Which Breathing Technique Tests Best?


In an earlier post, I talked about a way of breathing recommended by HeartMath, in which you breathe with awareness and appreciation into your heart area. This helps your body get into “coherence,” where everything is in balance as measured by Heart Rate Variability.

HeartMath recommends a paced breathing, e.g. 5 breaths in, 5 breaths out, in an even rhythm.

Other people recommend breathing out slightly longer than breathing in,  claiming it does something in the brain to turn off the stress response. For instance, I heard a teleseminar for Highly Sensitive People in which Julie Bjelland shared a breathing technique that uses the 4-2-7 rhythm: breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 2 seconds, exhale for a count of 7.

Dr. Andrew Weil advocates the 4-7-8 rhythm as best, which is what I’ve been using most.

Other people suggest a 7-11 or 5-8 breathing pattern–no holding of the breath.

I thought it would be fun to test all these techniques with my EmWave, a portable device for measuring Heart Rate Variability, the test used to measure the coherence of the autonomic nervous system.

Which technique got me into the “green zone” (coherence) quickest (like the “appreciation graph above), which sustained it best? Read on!

5-5 Rhythm. Breathing 5 seconds in, 5 seconds out gave erratic results. It took 13 seconds to go from red to blue, and 50 seconds to get into the green area, which means coherence–those nice sine waves you see in the “appreciation” image. I only stayed in that green for 55 seconds before it went to blue again; changed to green 20 seconds later. Bottom line: This pace had the most variation, and sustained the coherence for the least amount of time.

5-8 Rhythm. Breathing in for 5 counts, out for 8, was also erratic. It took a lot longer to get to green, kept going back and forth, stayed in the green area for no more than 3:15 at a time. Bottom line: This pace is a little better than the even breathing above, but still was erratic and did not sustain the coherence well.

7-11 Rhythm. This pace was the most difficult for me, but it did give better results. It took 20 seconds to go from red to blue, 13 seconds later went back to red, 11 seconds later went to green, but sustained that coherence for almost five minutes.

4-2-7 Pattern. For this breathing pattern, you inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 2 seconds, exhale for 7 seconds. It took 8 seconds to get to blue, another 8 to get to green. Seven seconds later, went back to blue, but 6 seconds later went to green and sustained it for almost 4 minutes. It went to blue briefly, then 4 seconds later went to green and sustained that for another 1:35, when it went to red (probably because I was done). This technique not only got me to coherence quickest, but sustained it the longest and kept me out of the red. The winner!

4-7-8 Pattern. This is the one I’ve been using, and it has invariably helped me get to sleep. This pattern took 40 seconds to finally get into the green zone, and it sustained it for less than a minute. Lots of going back and forth–red, blue, green. After 4 and a half minutes, it stated in coherence for 3 whole minutes, and may have gone longer had I not had to stop.  So this one maybe comes in second.

Summary. Here is how each technique placed, in my admittedly very unscientific trial. Test these for yourself, and let us know which works for YOU the best by posting your comment.

  1. 4-2-7
  2. 4-7-8
  3. 7-11
  4. 5-8
  5. 5-5

If you are interested in monitoring your Heart Rate Variability on your own, I recommend you check out the HeartMath store for options.

If you would like help with getting rid of the unconscious stress from negative memories and feelings, wrong beliefs, and harmful actions that would keep your body in that “frustration” zone in the graph above–even if you’re unaware of it– consider getting some coaching.


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