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The term “Paced” means that breathing is guided by visual or auditory regulation of inhalation and exhalation – in other words, following a specific cadence or breathing pattern.
Recent findings have shown that breathing regulation isn’t simply an automatic, almost mechanical job performed by the brainstem. Instead, researchers found very peculiar neural networks in the cerebral cortex (more specifically in the insula), which are coupled with breathing that is consciously (intentionally) performed.
Increased activity in these brain regions was linked with improved cognitive functions and better body awareness. It also turned out that voluntary, mindful breathing can quickly and significantly regulate the autonomic nervous system.
In addition to that, slow-paced, natural diaphragmatic breathing is assumed to increase the activity of the afferent branch of the vagus nerve. Its stimulation launches the restorative function of the parasympathetic nervous system, which can decrease subjective feelings of anxiety, perceived stress, and mood swings.
It’s very important to underline that those effects are much stronger when exhalation lasts longer than inhalation – which is why this breathing pattern utilizes a very long exhalation phase.
This paced breathing pattern will help you slow down the breath and take yourself out of fight-or-flight mode thanks to the help of elongated exhales.
Stress is a nightmare for digestion. Instead, use this pattern to beat it by focusing your attention on the diaphragm, or the belly, you can increase vagal tone and activate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, the rest-and-digest mode.
How To Perform Paced Breathing
Begin by inhaling through the nose to the count of 4. As you inhale, you should feel the belly rise as you engage the diaphragm. The chest and shoulders should remain level.
Then, exhale to the count of 8 through the nose, allowing the belly to descend back to its natural position before beginning again.
If you find this pattern hard to follow, check out the Tranquility for a more beginner-friendly variation.
Use mindfulness to become aware of your breathing
There are a lot of benefits of voluntary, mindful slow breathing for overall health, and especially stress-related physiology.
If you pay particular attention to the breath during this Paced Breathing Exercise, you can increase your awareness of bodily states and therefore facilitate and support your body in returning to emotional balance and flexibility.
Just follow your every breath – experience the sensation of air passing your throat, feel how your ribs and diaphragm expand and collapse, recognize room temperature and distinguish different smells.
Thanks to the increased hippocampal coherence that is related to breath tracking, your brain will have perfect conditions to increase its productivity.
Slow, mindful breathing improves cognitive performance and memory recall. It also facilitates action of the parasympathetic nervous system, working as an extremely effective buffer to stress and a potent mood enhancer.
For tension & stress take a slow, NOT deep breath!
Intense and stressful situations launch a sympathetic (fight-or-flight) response in our bodies. Calming down requires engagement of the parasympathetic nervous system, which can be represented by certain biomarkers, including vagal tone and Heart Rate Variability. HRV modulation is highly dependent on the respiration frequency, increasing as breathing slows.
Prolonged and deepened inhalation may have an opposite effect to the intended one. You should focus more on breathing proportions – extended exhalations are the key to quick calmness!
Just let go
While extended exhales are great, there are times when you may find it difficult to prolong your exhalation for more than 4 or 5 seconds. We recommend that you do your best to avoid forcing long exhalations, especially while performing techniques that aim at relaxation.
It’s much better to end the exhalation naturally, even a few seconds before time runs out than by forcefully squeezing your belly.
Forcing it will only turn relaxing exercise into annoying exercise. Instead, just let it go. Breathe out smoothly and naturally, without unnecessary effort.
Breathe out smoothly and naturally, using your diaphragm and nose, without unnecessary effort.