In yoga, they say that breath is the thread that connects your body to the mind. I love that statement. It’s kind of poetic. The old yogis may not have had research supporting this but breath is one of the only things you can use to indirectly control your heart rate helping you to regulate your stress response. A bit less poetic, right? But the science behind it is really cool.
HOW DOES THIS WORK?
To explain the way this works, we go back to our friend the diaphragm. It’s sometimes even called “the second heart” and you’ll see why in a moment. Last time I mentioned how important it was to make space for this amazing muscle to move by relaxing the belly on the inhale. And today we’ll take it a bit further.
THE SECOND HEART
You see, the diaphragm is actually connected to your heart! And as it moves, it changes the shape of the heart as well. Here’s what it looks like:
Inhale the diaphragm flattens and the heart gets bigger = blood inside the heart moves slower.
Exhale the diaphragm goes up making the heart smaller = blood starts to move quicker through the heart.
THE BRAIN HEART CONNECTION
When the little sensors inside your heart (they’re called sinoatrial nodes but we won’t get into details on them) sense that blood is moving a little too slowly through the heart, they send a message up to your brain which instantly tells the heart to speed up. The same happens in reverse. If they detect blood moving too quickly, the brain sends a signal for the heart rate to slow down.
HACKING YOUR HEART RATE
So how can we utilize this relationship? Simply by using the breath. The simple formula is.
To speed up the heart rate (and increase alertness) = take longer inhales and shorter exhales
To slow down the heart rate (and find calm) = concentrate on the exhale
So the next time you’re about to go on stage and feel your heart rate is getting out of control, try this little hack. You can use a 1:2 ratio of inhale and exhale. For example inhaling for 2 counts, exhaling for 4. As you train this skill, you can build it up to 3:6 or even 4:8.