Changing our breathing pattern can ultimately affect how we feel and think. While breathing is largely an automatic and unconscious action, it is still one that we can learn to control consciously.
In clinical research, functional paced breathing has been shown to reduce stress, panic and anxiety, boost athletic performance and recovery and normalize blood pressure. Deep, paced breathing exercises help to clear the mind of distracting thoughts, increase focus and activate the body’s relaxation responses.
Many athletes also utilize paced breathing patterns to control their heart rate, prevent quick burn-out and increase endurance. Likewise, many musicians also learn the art of controlling their breath in order to be less breathy during singing and to sustain a long note.
Now with the OA Paced Breathing App and its built-in custom breath pacer, you have a pocket guide to support the practical teachings of Oxygen Advantage® Instructors. The variety of paced breathing exercises available in the Oxygen Advantage® app make it easy for you to start using life changing techniques that can help you in a huge variety of ways.
What Is Paced Breathing?
Paced breathing involves slowing of the breath and focusing on the length and duration of each inhalation and exhalation, to help calm the body and mind. Breathing in and out through the nose is the most effective way to practice paced breathing exercises. Deep paced breathing helps to clear the mind, increase focus and also elicit relaxation responses, referred to as parasympathetic responses.
When a person is in pain, the sympathetic nervous system is activated. This increases stress levels, activates pain pathways, and increases breathing rate and blood pressure. By simply controlling our breathing, we can learn to switch the brain’s response from pain to pleasure.
Paced Breathing Benefits
There are many ways that learning paced breathing benefits our mind, body and overall health. This has been shown in a wide variety of clinical research. Benefits include:
- Calming the nervous system
Slow breathing is ideal for maintaining a healthy nervous system. The nervous system determines the pace of the heart rate. We see this when we are nervous or anxious and the heart rate increases. Taking slow, deep breaths helps to activate the body’s relaxation response, calming the nervous system and returning the heart rate to normal.
- Anxiety and fear management
Anxiety and fear activate the body’s fight or flight response; breathing and heart rate get faster, pupils dilate and clear thinking becomes more challenging.
In a difficult situation, it is important to remain calm and clear headed. Regulating the breath with paced, deep nasal breathing helps dampen the stress response and activates the body’s relaxation response.
In this state, we are less likely to be impulsive, angry and go into rage. We are more likely to remain calm, clear headed and come up with a good solution.
- Normalized blood pressure
Slow, paced breathing helps to bring blood pressure to normal levels. The autonomic nervous system, which controls heart rate, has two branches, sympathetic and parasympathetic.
When we activate the sympathetic nervous system we go into fight or flight. When we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, our rest and digest response kicks in.
By practicing paced breathing, the vagus nerve is stimulated to lower the speed of the heart rate and dilate blood vessels. This helps to normalize blood pressure.
- Stress and pain management
Taking slow breaths, helps to manage stress. This paced breathing sends a message that calms the brain, inciting relaxation, a drop in heart rate and normalized breathing, thus reducing your stress.
Similarly, paced breathing exercises can help you manage pain better. Slow breathing allows for a better supply of oxygen to the affected body parts, helping reduce the severity of the pain.
- Improved strength
Studies have shown that paced, slow breathing, especially through nasal breathing, reduces our sensitivity to carbon dioxide allowing for better uptake of oxygen in the blood. Improved carbon dioxide tolerance reduces ventilation during exercise, meaning the athlete can tolerate a higher partial pressure of carbon dioxide in the blood. Hemoglobin releases oxygen more readily to the working muscles and organs meaning the athlete stays aerobic for longer.
- Improved endurance
Many athletes also utilize functional breathing exercises to control their heart rate, prevent burn-out and increase endurance. Paced breathing boosts athletic performance, increases resilience and allows for faster recovery.
- Reduced risk of panic attacks
Panic attacks occur when your nervous system goes into a frenzy. Heartbeat increases, breathing becomes faster and harder and symptoms often include dizziness and muscle tension. A person can also be left feeling like they are suffocating or struggling to breathe.
The goal with paced breathing is to improve everyday breathing patterns, so one is less susceptible to panic attacks.
- Ease the severity of hot flashes
For those going through the menopause, hot flashes (sudden feelings of warmth in the body, usually intense over the neck, chest, and face) are a common issue. Paced breathing is a possible way to address the onset of hot flashes. In a clinical study of 68 women, 58% of those practicing paced breathing two times a day reported a hot flash reduction over the nine week test period, compared to 46% who practiced normal breathing.
- Improved musical performance
Many musicians also learn the art of controlling their breath. Paced breathing makes it easier for professional singers and instrumentalists to sustain long musical notes. With more optimal breathing patterns, the singer is less likely to run out of air.
Paced Breathing Exercise
Sit up straight and close your mouth. You will need to pay close attention to your breath. If you are a beginner to paced breathing, start off gently, the exercise is very simple.
Breathe in silently through your nose for 3 seconds and breathe out silently through nose for 5 seconds. There is no pause between breaths. If this feels very comfortable, you can try breathing in for 4 seconds and out for 6 seconds. A rule of thumb is, the exhalation should be one and a half times the length of inhalation.
When you slow your breathing rate to between 4.5 and 6.5 breaths per minute, you help stimulate the vagus nerve to bring balance to the autonomic nervous system. Slow paced breathing also increases alveolar ventilation. Breathing is more economical when slow.
It is not necessary to breathe between 4.5 and 6.5 breaths per minute all the time. This is an exercise practice. I you practice paced breathing for 10 minutes, daily, it is good, if you practice paced breathing for 10 minutes, two times daily, it is great.
Paced breathing exercises with video and audio instruction are available on the Oxygen Advantage® app.
OA Paced Breathing App: Improve health, mind and body with our custom breath pacer.
The FREE Oxygen Advantage® app teaches you functional breathing exercises for improving health and athletic performance. The OA app contains a wide variety of Slow, Light and Deep breathing exercises which can be tailored to suit your specific needs.
Breathe Slow exercises consist of cadence and paced breathing and can be adapted to suit everyone, regardless of your breathing. The OA app is suitable for people with asthma, PTSD, trauma, and those engaging in physical exercise.
The OA app is a great companion for supporting the work of Oxygen Advantage® instructors and students alike and makes it easier to practice paced breathing exercises at home. Just use the app’s breath pacer and simply follow Patrick’s instructions and the cursor to practice timed breathing exercises.
Choose from a wide variety of background melodies to play while exercising, along with the calming voice of creator Patrick McKeown to guide you.