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Breathe

I have been reading ‘Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art’ by James Nestor and have learned some really valuable insights into how slowing our breathing down can really benefit our overall health and wellbeing.


It’s really simple to learn, and I am so happy to share it with you in this week’s update where we’ll look at breathing as an essential component of Resting Well.

Modern pulmonary research has confirmed that a slow breathing pattern of 5.5-second inhales followed by 5.5-second exhales (which in turn works out almost exactly to 5.5 breaths a minute) increases blood flow to the brain which allows the functions of heart, circulation, and nervous system to align to peak efficiency.


What is fascinating is the fact that this 5.5 second breathing cycle is not a new medical recommendation, but an affirmation of age old practices that have their routes in religious prayer and meditative mantras.


The Buddhist mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”, is a spoken phrase that lasts six seconds. There is then a six seconds inhale before the phrase starts again.


Similarly, the ancient chant of “Om” in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism is held on the exhale breath for six seconds followed by a pause of about six seconds to inhale.


In his book, James Nestor notes that Japanese, African, Hawaiian, Native American, Buddhist, Taoist, and Christian cultures and religions have all developed prayer techniques requiring the same breathing patterns.

Nestor adds that when Italian researchers in 2001 analysed the original Latin version of the Catholic prayer cycle of the Ave Maria, (which is repeated half by a priest and half by the congregation) they were stunned to find that the average number of breaths for each cycle was almost exactly 5.5 breaths a minute.


New York doctors Patricia Gerbarg and Richard Brown, have also used the same slow breathing techniques to restore the lungs of 9/11 survivors and patients with anxiety and depression. Gerbarg and Brown have written books and scientific articles about slow breathing, which has become known as "resonant” or Coherent Breathing.


What I find most striking is that the ancient meditative mantras; the religious prayer cycles and the modern medicinal breathing techniques, all centre on the same 5.5 breaths per minute practice. It seems remarkable that something so simple as just breathing slowly, can have such a profound positive impact on an individual’s mental and physical health.


So, here’s the simple technique:


  • Sit in stillness and take a deep, full, inhale - then exhale and empty your lungs (breathe through your nose if you are comfortable to do so).

  • Take another deep inhale and when you exhale, relax your shoulders, jaw and tongue.

  • Soften your gaze.

  • Now inhale for a count of 5 or 6 seconds (use a clock if you want to be precise) and exhale slowly for a count of 5 or 6 seconds. That’s one breath.

  • Continue with slow, 5 or 6 second inhales and exhales, until you have completed 6 breaths and around a minute of slow breathing overall.

  • Breathe slowly for 5 or 6 minutes.

  • Before you continue with your day, perhaps roll your shoulders or stretch a little.

  • Allow your breathing to return to a more normal everyday rhythm.


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“The yogi’s life is not measured by the number of his [sic] days, but the number of his breaths” B.K.S Iyengar

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At the beginning of my Sound Baths, we always start with a period of slow breathing to settle the mind and body and to bring forward the parasympathetic (rest and digest) side of our nervous system. The sounds then give the mind an anchor to focus on whilst your imagination drifts to wherever you allow it to.


Maintaining slow, even breaths throughout the Sound Bath is also key to achieving a sense of deep relaxation, and for the Sound Bath to be a truly restorative experience.


Why not join me on my next Sound Bath event and try for yourself.

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