According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2011, approximately 80 percent of Americans sometimes or frequently experience stress in their daily lives. Stress is so common that many people consider it a natural part of adult life. You may not even realize how stressed out you are at times because it’s a normal part of your daily routine.
All of that stress takes a toll on your body and can lead to serious medical conditions that may shorten your lifespan. That’s why finding simple ways to combat stress without distracting from the activity of your daily life is important. One way to do this is to learn resonant breathing, which is also known as resonant frequency breathing, RFB or simply RF.
What Is Resonant Breathing?
Resonant breathing is the practice of slowing your breathing rate to approximately six breaths per minute. This requires complete control over your breathing, which is an automatic bodily function that most people don’t think about in daily life. Most people naturally take between 12 and 20 breaths per minute, so resonant breathing requires you to cut your normal breathing rate at least in half.
When you dig a little deeper, resonant frequency breathing is all about controlling your heart rate variability, which is also known as HRV. In simple terms, this refers to the amount of time that passes between each beat of your heart. When you deliberately slow your rate of breathing, you naturally increase the amount of time between your heartbeats, which research is showing can help your body in some powerful ways.
Your HRV is determined largely by the state of your body at any given moment as your system responds to your surrounding environment. As you encounter stressful or troubling stimuli, your sympathetic nervous system is triggered. This is the system that you may know as your “fight or flight” response. Relaxing or pleasant stimuli will trigger responses from your parasympathetic nervous system.
These dueling components of your nervous system are playing ping pong as you move through your day, tipping your physical and emotional state in one direction or another based on your intuitive interpretation of what’s happening around you. While it’s not so easy to get a visual picture of your nervous system triggers, we can measure your HRV as a reflection of how your body is responding to its environment.
Putting this all together, think of your HRV as a readout that tells you whether life is triggering your sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system more. In other words, your HRV tells you whether you’re experiencing more stress or more pleasure in you daily life. Too much action from that sympathetic system can lead to physical and mental signs of stress, including the inability to focus, muscle tension, fatigue, headaches and anxiety.
Resonant breathing helps you tip the scales back in favor of the parasympathetic nervous system. This tells your body that your world is a more enjoyable place and you don’t have as much to stress about. You avoid the physical manifestations of stress and the long-term consequences for your health.
Why Does Resonant Breathing Work?
Is your body feeling the stress of your new job? Are you really at peace while relaxing on the beach, or is your mind lingering on a stressful situation that has your sympathetic system triggered despite your luxurious location? Measuring your HRV could give you some solid answers to those questions and many others.
The more time that passes between your heartbeats, the higher your HRV and the more resistant your body is to stress in your surrounding environment. When your heartbeats get closer together, your HRV is lower and your body is more susceptible to the negative impact of stress.
Research is proving that resonant breathing reduces the impact of stress on the human body by improving HRV. For instance, one popular study found that resonant breathing improved HRV while lowering blood pressure and improving the mood of participants. Those who controlled their breathing but didn’t exactly achieve six breaths per minute didn’t see the same level of results, proving the power of resonant frequency breathing.
How to Perform Resonant Breathing
You need to master the following skills to practice resonant breathing correctly:
- Slowly inhaling through the nose.
- Slowly exhaling through pursed lips.
- Breathing deep from within your gut, feeling your stomach expand and empty with each breath.
- Focusing your mind entirely on your breathing.
Each inhale and exhale is timed by counting slowly in your head. You’ll see different times recommended by different professionals, but one instructional video from a professional at Rutgers recommends inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for six seconds. This is one of the simplest versions of the practice and will help most people achieve the goal of breathing no more than six times per minute.
It takes some practice to focus entirely on your breathing and count each inhale and exhale in your mind, but you should get to the point where you can intuitively guess the length of each breath without literally counting. It’s generally recommended that you practice for around 15 minutes each day, but some people practice far more often because they want this form of breathing to feel natural when they encounter stressful situations in daily life.
The Benefits of Resonant Breathing
Now that you understand what resonant frequency breathing is and how you can perform it in daily life, why should you spend 15 minutes of your time doing this every day? It comes down to the control of your nervous system, namely those destructive “fight or flight” signals from the sympathetic nervous system. As you reduce those internal responses of stress, you gain some powerful benefits.
1. Lower Blood Pressure
High blood pressure damages your arteries, heart, brain and kidneys. When not properly controlled, it can lead to a life-altering or fatal heart attack, loss of kidney function and sexual dysfunction. While there is no direct proof that high blood pressure is caused by stress, we do know that there’s a correlation between faster heartbeats and high blood pressure.
Do you remember what we already discussed about the time between the beats of your heart? Slower beats are a sign of relaxation and less susceptibility to the consequences of stress, so the fast heartbeats associated with high blood pressure are obviously not good news for your health.
As resonant breathing slows your heart rate, it naturally lowers your blood pressure. This only occurs while you’re actively practicing this breathing method and perhaps for a short period of time afterwards. Unless you practice controlled breathing throughout your daily life and take other actions to multiple the benefits, you might still need blood pressure medication to keep your blood pressure under control all the time.
2. Control Over Anxiety
If you’ve ever had an anxiety or panic attack, you likely know that the first thing you must do to regain control is focus on breathing deeply and slowly. There is a scientifically proven correlation between your rate of breathing and your heart rate. Slowing your breathing can slow your heart rate, which means stretching out the time between heart beats.
This has a calming impact that helps most people ease out of an anxiety attack. Since resonant breathing naturally slows your heart rate, it’s a powerful tool for anyone battling anxiety. The MyCalmBeat app may help you master your breathing to reduce anxiety naturally.
3. Vagus Nerve Stimulation
The vagus nerve is a part of your parasympathetic nervous system and is believed to promote a calm state of mind while helping the body heal. While it isn’t fully understood today, researchers believe that it’s the key to healing a variety of medial conditions, ranging from leaky gut syndrome to depression and some forms of epilepsy.
Resonant breathing may help stimulate the vagus nerve, which allows you to tip the scales more in favor of the parasympathetic nervous system. While more research into this nerve is needed, it’s believed that your overall health and well being are positively boosted with greater vagus nerve activity.
4. Emotion and Mood Control
The more mastery you gain over your breathing, the less likely you are to lose control of your emotions at an embarrassing moment or sink into a bad mood at an inconvenient time. Just by slowing your breathing and thus your heart rate, you can keep your emotions in check while giving yourself an instant mood boost. Do this at the right moment during your day, and you could change the way you respond to a stressful situation.
The #1 Reason to Master Resonant Breathing
While all benefits of resonant breathing are important, accessibility is the number one reason to master this form of deep breathing. Once you learn how to gain control of your breathing and slow your heart rate, you can use resonant frequency breathing to limit your internal response to stress. We’re talking about stopping the negative impact of stress on your body and mind by simply learning how to breathe through the tensest moments of your daily life.
This works best if you can excuse yourself to visit a restroom or another quiet, private environment for five to 15 minutes. It’s not always possible to call a timeout on life, but it’s worth the effort if you want to control your reaction to troubling situations so that you’re always in control of your emotions and anxiety level.
With daily practice, you may also learn to utilize the benefits of resonant breathing while in the company of others. Consider working with a psychologist, counselor or another professional to develop your breathing skills if you suffer from extreme stress or anxiety. You may also use a deep breathing app with a resonant breathing setting. These programs provide guidance on your breathing and will count your inhales and exhales for you.