Slow down your breathing with these tips
Your breath represents how you feel. The more in a hurry we are, the more often and faster we breathe. And the slower you breathe, the calmer and more aware you live. But how does that work, slower breathing? Five questions to yoga teacher and breathing coach Ronald van Pijkeren of Rumah Yoga from Amsterdam.
You hear more and more often that we breathe incorrectly, is that true?
‘I wouldn’t say we breathe wrong but many people could breathe more functionally. Without realizing it, we often breathe too much. A nice number is twelve to fourteen breaths per minute, but often we breathe more toward twenty times per minute. That’s too much. Breathing costs energy, which means a lot of wasted energy during the day! In that light, it is good to breathe less and you can do that by slowing down the inhalation and the exhalation.
What breathing techniques do you use in your breathing sessions?
‘Among other things, I work from the principles of Buteyko and the Oxygen Advantage methods linked to it. Less and slower breathing is part of that. Important principles from these methods are first of all that you breathe in and out through your nose. In addition, you make sure your breathing is Light, Slow and Deep. Light stands for relaxed and effortless, Slow stands for a calm rhythm, and Deep means breathing to the deepest parts of your lungs using your primary breathing muscles: your diaphragm and the small muscles in the ribs. An easy mnemonic to remember this method is: LSD.’
Is there such a thing as the perfect breathing rhythm?
‘Research shows that a breathing rhythm of five to seven breaths per minute has the most favorable results for your heart rate variability, your HRV. Heart rate variability is the difference in time between your heartbeats. Your heart rhythm is directly related to the state of your nervous system.
When you are in a sympathetic, active, state, the time between your heartbeats is shorter than when you are in a parasympathetic, calm, state. Your HRV is an indication of your resilience and ability to handle stress and pressure. The higher your HRV, the better you can switch between action and stress and rest and recovery.’
What are the benefits of breathing less?
‘Breathing less stimulates the vagus nerve. This is an important cranial nerve that runs from the brain stem to the organs in the chest and abdomen. By breathing more slowly and therefore less, you stimulate the parasympathetic part of your autonomic nervous system, or pause mode. You thereby signal to yourself that you are safe. And that gives room for peace and clarity, making it easier to get out of your head and connect with yourself and with what is there in the moment. The awareness of time or worrying about time thus disappears into the background.’
Where do you start if you want to learn to breathe more slowly?
‘If you want to start breathing more slowly and are not used to doing so, the breathing stimulus can already come quite quickly or too quickly. So you have to learn to delay that moment when the stimulus comes. One way to train this is to create (slight) breathlessness. You do this by holding your breath for a very short time after a normal exhalation until you feel the need to start breathing. Then you postpone the actual inhalation for a while during which you may feel quite a little uncomfortable. Then inhale and try to return to LSD breathing as quickly as possible: Light, Slow and Deep.’
‘James Nestor in the book The New Breathing discusses the method of 5.5 counts of inhaling and 5.5 counts of exhaling. This is a rhythm on which many prayers and mantras such as Om Mani Padme Hum, Ohm, Sa Ta Na Ma are also chanted and also the rhythm on which the original Latin version of the Hail Marys are based. A rhythm of, say, four seconds in and six seconds out is also often used. There is no one rhythm that is perfect, so just be curious, go explore see what you feel comfortable with.’
Marie-Claire van den Berg from Yogamagazine
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