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Breath control

Think of your breathing as either "Wake-Up, Calm, or Calmer". Calm breath is balancing, always a good choice, day or night; and it can be used freely without a worry. Calmer breath is down-regulating, relieves stress, and can help put you to sleep. Wake-Up breath is up-regulating, wakes you up, and prepares your body for activity and exercise.

Your breathing pattern is defined primarily by your rate of breathing, meaning how fast or how slowly you breathe. As you’re reading this now, you’re probably breathing about 8-15 breaths per minute. This slightly-elevated breathing pattern is the “normal” in today’s busy world. You can affect your breath and your nervous system response in a matter of minutes simply by changing your breathing rate.

CALM: Balanced Breathing: 4-6 breaths per minute.

When you breathe 4-6 breaths per minute, it has an adaptogenic effect on your nervous system. If you’re up, it will bring you down; if you’re down, it will bring you up. You can practice Calm Breath standing, seated, lying down, and even while driving. Like drinking a glass of water, it’s always safe, always appropriate, and always healthful.

• Practice any time, day or night

• Use before high-stress meetings or presentations

• Use if you’re feeling sluggish midday

• Use during all yoga practices and low-intensity exercise

CALMER: Down-Regulating Breath: < 4 breaths per minute.

When you reduce your breath below 4 breaths per minutes, it triggers a strong parasympathetic (rest and digest nervous system response, reduces your heart rate, reduces activity in skeletal muscles, and improves digestion. This type of breathing is great after meals, in the evening, and most-commonly, right before bed. This practice should be done seated or lying down, and never while driving or doing anything standing or active.

• Use primarily before bed

• Can be used (with care) to reduce intense stress or anxiety

• After eating, this breathing pattern can aid in digestion

WAKE-UP: Up-Regulating: > 20 breaths per minute.

When you breathe at the rate of 20 breaths per minute or more, it stimulates your sympathetic nervous system which is ideal before exercise, before busy or task- related work, and also in the morning. Rapid breathing reduces CO2 in the bloodstream which leads to constriction of your breathing passageways and veins, so it should be practiced briefly, with care, and only at appropriate times. Never practice while driving.

  • Use first thing in the morning

  • Use to move out of lethargy


WARNING: breathing practices should never be done while swimming or bathing. These are dry-land practices only. Under no circumstances should you submerge in ice or water.

I am a qualified YOGABODY Breath coach and can help you use breathing techniques to manage how the nervous system acts. I can help you use simple techniques for relaxation and controlled breathing which can make a huge difference if you experience high levels of stress or anxiety.

Technical Notes:

Although the language used above is non-scientific, there is a significant amount of research that demonstrates the validity of adopting controlled breathing techniques to improve wellbeing; "Sudarshan Kriya yoga, a sequence of specific breathing techniques can alleviate anxiety, depression, everyday stress, post-traumatic stress, and stress-related medical illnesses. Mechanisms contributing to a state of calm alertness include increased parasympathetic drive, calming of stress response systems, neuroendocrine release of hormones, and thalamic generators." (Brown & Gerbarg, 2005).


Brown, R. P., & Gerbarg, P. L. (2005). Sudarshan Kriya yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression: part I-neurophysiologic model. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 11(1), 189–201.

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