Several years ago, while looking for simple, natural methods that could help to relieve a growing stress disorder I was enduring at that time, I discovered a wonderful book, “The Instinct to Heal: Curing Depression, Anxiety and Stress without drugs and without Talk Therapy” from Professor David Servan-Schreiber.
This book was revealing to me because it helped me considerably to better control my emotions, opening the path to a new breathing technique, which is very easy to practice, but above all, wonderfully effective: breathing with cardiac coherence.
Stemming from researches conducted in neuroscience and cardiology, the concept of cardiac coherence first appeared in the US in 1995 through the work of researchers at the HeartMat Institute, who studied emotions and their responses on the body. They thus demonstrated the many beneficial health effects of this therapeutic practice, particularly in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and stress management.
In 2003, it was later introduced in Europe thanks to Professor David Servan-Schreiber, through his book “The instinct to heal” , which allowed the general public to become familiar with this method.
This practice is now recommended by many doctors because of its strong impact on stress management and its very simple use. For several years, it has been also applied to training programs for high-level professional athletes as well as Air Force combat pilots:
WHEN OUR HEART IS BEATING…
The heart is under the control of the autonomic nervous system, which automatically and involuntarily manages almost all the regulations and modifications of our organism : body temperature, blood sugar levels, digestion, levels of all hormones, waking and sleeping phases, sensations of hunger and satiety, respiratory rate, body weight, menstrual cycles, heart rate and many other variables that are continuously and independently adjusted, in an unconscious way! Our nervous system consists of two branches :
- The sympathetic nervous system that prepares us for the fight or flight response by mobilising our energy for this eventuality; it mainly uses adrenaline and accelerates the heart to increase blood flow and blood pressure, by providing oxygen and glucose, both essential for the muscles.
- The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for peace and relaxation, restoration and reconstruction of our resources. It soothes and slows the heartbeats via the vagus nerve.
When recording our heart rate with an electrocardiogram, we can observe that our heart permanently beats faster and slower in an erratic way. The heart rate variability reflects the action of the autonomic nervous system: when the curve rises, the heart accelerates (the sympathetic system acts as an accelerator) and when it goes down, the heart slows down (this is the intervention of the parasympathetic system which acts as a brake).
This heart rate variability is actually a direct and instantaneous response to the information received by the nervous system, coming from our outdoor or indoor environment. Each situation stimulates or inhibits one or the other of these two nervous systems which continuously regulate and stabilise our body to preserve life . This “chaotic” heartbeat state is a normal adjustment to our everyday life.
The significance of heart rate variability is measured by its magnitude and its regularity: the higher and homogeneous it is, the healthier we become. Any practice that feels good, such as an activity, a behaviour or lifestyle conducive to health and well-being, allows us to gradually increase the range of the heart rate variability .
By measuring this variability, we can thus observe how our thoughts and emotions directly affect the heart and nervous system.
WHEN OUR HEART AND OUR BRAIN ARE IN HARMONY …
Therefore, the heartbeat reflects our emotional state.
In syndromes of stress, anxiety, depression or anger, the heart rate variability between 2 beats becomes irregular and chaotic as we can see in the following red graph:
In the states of well-being, kindness or gratitude (blue graph above), the variability of heartbeat becomes consistent, that is to say the alternation between acceleration and deceleration is regular. The two branches of the autonomic nervous system will work together with maximum efficiency rather than fighting against each other .When our mind and our heart, that is to say our thoughts and emotions are in harmony, we immediately feel soothed and calm. Blood pressure and heart rate gradually fall, serenity settles in and our mind is at rest, but alert.
It is therefore about controlling our heartbeat through a guided breathing pattern to manage our brain better… Not so simple? But yes, you will see :
When we inspire the heartbeat accelerates, there is an inhibition of the parasympathetic system (the brake) : it is as if we had taken our foot off the brake downhill, the car accelerates.
When we expire, the heartbeat slows. Blowing compresses the abdomen by directly stimulating the parasympathetic system (brake) that slows down the heart. It is as if one were braking on the descent, the car slows down.
It is therefore possible to control acceleration and deceleration of our heart by regulating our breathing, it is a backdoor that allows us to influence our autonomic system that we had previously considered to be uncontrollable. Cardiac coherence is that particular state of cardiac variability induced by voluntary breathing which increases the cardiac amplitude, synchronisation with breathing and above all has many positive effects on our overall health and well-being.
BREATHING BENEFITS THROUGH CARDIAC COHERENCE
- Immediate sensation of well-being and calm
- Increase of the effectiveness of the immune system
- Improved concentration and memory
- Decrease in attention disorders and hyperactivity
- Improved recovery after exercise for athletes
- Lowers pain
- Decrease in emotional responsiveness and perceived stress
- Reduction of anxiety and depression
- Better regulation of blood sugar in diabetics
- Weight loss
- Harmonisation of the different body systems (respiratory, immune, cardiac and digestive)
- Increased DHEA which plays a major role in slowing down the ageing process.
- Decreased blood pressure in cases of mild and moderate arterial hypertension.
- Better tolerance to pain (migraines, sciatica and neuralgia)
- Improvement of asthma
- Impact on reducing pathological inflammation
- Reduction in cardiovascular risk
You will quickly perceive the 1st benefits, reaching a deep sense of calm and relief thanks to this breathing method. In the long run, if you practice the cardiac coherence exercises consistently, that is to say every day, 3 times a day at a minimum, for 5 minutes, you will progress much further.
THE BASIC EXERCISE: THE “365” METHOD TO BE IN CARDIAC COHERENCE …
The main effect of a cardiac coherence session is to balance the emotions and refocus by regulating cortisol, the stress hormone. It is therefore important to maintain this state of equilibrium throughout the day. The number 365 is a simple mnemonics to help you to remember how to breathe in cardiac coherence:
The number 3 for THREE TIMES A DAY
The physiological and psychological effects of breathing in cardiac coherence have a duration of four hours on average after the end of the practice. This is why 3 daily sessions at 4-hour intervals are needed to maintain its beneficial effects throughout the day.
♥ The 1st session should be practiced as soon as possible after waking, ideally before breakfast, because it is the time of the day when our cortisol is at its highest, in response to request , threats and tasks that we will have to perform throughout the day.
♥ The 2nd session, four hours after the first, should be held preferably before lunch. It helps us to mitigate events that occurred in the morning, stimulate and prepare the next meal digestion and moderate the second cortisol peak which appears early in the afternoon.
♥ The 3rd session is to be scheduled for mid to late afternoon, a period that generally corresponds to a change of pace and life: our work or study day is over and we need to address the ‘ second life’ in the house, where other tasks and duties await us.
The number 6 for SIX RESPIRATIONS PER MINUTE
Scientific research has shown that cardiac coherence is at its maximum efficiency when the respiration rate reaches 6 breaths (inspiration-expiration) per minute. It Is the respiration that provides optimal increase amplitude of the heart rate variability .
You will be practicing every day, 3 times a day with 6 breathing cycles, that is to say 6 inspirations-expirations per minute.
The number 5 for FIVE MINUTES DURATION
The duration of 5 minutes for this exercise is actually a compromise between several constraints since the first effects of cardiac coherence are already obtained after 3 minutes of practice and its maximum is reached after 20 minutes of exercise; we also know that the intrusive thoughts usually occur after 5 minutes of exercise . It was therefore necessary to find an optimal length, simple and applicable to everyone.
In a quiet environment where you will not be disturbed, sit comfortably on a chair facing a table , keeping your back straight, feet on the ground and both hands on your thighs. For the duration of the exercise, you will focus all your attention on your inspiration and expiration , visualising the back and forth movement in the air, imagining your breath as a succession of gentle waves that swell and spread.
So you’ll breathe every day as follows, 3 times a day, for 5 minutes:
- Inhale through the nose for 5 seconds by inflating your belly
- Then exhale through your mouth for five seconds by contracting your abdomen
To help you to track the number of seconds during this guided breathing, I recommend that you download RespiRelax application for iPhone and iPad, which is free of charge. You will simply inspire when the bubble goes up and exhale when it goes down, without worrying about counting the five seconds required to inspire and the following 5 to expire.
You can also download Respiroguide from Google play Respiroguide application, an application for android, free of charge.
And now, be inspired by this video … to breathe harmoniously !