September 9, 2021

Cardiac coherence, or how to breathe for better health

Stress reduction, prevention of insomnia, control of emotions, improvement in concentration, better recovery, lower cardiovascular risk — this breathing technique enables you to improve your everyday life, but where to start?

What is cardiac coherence?

It may be defined as a personal breathing exercise intended to regulate your heart rate, increase its variability and synchronise the activity of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

To put it plainly, it is about breathing with a certain frequency, over a certain period, to achieve a physiological and mental balance. It has some immediate benefits, while others are acquired over time.

The concept originated in the US, where it was developed in the 1990s. However, the idea that breathing properly is beneficial is not new.  It is even intuitive and has crossed centuries, oceans and religions. Prana , one of the key principles of yoga, or chi, beloved of Chinese origin Taoists, are two examples of its universal appeal.

Cardiac coherence brings a medical theory and a standard practice to the table. However, be aware, no scientific study shows it is more beneficial than other relaxation techniques.

The medical theory: at the heart of the nervous system

The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are key to the cardiac coherence theory. 

Both ensure the functioning of the autonomic nervous system, but with opposite effects. The first prepares the organism for action (production of adrenalin, acceleration in the heart rate, perspiration, etc.), while the second activates relaxation mechanisms (production of acetylcholine, lowering of blood pressure and heart rate, activation of digestion, etc.).

All our internal organs and our vital functions are  governed by these nervous systems. Our good health therefore depends on the proper balance between them. Research has shown a direct link between the balance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and health problems such as heart disease, hypertension, depression and anxiety.

Breathing in stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, while breathing out stimulates the parasympathetic system. We can therefore understand how the cardiac coherence breathing exercise would influence this balance.

How do I perform cardiac coherence?

A typical session lasts 5 minutes, during which you have to breathe 30 times. To start with, the well-known 3-6-5 method consists of performing, 3 times a day, 6 breathing cycles, for 5 minutes. Each cycle breaks down into 5 seconds of breathing in and 5 seconds of breathing out. The best times to do this are: upon waking up, at bedtime, and sometime during the day, because guided breathing promotes a state of calm and relief, and reduces stress.

Breathe in through your nose while inflating your abdomen, and breathe out through your mouth, lips pursed, while pulling in your stomach. Try to coordinate your breathing with your heart beat, until it slows down and stabilises.

Posture: a seated position with a straight back is recommended, because cardiac coherence does not work well when lying down, for anatomical and physiological reasons.

Everyone has their own method to count breaths, their duration and the length of the exercise. There are some very simple tricks (counting, drawing waves with your finger), but you can also use one of the numerous applications for smartphones available in Android and Apple stores.

In conclusion

Cardiac coherence is a natural, simple, safe and free method that does you good.

Although some of the health claims have still not been scientifically validated, it undoubtedly helps you to unwind, banish stress, and even get to sleep more easily. It would be a shame to deprive yourself of it!

Don’t wait any longer, and make this ritual part of your everyday life now.

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