Since discovering this breathing protocol during a breath-work training in February 2021 I’ve suggested it to many of my patients as part of their process of recovery.
Stephen Elliot was looking for a way of breathing that would reliably drop him into what he called ‘awakened mind’ – essentially a state of flow and ease that he would only find randomly during his martial arts practice. He also believed that by optimising breathing patterns the corrosive effects on health of hypertension could be addressed, even reversed.
So he set about his task using instrumentation to measure and record the changes in brain wave activity and heart rate variability in response to a range of breathing techniques and was surprised to find that the very same protocol worked for both situations. He called it Coherent Breathing because the heart and the brain cooperate optimally and coherently.
The practice is effective because it optimises the return of blood to the chest cavity from the legs and trunk by strengthening the contraction of the diaphragm muscle as well as lengthening the duration of both the in-breath and the out-breath. This venous blood can then be refreshed in the lungs and this re-oxygenated blood brings the vital energy (oxygen) to the brain. When the breathing is sub-optimal, as it is in so many of us, the brain will do anything to get the food that it most wants. The extreme of this of course is fainting, which automatically increases the oxygen supply because we are no longer fighting against gravity to get the blood back into the heart.
So what is this protocol? It’s deceptively simple, six seconds in, six seconds out. Repeat. Voilà! This does have caveats.. for those with smaller frames I would drop that to 5/5 or maybe 4.5/4.5. And for those who struggle with even that long, for whatever reason – maybe it feels too much too soon, or evokes panicky feelings, it’s just too weird, then as long as you are lengthening your in and out breaths and ideally keeping them the same length, you’re on your way to changing your physiology.
I fell in love with doing it straight away and found myself doing my twenty minutes in the morning first thing, then when I was with patients if they were having a snooze and even on the ubiquitous zoom calls when I wasn’t speaking – I was breathing at the 6/6 rate. What did I love about it? The total reliability of it to put me into a state of alertness with relaxation. Without fail. Not even meditation does that for me. It’s like taking the reins of a wild horse and getting it to do what you want!
The trick is to use a metronome – you can get a free app from Soundbrenner that does the job perfectly.
Stephen Elliot says that twenty minutes’ practice a day will positively affect your physiology for the next 24 hours. I take that as a no-brainer.
It’s free, it’s portable, it’s adaptable. Go on, give it a go, I dare you.