Controlling the speed of your heartbeat sounds like something only achievable by meditation masters. In reality, it’s something anyone can do simply by altering their breathing pattern. This is known as heart coherence, also known as cardiac coherence.
In this article, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about heart coherence, including what it is, how breathing affects it, and how it can support your wellness.
What Is Heart Rate Variability?
To understand heart coherence, you must first understand heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is the variance of time between heartbeats. If your heart rate is 60 beats per minute, it’s not actually beating once every second. For example, within a minute, there might be 0.9 seconds between two beats and 1.10 seconds between two others.
What Is Heart Coherence?
Heart coherence is a particular pattern of heart rate variation, where heart rate changes in sync with the breath—speeding up on the inhalation and slowing down on the exhalation. It aims to achieve balance between the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”) and the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”), so that a person is neither a ball of nerves nor completely unresponsive to danger—just perfectly balanced in between.
Heart coherence is characterized by a highly ordered, smooth heart rhythm pattern. On a graph, it looks like smooth waves of roughly the same height bobbing up and down. Coherence doesn’t necessarily involve a reduction in HRV. It might even produce an increase in HRV at times.[*]
Physiologically, heart coherence is experienced as a calm and balanced, yet energized and responsive state that’s conducive to efficient everyday functioning, including the performance of tasks, focus, problem-solving, decision making, physical activity, and coordination.
How Does Breathing Affect Heart Coherence?
So, how do you achieve this balanced state of heart coherence? With coherent breathing.
Breathing is a largely unconscious process, meaning it happens 24/7 in the background without you even having to think about it. What’s unique about breathing is that you can also bring it under conscious control.
As humans, our natural tendency is to breathe at a rate of two to three seconds per inhale and exhale. With coherent breathing, the goal is to extend the length of both the inhale and exhale to about six seconds.[*]
How to start with coherent breathing:
- Breathe in and out:
- Breathe in for four seconds
- Breathe out for four seconds
- Do this for one minute
- Repeat this, but in your second minute, extend inhales and exhales to five seconds
- Repeat again, extending further to six seconds
By consciously adopting this slow, rhythmic breathing pattern, you can change your heart’s rhythm, initiating a shift out of a stressful emotional state into one of increased balance (or coherence).
Why Is Heart Coherence Important?
As you’ve probably noticed, your heart rate speeds up when you’re in a stressful situation. This is the result of the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for triggering the “fight or flight” response. As such, it’s clear that your heart reacts to how you feel.
What’s interesting is that research now tells us that the opposite is also true: your heart’s rhythmic activity can directly influence how you feel.[*] When your heart rate speeds up, it sends signals to your brain telling it that you’re in danger, triggering feelings of stress and anxiety. By fostering a slower, more rhythmic heart rate pattern using your breath, you send a signal back to your brain, telling it that you’re safe. This activates the opposite branch of the autonomic nervous system—the parasympathetic nervous system (or “rest and digest”).
Research about the effects of coherent breathing is still in its infancy, however, the available studies are fascinating and promising. One study showed that coherent breathing may be helpful for reducing depressive symptoms.[*]
How Do You Achieve Heart Coherence with Breathing?
Practicing breathing exercises for heart coherence is like weight training for your nervous system. Through your breathing exercises, you’ll learn what it feels like to be in the calm yet responsive state of heart coherence. With practice, you’ll be able to quickly bring forth this state in your day-to-day life, simply by using your breath. Eventually, heart coherence can become your default state, allowing you to approach the world from a consistent state of balance.
Practicing coherent breathing is simple with the help of Somnox, a jelly bean-shaped companion that mimics human breathing. Using robotic technology, this science-based device expands and deflates as if it’s taking deep, belly breaths.
By simply cradling Somnox, you’ll unconsciously adopt the same slower-paced breathing rhythm. In turn, your heart rate will synchronize to your slowed-down respiration rate, bringing you into a balanced state of heart coherence. Click here to watch a video of Somnox founder, Julian Jagtenberg, demonstrating how breathing with Somnox leads to heart coherence.
Somnox can be used any time of day, but it’s particularly beneficial to use just before going to bed for a restful night’s sleep or just after waking up to set the tone for a peaceful, productive day.
To achieve heart coherence, you can use the ‘Coherence’ breathing exercise within the Somnox app.
How to use:
- Hold Somnox 2, turn it on, and set it to the above settings.
- With the feature Somnox Sense turned on, smart sensors respond to your breathing in real-time, matching your rhythm and gradually adjusting it to the ideal rate.
- Feel your nerves relax, tension release, and your heart rate regulate.
- If you’re using it for sleep, continue deeply breathing until you fall asleep. With the help of Somnox 2, you’re sure to fall asleep quickly, stay asleep, and wake up feeling rested.
Take our online sleep test to determine if Somnox is right for you.
A Final Word
As you now understand, controlling your heart rate isn’t something reserved for meditation gurus. Anyone can achieve heart coherence by practicing coherent breathing.
In the harmonious state of heart coherence, your heart, mind, and body align, helping you achieve a state of autonomic nervous system equilibrium. From this balanced state, you can better approach the world with positivity, enthusiasm, and calm confidence.