exercise session and the initial minutes can feel crappy and challenging. Then all of a sudden, your body gets in a rhythm and you’re in a completely different place.

Optional resources

If you’d like more resources about Coherent Breathing and regulating your nervous system, here are two:

Photo by Julie Harris

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