I was given the opportunity to preview a new app called The Breathing App in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own and should not be taken as health care advice. Always consult your health care provider with questions or concerns about your health and well-being.
Feeling stressed? Overwhelmed? Anxious? Who doesn’t?! Most of us live stressful, fast-paced lives and if you are like me, you sometimes feel like you are barely keeping your head above water. Back when I was raising small kids, working, starting a business, studying for my PhD, and just dealing with anything else life would throw at me, I felt stressed pretty much all the time. I can remember being (barely) awake until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning working on papers for school, then sleeping for just an hour or two before getting up for a 12-hour work day. I would get to the point of such sheer exhaustion and eventually became pretty much ineffective at just about everything I was doing. Sound familiar?
During some of those long and sleepless nights I would get palpitations where it felt as if my heart was racing and about to jump out of my chest. I eventually had a complete cardiac work-up including a CT perfusion scan only to find out what I pretty much already knew; it was stress. That was 15 years ago and while I’m done with school, my kids are grown, and my business is thriving, I still have my moments. What I learned all those years ago was the benefit of deep breathing exercises to help calm myself when I was feeling most stressed. For the most part I winged it, literally just saying to myself, ‘slow down, take a deep breath, just…breathe‘, and within minutes the palpitations would go away.
It’s no surprise my heart rate went up when I was stressed, and it’s no coincidence controlling my breathing helped slow it down. There is much research and science behind the health effects of slow, deep breathing and how it affects the heart rate. Most of this research relates to heart rate variability, or HRV. As it turns out, it’s good to have variability in your heart rate, rather than a consistent, elevated heart rate as I experienced when I was most stressed. Improving your HRV has been shown in numerous studies to improve health, mood, and adaptability. Heart activity is controlled by the autonomic (think automatic) nervous system (ANS). The ANS is involved in things we typically can’t (or don’t need to) control like heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion, plus several other bodily functions. The ANS is divided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system elevates your heart rate (as with the fight-or-flight response), and the parasympathetic nervous system slows the heart rate to help calm and restore. Normally we have a balance between the two, but after repeated stress situations, that balance is disrupted and can become out of control. Slow, controlled breathing exercises can help bring that balance back.
One of the chief ways to improve your HRV is to identify your unique resonance frequency (RF) breathing rate. The RF breathing rate ranges between 4.5 and 7 breaths per minute, with the average being 6 breaths per minute. Compared to a ‘normal’ adult breathing rate of 12 to 20 breaths per minute, slowing your breaths to 6 per minute can be difficult. But of course, there’s an app for that! You can read all about the app and the science behind it here. The app can be downloaded to your iPhone and will soon be available for Android phones as well. It is simple and easy to use, with several options to choose from.
First, you will choose how long you would like to practice breathing, ranging from 1 to 30 minutes. My first time trying the app I did it for just 3 minutes so I can get a feel for how it works. Since then, I’ve built up to 10 minute sessions.
Next you will choose your breathing ratio. You have four options:
Inhale for four seconds, exhale for six seconds
Inhale for five seconds, exhale for five seconds
Inhale for six seconds, exhale for six seconds (true resonance)
Inhale for five seconds, exhale for seven seconds
I chose the 6:6 ratio since it was listed as ‘true’ resonance, which I imagine should be the goal. Last, you will choose from one of three screens: One with an inflating and deflating ball to visually pace your inhalation and exhalation times, a clock that counts the two phases in seconds, and a musical sound breathing guide where you can keep your eyes closed and listen for cues. I chose the inflating/deflating ball as I am a visual person and thought seeing the seconds tick away on the clock would actually stress me out!
The nice thing about this app is its simplicity. The creators set out to do one thing–help you control and regulate your breathing–and that’s exactly what it does. It can be used anywhere as long as you have your phone and if you’re like me, that’s pretty much all the time (which is probably why we are all so stressed!) I like using it with the Legs on the Wall pose, which in itself is very relaxing to me. The musical cues feature would be great on your morning commute or whenever you just want to close your eyes and relax your breathing. I plan to incorporate resonance breathing into my daily routine. If I can reduce or prevent stress by doing breathing exercises just 10 or 20 minutes a day, it is well worth the time and effort.
Do you practice resonance breathing? What other routines or tools do you use to help relieve stress?