Rhythmic Breathing

Nature’s display of rhythms surrounds us on a day by day basis. Whether it’s the ebb and flow of the waves as the sea greets the land, the rise and fall of the tides, or the opening and closing of flowers, these are all naturally occurring. When we align our breath to a consistent rhythm we feel a natural coherence and sometimes a deeper connectedness to our surroundings.   

Yogi Ramachakara in the acclaimed book on yogic breathing,  ‘Science Of Breath’ written in 1903, talks extensively about how and why ‘rhythmic breathing’ is the secret to attaining physical, spiritual and even psychic mastery according to the master yogis on India.

Where Intention Goes, Breath Flows…

When you have erratic thoughts or are in a low emotional state such as fear, anger or anxiety your breathing become erratic, and so does your heart rhythms.

However when you are in emotional states like passion and joy, the number one factor for being in ‘flow’, your breathing becomes more smooth, consistent and rhythmical, and your heart rhythms become more ‘coherent’.

By changing your attention to creating a more positive intention by focusing on gratitude, forgiveness or a scene of success rather than failure you can create coherence.

However by simply bringing your attention to your breath, and breathing more consciously you can change the quality of your emotions and heart rhythms.

The way we measure the quality of heart rhythms is by measuring a factor called heart rate variability, HRV.

What Is Heart Rate Variability (HRV)?

You may not be aware that your heart beats at a slightly different pace all the time, meaning the distance between one beat and the next is constantly changing. The variability of the change in the interval between each individual heart beat can be measured as Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

You can tell a lot about your performance and health just by monitoring your HRV over the course of a day.

Your heart rate fluctuates throughout the day as your heart adapts to changes in your physiology, energy and stressors. If it was totally consistent, it is a sign you heart cannot adapt to stress anymore, and you are about to die!

So heart rate variability is a measure of how much your heart rate fluctuates, i.e the difference in the interval time between each heartbeat should continuously change, indicating a sign that your heart is very adaptive and resilient to stress.

According to Dr Alan Watkins, a medical doctor and neuroscientist who uses HRV extensively to improve performance and productivity, there are now some 19,000 published scientific papers that explore the different aspects of HRV and it can be used for the following:

  • HRV can predict illness and death crucial for succession planning
  • HRV quantifies energy levels and levels of dynamism crucial to performance
  • HRV is intimately linked to brain function crucial to effective decision making
  • HRV relates to individual identity which is highly relevant to authentic leadership

How HRV is related to breathing

When you inhale, you stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and your heart rate goes up. When you exhale, you stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and your heart rate goes down.

Therefore through rhythmic breathing you can create cardiac coherence because rhythmic breathing results in your heart rate varying in a consistent way with each breath, which is a more efficient use of energy.

Eliminate The Pause

The easiest way to ensure you begin to breathe with rhythm is to eliminate the pause between each breath with  consistent timing. It is often this pause that creates irregular breathing patterns that leads to incoherent HRV patterns. Keeping your breath smooth, connected and circular with no pause is the foundations for effective rhythmic breathwork.

However there is a point when holding your breath for a certain length of time (Kumbhaka) can be the key to unlocking your superhuman potential. We will discuss this in depth later.