Lengthen your breath, lengthen your life

I came across an article by Scientific American on the health benefits of deep slow breathing. According to the article, deep slow breathing can improve our health and attention while reducing stress, anxiety and preventing insomnia. The technique seems fairly easy. Sit straight, inhale for 5 straight seconds slowly, and exhale for the same amount of time. Do it for 15 minutes (5-minutes each, 3 times) a day for 365 days. I have tried it for a few days and it has been positive so far.

The method was developed based on the understanding that slow, deep breathing increases the activity of the vagus nerve, a part of parasympathetic nervous system; the vagus nerve controls and also measures the activity of many internal organs. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, calmness pervades the body: the heart rate slows and becomes regular; blood pressure decreases; muscles relax. When the vagus nerve informs the brain of these changes, it, too, relaxes, increasing feelings of peacefulness. Thus, the technique works through both neurobiological and psychological mechanisms.

Cardiac coherence’s stabilization of the heartbeat can dampen anxiety powerfully. Conversely, patients with overactive heartbeats are sometimes misdiagnosed as victims of panic attacks because their racing heartbeat affects their mind.

A typical cardiac coherence exercise involves inhaling for five seconds, then exhaling for the same amount of time (for a 10-second respiratory cycle). Biofeedback devices make it possible to observe on a screen how this deep, regular breathing slows and stabilizes the beats. (The space between two heartbeats on the display is never exactly the same, but it becomes increasingly more consistent with this technique.) Several studies have confirmed the anxiety-diminishing effect of these devices, although the equipment probably has more influence on the motivation to do the exercises (“It makes it seem serious, real”) than on the physiological mechanisms themselves. Simply applying slow breathing with the same conviction and rigor could well give the same result.

Each body is different. The technique may work on me, but may not work on you. However, if you are interested in improving your health with an easy method, have a look at the article.

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