Stress and Breath

There are many articles on the benefits of focused breathing for stress relief. (CoherenceLLC 2018; Crockett et al. 2016; Tyagi et al. 2014). Practiced every day for 5 minutes in a sequence of breathing in for 4seconds hold for 4 seconds breath out for 4 seconds can bring your system back into balance.

I have seen this on many occasions with my clients, none more striking than with students who were suffering from presentation anxiety. After practicing this technique for a period of time they reported clearer thinking, no more blushing and improved confidence. They also said that if they perceived there to be a stressful situation approaching, their system would automatically kick into the breathing sequence and prevent anxiety from taking hold.

But why does it work? When we inhale our heart rate goes up and when we exhale our heart rate goes down, this is called respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) and is measured by heart rate variability.  (Gerritsen &Band 2018). This is important because if we can control our heart rate, we can affect our heart rate variability which we know is a measure of our state of wellbeing.

This is not to say that someone who is suffering from chronic stress or medically diagnosed stress can suddenly switch from a negative state to a positive state. What it does say is that by combining breathing and other techniques we can positively impact our state.

Dr Alan Watkins suggests that “The easiest way to remember this breathing technique is through the BREATHE acronym: Breathe Rhythmically Evenly And Through the Heart Everyday.” (Watkins 2014)

CoherenceLLC 2018, The Science of Coherent Breathing – Complete Document, 2014, viewed <>.

Crockett, JE, Cashwell, CS, Tangen, JL, Hall, KH & Young, JS 2016, ‘Breathing Characteristics and Symptoms of Psychological Distress: An Exploratory Study’, Counseling and Values, vol. 61, no. 1, pp. 10-27.

Gerritsen, RJS & Band, GPH 2018, ‘Breath of Life: The Respiratory Vagal Stimulation Model of Contemplative Activity’, Front Hum Neurosci, vol. 12,

Tyagi, A, Cohen, M, Reece, J & Telles, S 2014, ‘An explorative study of metabolic responses to mental stress and yoga practices in yoga practitioners, non-yoga practitioners and individuals with metabolic syndrome’, BMC Complement Altern Med, vol. 14,

Watkins, A 2014, Coherence : the secret science of brilliant leadership, Kogan Page, London ; Philadelphia.

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