Slow breathing has many therapeutic effects. For example, breathing at a rate of around 6 breaths/min has been shown to:
Reduce blood pressure
Increase heart rate variability
Increase baroreflex sensitivity
Improve autonomic balance
Restore respiratory balance
All of these benefits increase resilience, balance, focus, and overall fitness.
Here are some tips to get started with a slow breathing practice:
Use an app to pace your breathing. I use a free one call “The Breathing Zone” (see image). I like this one because it’s free, it’s flexible, and it has a setting that makes the exhale longer than the inhale, which I find more enjoyable. The settings shown in the image are a good place to get started.
Lie down or sit with a straight back. Lying down can be slightly easier, but you also run the risk of falling asleep. (Although that’s not the worst thing that could happen!) Try them both and see which you like best.
Breathe deeply into your abdomen. Most of the movement should occur in your belly, while your chest remains relatively still. If lying down, place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach to monitor your breathing motions. Ideally, the hand on your chest would barely move during the practice.
Start small. Even two minutes of slow breathing has been shown to improve autonomic function and increase respiratory balance. So, start small and gradually build up to a time that suits you.
Practice when it’s convenient for you. Sure, doing it first thing in the morning or right before bed is best. But, any time is better than no time. This should be relaxing and rewarding, not a burden. Fit it into your schedule however you can.
Once slow breathing becomes easy, try reducing the volume of each breath. Bring on a slight feeling of air hunger while maintaining a pace of around 6 breaths/min. This will combine the therapeutic effects of slow breathing with the benefits of increased CO2.