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Try ‘Coherent Breathing’ for Stress Relief

How yoga and mindful breathing help depression


Breathing—we do it every moment of our lives, but we so often forget to pay attention to this most essential, life-sustaining activity. Ignored, our breath is just something we do to keep our bodies going. But approached with mindfulness and even awe, each breath can feel like a gift—and it can help us regulate our moods.

Coherent Breathing is a technique that’s worth considering if you want to try to cultivate positive emotional health using a breath practice. One 2017 study conducted at Boston University School of Medicine found that a regular Coherent Breathing practice combined with a 12-week yoga program significantly lowered participants symptoms of clinical depression.

In one sense, Coherent Breathing is very simple—in it, we are asked to inhale slowly through our noses, letting our bellies expand, then exhale for the same length of time. The trick, and what gives Coherent Breathing its positive mood-impacting power, is that to practice it fully, you need to slow your breaths down to taking just five breaths per minute (bpm). For maximum benefits, you should practice it for 15 to 20 minutes each day.

For you math whizzes, that’s five six-second inhales followed by five six-second exhales. 

But don’t be intimidated! In their book, The Healing Power of the Breath: Simple Techniques to Reduce Stress and Anxiety, Enhance Concentration, and Balance Your Emotions, Drs. Richard Brown and Patricia Gerbarg urge us to start slow.

They recommend working up to five bpm from wherever you are right now. That might mean starting with an inhale to the count of “one…two” and then an exhale to the same count. Then, work up over each practice session to inhale and exhale counts of “one…two…three,” adding a second to each breath until you are comfortably breathing at the rate of five bpm (six counts per each inhale and exhale). When you get started, don’t rush toward the 15-20 minute goal, either—start by practicing for just five minutes.

What can you expect if you make time in your day for Coherent Breathing? Brown and Gerbarg summarize it this way: 

“Most people notice benefits immediately. You will notice that your mind feels calmer, less filled with chatter; your body feels more relaxed. In the beginning, these good feelings may last only a short time after you get up and start doing things under the usual pressures. However, with practice over time, the benefits will last longer and longer the sense of calm alertness will grow, and the feelings of tension will fade.”

Now doesn’t that sound nice? 

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