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Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises and the Vagus Nerve (2017) (psychologytoday.com)
248 points by walterbell on Mar 20, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 86 comments



Yoga (proper yoga, not the gymnastics they do in most gyms) is all about stimulating the vagus nerve and several others. The "locks" (bandhas) and various breathing exercises (pranayama) all work on it in different ways and stimulate different parts of the nerve. If you really want to juice it up add in some breath retention.

Eventually you reach a sort of homeostatic state where your breath just naturally suspends, and that's when the doorway to the inner world opens.

There's more about the nerves in The Accidental Yogi's ebook (free online), and more about breath retention in Kundalini Exposed (on Kindle). The "Supreme Kriya Fire" technique in that book is the absolute real deal, but definitely not for beginners. Beginners may want to start with Yogani's free lessons at aypsite.org.

Remember - Kundalini is not a game. Work up slowly to avoid negative side effects.


As someone who has been programming for 20 years, and experienced a lot of stress from it, it seems to be like I have been unwittingly practising 'anti yoga.'

When I code difficult problems, my breathing becomes light and shallow and from the chest: almost the way you would breathe if nervously anticipating some outcome.

The physical posture is more often than not slumped in a chair, and locked into a narrow range of motion, due to needing to use the keyboard and mouse.

The mental experience is often one of stress due to time pressure, or due to the confusing and often frustrating nature of the work.

The physical body reflects the mental state, when frustrated or confused or even angry, the body tightens, especially in the neck and shoulders.

I'm sure it's possible to program and not to fall into these traps, but for me more often than not this is how it seems to go.


It’s not easy, it takes time and effort, but it can be overcome. Mindfulness, setting periodic alarm reminders (at first frequently and then less so) to sit up straight and breathe deeply, meditation, all help a lot. The problem is that it can take a while to start to see results, and people often give up. They’ll come back to it when they pull something or herniate a disc, but until then posture and breathing are not a priority.

You can definitely do it though, it just takes some initial inconvenience and effort. The payoff is not insignificant though, including positive impacts on productivity!


> The problem is that it can take a while to start to see results, and people often give up.

I recall listening to two pretty well known experts in mindfulness meditation, and they said it can take thousands of hours of practice before you start to see profound results. Like anything, it requires practice and patience.


One thing I've found helpful is the training I've done for freediving, which is a lot about relaxation and breathing. And while I've done a lot of "wet" training (exercises in the water), a lot of the exercises can be done "dry" (sitting or lying down) and there's a number of apps on the various app stores (search 'apnea') that will guide you through the necessary breathing exercises.

By building the techniques to do 5-8 min breath holds, you learn to almost reflexively enter a very relaxed state that lets your body use oxygen more slowly. So now when I start feeling stressed, I inhale fully, hold for 3-4 min and then do a ~30 second exhale and all my stress just melts away. As a bonus, I don't get winded as easily and I recover from exercise to a normal breathing pattern much more quickly than I used to.


Hold for 3-4 minutes?!?! I feel like I'm going to die if I hold my breath for more than about 30 seconds


That's because you haven't trained.

When I first started, despite swimming on a fairly regular basis, the longest I could hold for was 90 seconds and to hold that long was agony. But in doing the exercises, learning to relax during a hold and learning that the feeling in the diaphragm isn't a lack of oxygen but, rather, a build up of CO2 which doesn't need to be obeyed, I improved. Over the course of the next 6 months doing 15-25 minutes 3-4 mornings a week, I got my max time up to just over 7 minutes. That requires a full breathe-up, lying prone and I can only achieve that if I haven't eaten in a while since digestion seems to require oxygen. I do the 3-4 minute holds because they're about my limit when sitting upright and not going through my full preparation.

With training, I'm fairly confident I can get anyone under 60 who's reasonably healthy to the point where they can hold for 4 minutes. Really fit people in their 20s can usually train up to 8-10 min holds. What truly gifted apnea specialists can do is nothing short of astonishing [1].

To start, the first thing that most people can learn pretty quickly is to resist the urge to breathe. When CO2 builds up, it causes involuntary contractions of the diaphragm. These usually start to occur 1/3 to 1/2 of the way through a person's maximum hold time, but don't signify an actual need to breathe. So a good rule of thumb is to shoot for double the time when you notice your first contraction. But to ignore what feels like a reflex to breathe takes practice, and that's where the exercises fit in.

My favorite exercise is a form of what's known as a CO2 table...an exercise where you're never short of oxygen, but you don't give your body adequate opportunity to expel CO2 and it builds up. The exercise I do follows the form inhale 1x, hold 4x, exhale 2x where x is whatever level you're currently at. In your case, if you can hold for 30 seconds, you'd start at around a 4 second level, which means you'd inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 16 seconds and then exhale for 8 seconds. Repeat that cycle for, to start, about 15 minutes. I like to lie down when I do my exercise, but some people like to sit, just make sure to relax and breathe normally for about a minute before starting. As you improve, you can up the level while maintaining the 1x-4x-2x ratio and also increase the overall time. My current timing is level 17 seconds and do the cycle for 25-30 min.

Eventually, after building CO2 tolerance, you work on what's known as O2 tables, which accustom the body to lower levels of oxygen, but those are more advanced and should probably be done with supervision. Two other notes to anyone wanting to experiment with this kind of thing...never hyperventilate before attempting a breathe hold, which purges CO2 from the body and can result in actually running out of O2 before the CO2 build up causes an urge to breathe, and never do wet training (in the water) without a qualified training partner. The last one should go without saying, but some people still push their limits and drown.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L89kY5ewgqU


Apart from practicing deep breathing periodically, you might want try getting a lacrosse ball and using it for deep point massage. I was able to release a lot of tension from my neck and shoulders with one. Also, a theraband was recommended to me by a physio so I could do flys to help pull my shoulders back into proper alignment.

I'd recommend seeing a physio - one did me the world of good and was able to suggest exercises and make me aware of what good posture looked like. I've had to do a lot of core strength work to fix bad habits and now I feel much better.


I do this a lot too, and just one word of warning from personal experience: don’t overwork one spot, or apply steady pressure to one spot for a long time. The former is going to cause a feedback loop of swelling and irritation, leading to more overwork, and so on. The latter just hurts, and impinges on circulation.

For the lower back, I recommend a “foam roller” although it hurts at first, my god does it help.


Trigger point balls, can recommend for all sorts of muscle pain and stiffness. I have one at my desk to work out any knots that I get from sitting all day.


What kind of negative side-effects are you referring to? I've heard a fair number of people talk about high-level Yoga stuff being dangerous, but I've never really understood what they meant. Is it related to the suspension of breath, like risk of unconsciousness? Long term joint damage? (BTW, thanks for the book rec -- Kundalini Exposed looks pretty interesting).


"""What kind of negative side-effects are you referring to?"""

When one enters that stage of yoga, if they've been a good little yogi and done the preliminary physical preparations (which may take decades (or you hit the jackpot and are born into a magnificent constitution, maybe a few years)), they can begin the real 'yoga', which is mainly just seated meditation. It is akin to performing surgery on the central nervous system and most importantly, its main channel running along the spinal column(shushumna).

If one is not prepared correctly, as an inexperienced surgon performing brain surgery, cutting the wrong cords or becoming stressed/frightened at the wrong time could be disasterous when operating on your subconscious autonomic nervous sytem (and even deeper!) there is a reason everyday humans cant control that stuff voluntarily!

joint damage etc pale in comparison to cutting the wrong wires on that low level state in the nervous system. Think voluntarily giving yourself psychosis or Multiple Sclerosis or launching a schizophrenic rogue subroutine in your body that randomly regulates temperature, making you icy cold one moment, pulling blankets over you, then burning hot 3 minutes later, as you run for the cool bathroom tile floor in the basement to lie down on.

But hey, what else are you going to do in life?


This sounds.. I don’t know, made up? Giving yourself MS by meditating? Isn’t it more likely that in such cases the vague nerve got damaged or a forgotten trauma reactivated? Do you have any references you can point me to?


MS is an autoimmune disorder. Claiming that you could voluntarily give yourself the condition through counterproductive meditation is emblematic of the general mystic nonsense of yogiism. You'll never be able to levitate, either.


Sorry, I wasn't "claiming" it gives a person MS, more so i used the word "Think" as a colloquial sentence starter to get the person's mindset visualizing how certain dis-eases can alter a nervous system's function. Esp at the later stages of the practice, usually after decades of sense refinement from body scanning.


yeah i didn't mean it literally! I thought starting the phrase with "Think X, Y" just to give a flavour of how one can mess up their internal nervous system functioning. Of course MS is different , but some of the symptoms that may arise from screwing up your kundalini energy: loss of control over nerves, involuntary shakes, toes locked in a curl for the rest of your life etc... just trying to give an overall view. language is so poor at communicating experience esp. when its dealing with inner transformation. Like the other comment says though, yes, watchout for charlatans and investigate the practice for yourself, never take a text at face value. goodluck with this lifetime's journey if you decide to heed the call.


There are potential negative effects, but the above is... Well, yeah, here is some more legit info on the subject: https://www.nhs.uk/news/lifestyle-and-exercise/does-meditati...


Gopi Krishna is the canonical worst-case scenario of an unprepared Kundalini awakening, so check out his "Kundalini: Evolutionary Energy in Man". I've heard that if you're careful, you should have an easier ride. However some people can have spontaneous awakenings, sometimes following traumatic (near death) events. One guy suggested there was a link between the adrenals and kicking off this process. The endocrine system is certainly involved.

But in general, symptoms can include some/all of the following, and vary in severity depending on how slowly you progress, how clean your lifestyle, etc:

* Energy surges - intense feelings of heat/electrical sensations in the body, typically in the spine (I've been woken in the past with electrical sensations surging through my body) * Dietary issues - one of the nerve passes near the stomach and apparently can alter appetite as well as making you intolerant to some foods (I read of one guy not being able to keep water down for several days), etc. * Sexual side effects - feeling intensely horny or totally disinterested * Insomnia * Headaches, feelings of congestion * Hallucinations - auditory, visual, kinesthetic * Spontaneous out of body experiences

Apparently these all settle down over time but can be a bit unsettling (e.g being woken in the night to ghoulish laughter, but there's nobody there).

On the plus side:

* Feelings of intense bliss/ecstasy, contentment * Mental clarity

I've only experienced a few of the above negative side effects, and generally only mildly. But the Supreme Fire exercise has kicked things up a gear. Plus, I'm almost able to perform "full khechari" (look it up). My body just wants to do it. Spontaneous yoga can happen sometimes. Your body knows what it wants given half a chance :-)

As for joint damage - yes that is a definite risk. Never force the lotus position since it can put pressure laterally on your knees which can damage them over time. Also, there's debate around inversions (who'd have thought putting your entire body weight through your cervical vertebrae could be damaging :-D?), so while some people say they're amazing, I avoid them.

As it turns out, one of the most useful sitting postures places direct pressure on the perineum. This is traditionally done with the heel (siddhasana) but can be done with a prosthetic. Roll a sock up and sit on that. I use that on a Zen-style meditation bench to spare my knees sometimes. So you don't need great flexibility, certainly not to the level of the hyper-flexible people in yoga magazines.

A lot of it is common sense - don't force yourself with either the physical postures, or breath retention, and listen to your body. You need to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and operate in that mode. The other thing to bear in mind is you can have a delayed reaction. So you might do some breath retention, and feel great. So you do more. And more. Then that night you get the congestion/headaches/insomnia. So just build up gradually over several weeks, and back off if you need to. It's no different to pacing yourself with weights at the gym.

The AYP site has a very helpful forum with people far further down the road than I am. If you're interested you'll find lots of information on that forum to peruse at your leisure, and a friendly community to answer questions.


Wow, sounds like some fascinating side effects (weirdly shroom-like, actually) that I definitely would not have expected. I guess they're vaguely related to "overstimulating" the parasympathetic nervous system.

I'm "into" mindfulness stuff as a mental exercise but now I'm feeling intrigued about experimenting with the breathing stuff (and generally the more physical aspects of Yoga) more. So thanks for the background and reading suggestions.


Glad to help :-)

Yeah I think hallucinogens activate the same areas of the brain. The only 2 times I've ever felt totally, 100% contented was while tripping on shrooms and through meditation.

I went on a Zen retreat and asked the leader about whether they do energy stuff in Zen, and he just said "It happens on its own". I think all roads lead to Rome all traditions are basically teaching the same core practices. I think optimal results come from doing the breathing practices before mindfulness meditation. In fact, that's exactly what Patanjali wrote in his famous yoga sutras:

Physical postures (asanas) -> breathing (pranayama) -> introversion to progressively deeper degrees.

And once you understand the bigger picture, all the restrictions placed on monks make sense: conservation of semen for guys has a big impact (so either celibacy or tantric sexual practices), minimal diet (difficult to compress the abdomen if it's full of waste), waking early (there seems to be a connection with the circadian rhythm), silence seems to help, etc. Either way, there's plenty to experiment with. Good luck :-)


There's also the book that started it for me: Path Notes of an American Ninja Master. The author's description of his awakening is pretty intense. It also contains important cautions, some of which he ignored. Worth reading if you're into chi kung, yoga, meditation or martial arts.


no - not like that .. intoxication is not the same as extraordinary function .. complex topic, not amenable to HN posts


Wow, been digging into the AYP site. Thank you for passing this on. Some of the best stuff I've ever read, and I've read a LOT.


Thanks for the thanks. I wasn't sure how this would be received on HN. They are the best lessons I've found, however I must admit that I think Mantak Chia's Multiorgasmic Man teaches the sex stuff better than Yogani's lessons. Plus it's a good idea learning how to bring the energy down the front as well through the Microcosmic Orbit.


I don’t know what he was referring to but it’s really easy to get injured if you don’t take the time to learn. For example, you’re supposed to flex your foot whenever you’re doing something like lotus or it can hurt your knee


Whatever I am saying I have no "scientific proof" but I come from a traditional family of meditators. We have history of monks and sanyasis in my family who in their prime youth just went to jungle and meditated and died their just sitting. If you come to east India, you will find many small shrines built at places where my ancestors died.

Whatever @nsouth has said is correct. What Westerners call Yoga are actually Asanas. What I want to add is a warning that is passed in my family from generation to generation. If you are a materialistic and sexual person dont try to do exercises that will arisen the Kundalini. If you are are materialistic and sexual Raja Yoga is not for you. Have a good life(marry, earn and be a force of good in society(what we would traditionally call Dharma)), you can definitely do Asanas and even meditation but you should never ever start a practise that specifically targets Kundalini. In breathing exercise, you can do all breathing exercises sans the retention part. I have no proof or logic behind this warning but I just stated what has been stated in my family for ages.


> that's when the doorway to the inner world opens

Sorry the metaphor is lost on me. What does that mean in layman terms?


A loss of awareness of the physical body and physical world, and various phenomena may manifest such as visions, sounds, etc. Perhaps it's the hypnogogic state or similar, but some sources suggest it gives access to the subconscious mind.


You're less caught up by external influences that may distract or pain your mind. IIUC you're in a introspective state, exploring your sensations, ideas and emotions.

Grief forced me to learn that, it's an effort at first, and absurd because you're forcing not to move mentally, in the end you drop most your thoughts and a calmer part of you may fill the room.


From Wikipedia's entry on Kundalini[1]

>This article contains weasel words: vague phrasing that often accompanies biased or unverifiable information. (August 2014)

the flagging goes on ...

A brief online search on K. found only articles and fora that have the same issue - weasel words, embedded superstition, subjectiveness, etc

Curious whether this has been examined from a strictly physiological viewpoint minus the typical subjective, superstitious spin that I've found so far.

[1}: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kundalini


You'll keep coming up empty, so to speak, trying to nail down the result of spiritual disciplines into a concrete definition. Science's point of view is verifiability by repeatable, direct observation. With spiritual stuff, the healthy attitude that you'll usually get is, "try it for yourself!" The direct experience of the result usually precludes further need to verify from other perspectives.

All that said, I think understanding the science underlying the remarkable experiences people have during or as a result of "mystic" experiences (for which we have pretty decent scientific definitions; see the Johns Hopkins psychedelics questionnaires) is probably what's holding us back from spreading more and better healing. We're not going to move forward giving everyone the usual "Well, it's definitely weird, but it works, just trust me."

Disclaimer: not a Kundalini practitioner. My healing has mostly been reading-, meditation-, and psychedelic-flavored.


I'm not sure if it has, at least not rigorously. I've seen various research quoted in several books, but I tend to ignore those sections because "research" can pretty much come up with any conclusion depending on who's paying. Plus there's little point accepting the conclusions without investigating the methodologies, participants, etc. for which I have neither the time nor inclination. All my "research" is based on trying to experientially validate the experiences for myself.

I'd love to see rigorous research done on this, and I'm sure over time it'll happen. But first, I think there needs to be a general increase in awareness of this phenomenon, certainly in the West. While we've leapt on the meditation bandwagon, it's far less common knowledge that these practices traditionally were focussed towards a specific "end-game", i.e. they are intended to lead to certain definite, reproducible outcomes, rather than being practiced as techniques in their own right ad infinitum.

It seems to me as if the "first generation" of Western practitioners went to the East around the 60s and the majority came back with superficial knowledge and someone else's culture ("let's do all this cool exotic stuff people..."). Now, slowly and gradually, more Westerners are discovering the stuff that the first generation didn't bring back, and are having profound, authentic experiences for themselves. One benefit of this should be an increase in the clarity of teachings since different cultures have their own metaphors, language and mental models that can be used to convey meaning. Western teachers should be able to strip out the Eastern dogma and superstition and leave only those practices that do actually aid or accelerate the process (and incidentally describe the roots of Western religious dogma and "morals" as well, since Kundalini is alluded to in Christianity, just less explicitly and couched in different terms. If you can ignore the author's enormous ego, Electrical Christianity explains all, also on Kindle if you're interested).

One interesting thing to note is that there is generally broad, cross-cultural and cross-temporal agreement of some of the subjective experiences that result from these practices and Kundalini awakenings. So while looking purely from a physiological perspective would certainly be interesting, it seems that experiences are almost always accompanied by "spiritual" experiences (much like hallucinogens), often involving:

* a dissolution of the ego (the mental narrator/individual personality) * a greater sense of connection, deep feelings of love and altruism * common imagery/symbology * heat, feelings of electricity/"energy", and points of high electrical/energetic conductivity that can be perceived as lights, commonly called "chakras" * that we are all part of a single, pure consciousness out of which everything else arises. Nothing else fundamentally, permanently exists.

Jung came up with his "collective unconscious" as a result some of his own experiences.

So given these experiences suggest a very different world-view to the prevailing Western one (that we are in fact "spirits" with material bodies vs material bodies with some emergent property called consciousness), could it be possible to really understand this process objectively? It would appear that the conscious subject - indeed consciousness itself - is inherent in the process. Western science more or less proceeds from the standpoint of "if you can't poke it or work out its physical foundation, it doesn't exist", while here we have something diametrically opposite that says the physical only exists because of consciousness (BTW I may be way off here but doesn't Quantum Theory stipulate something similar - the result of a quantum probability isn't decided until it's observed, so the observer is required for the uncertainty to collapse to a specific state? Ignore me if I'm wrong, I'm not a physicist).

So anyway, back to your point. Some resources out there do contain what comes across as subjective, superstitious rubbish, but perhaps for the reasons above (i.e. they may be recounting experiences that are subjectively real, but which seem so fantastical and are so far removed from our normal day-to-day experiences they put people off this whole subject). And to be clear, some are legitimately, complete drivel. However, there are a few people putting stuff out in a much more neutral manner, more like "try this and see what happens", "what if you add on this extra practice?", etc. The latter approach provides fewer points of resistance to the Western, science-orientated mind, and better yet, actively engages you as the scientist. Yogani at aypsite.org is one such author.

Based on my own experiences, I believe science will catch up in due course. I'm pretty open to entertaining the possibility of some of the wilder claims now since so much of what I heard would happen up to this point has indeed happened, but I await my own verification.

In the end, should you investigate this for yourself, you'll be the judge of whether this stuff is real and yours will be the most important opinion to you.


It turns out there is a site with some impressive sounding scientific stuff on it: http://biologyofkundalini.com.


Yea, but like, acid and mushrooms don't require any effort.


Ha ha I can't argue with that. I've heard of some yogis comparing hallucinogens to having a day pass, while they've got a lifetime membership.

One warning - don't mix drugs with yoga. I've heard of a few people who did. They ended up "walking with the gods" for a while and then it just stopped and they crashed down majorly. If you need drugs to force your body to produce these chemicals, at some point the party will finish.


Their effects are not well controlled either.


And they tend to be transitory as well. Meditation, while slower, tends to do a better job of integrating insights into one's personality and daily life.


A technique I used to learn to breathe with my diaphragm:

- stand tall like you're the batman (open up chest, don't slouch shoulders)

- place your hand on your belly, pinky on navel and thumb touching the tip of your sternum

- inhale from nose

- let jaw loose and make the deepest "oooohm" note you can produce, look at the hand on your belly getting closer to your spine as you exhale

- inhale and look at the hand on your belly rise

- repeat, always inhaling from your nose only, keep lips closed and jaw loose (no need to make any sound once you get it)

This technique immediately drops high stress bpm's from 120/140 to ~68.


One note: fresh and clean airflow is important, don't do this indoor with high co2 ppm (high co2 is basically poison)


Unless you're locked in an airtight space (or small closet, etc) high CO2 should not be a concern whatsoever.

Any normal living space is going to be fine. Even a relatively "tight" super-efficient modern home changes air over several times per hour (and have fresh-air injectors on the heating/cooling systems to introduce fresh air and prevent staleness). Even there, a house full of people wall-to-wall could not significantly alter the CO2 levels to a degree there is a health risk.

If you need something to worry about in the air, be concerned about diesel particulates in filthy city air.

source: former HVAC tech.


It might not be a health risk, but I found this study [1] interesting. It showed impaired decision making at CO2 levels that you could encounter indoors.

[1] "Is CO2 an Indoor Pollutant? Direct Effects of Low-to-Moderate CO2 Concentrations on Human Decision-Making Performance" . https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3548274/


That's true for major health effects, but research is showing that lower than previously assumed CO2 levels may affect cognition and health, especially in poorly ventilated indoor environments. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311844520_Carbon_di...


What about a dancehall/disco packed with people dancing?


Oxygen consumption increases with activity, obviously. Air handling is rated on square footage, structure design and intended purpose. A home is going to carry a very different set of requirements than a factory floor or a restaurant (which often has high CFM exhaust hoods and requires a large amount of fresh-air infiltration to make up for exhausted air). Max occupancy permits as based on these factors, and often limited by egress (exits) plus a safety-factor is added to that. But that's about the limits of my expertise. Beyond this lies architects & permitting inspectors.

The calculation of human heat load and perception of temperature (sensible/latent heat, and psychrometrics in general) is a big part of system design. I'd have to break out the software and start asking specifics to get you an actual number but my gut feel is that a dance hall is going to easily pass the air quality tests.

Of course, somebody could pack 100 people into a low-ceiling windowless 200 ft^2 room without forced ventilation and have a problem with not just air quality but also heat (each person is approx 20W at rest, 200W w/vigorous activity), but I'm speaking in generalities about properly used residential & commercial space.


Are you implying that a responsible club DJ should be modulating the crowd’s activity level based on the rated CFM of the air handler as well as the current CO2 PPM?


In that particular case, have a drink instead of rubbing your stomach and making deep oooohhm noises.


So, when do we start discussing the scientific research of Wim Hof? The "Wim Hof Method" combines breathing exercises that stimulate the vagus nerve with cold exposure to release cold shock proteins.


Last week: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16573571 Study Reveals Brain Mechanisms That Allow “Iceman” Unusual Resistance to Cold

https://hn.algolia.com/?query=Wim%20Hof&sort=byDate&type=com...


Never heard of Wim Hof but have for years promoted cold water swimming as a way to stimulate the vagus nerve to improve health and well-being.


Polar (heart hate monitors) did pioneering work with HRV in the late 90's and their heart rate monitors have have a mode that HRV to to determine best heart rate limits for each exercise period for almost two decades.

Heart rate itself is a good indicator of stress. Aerobic training using HR limits helps to avoid overtraining (and undertraining). If you are stressed out in one day your HR is up and you exercise slower. HRV gives even more detailed information. HRV is high during a rest and starts to decrease when the heart works closer to maximum. Measuring HRV change during a rest and gradually increasing the level of exercise gives more info than HR alone.

Validity of the Polar V800 heart rate monitor to measure RR intervals at rest https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4751190/


I am a lifetime choral singer and during a recent medical exam I was asked to take a series of deep breaths. So I took my usual singer's diaphragmatic breath and was complemented on my "yoga breathing"!


Trumpet player here, and I’ve had similar experiences. A longtime friend of mine is an operatic soprano, and she can practically break a spirometer!


Tuba player here: suffice to say, I'm a calm guy.


Tuba! I’ve always been impressed by the dual demands of breath control and lugging around a tuba. You can probably snuff a candle at a quarter mile.


same with swimming. lungs expand dramatically.


Before I read this, I also read that improved oxygen saturation has long distance effect on arteries (vasodilatation maybe ?) and probably other parts in your system. So deep breathing might improve oxygen intake thus relax you too.

One thing I realized over time is that my lungs don't open linearly, there's a resistance period after the first second on intake, if I keep sucking air in after 3 seconds my whole chest opens. After that I can feel my lungs full. I also try to keep air in for ~2 seconds, thinking that it might help keeping pressure in deep into all alveolis and cleaning / exchange more oxygen.

All this is Sample of One guess fest. If anybody knows it's useless or could be improved, feel free to reply.


As someone who has practiced yoga for 40 years and started qigong a few years ago, the advice in the article seems fairly obvious. Still, great to see the article in the front page of HN!

I had not thought of deep belly breathing helping calm and relax me during meetings - will try that.


Yup, I do this as part of tai chi and qi gong (referred to as 'dan tian' breathing).

Seems to be a thing of the west to take elements of yoga, tai chi, daoism et al, and distill them - mindfulness comes to mind - and as devices they're good, but together they amount to so much more than the sum of their parts, hence the eastern penchant for a 'holistic' approach.


My yoga teacher always says this is the most important part of yoga. She says it's why she rarely gets sick. She was delighted to hear it was one of the top stories on HN.


Make sure to tell her that I also rarely get sick, without the bother of doing yoga.


I used to be like that, until I got kids that went to school.

It's possible that you're just not coming into contact with a lot of viruses (maybe the same for the yoga teacher).

Funny story of a friend of mine: had no kids, and started dating a pre-school teacher. First year they dated, he was sick 50% of the time.


FWIW, Andrew Weil took what he calls the "4-7-8" breathing exercise from ancient India. Video demonstration: https://www.drweil.com/videos-features/videos/the-4-7-8-brea...

It bears some resemblance to the breathing exercise described by the author of the Psych Today article.


I’d like to add that a lot of people do diaphragmatic breathing incorrectly.

The ultimate goal for utilizing the diaphragm is slow and steady breathing in a controlled manner. I see too many people taking in big gulps of air and exhaling out with no sign of control. Even when think they got it, it’s still too fast. You must keep the rib cage expanded on the exhale in order to expel the air. There is no pushing, just allowing the air to escape slowly.

This may vary from activity to activity, but there needs to be a reasonable amount of control during exhalation.


Breathing through your diaphragm is desirable all the time and not only during a conscious exercise. Many years ago, I would breathe through my chest which made for shallow breathing. Look at how babies breathe; through their diaphragm/stomach.

It took several months to shift my breath to the diaphragm. The exercises certainly help with lengthening the inhale and exhale, maximizing both oxygen intake and carbon dioxide excretion.


About 3 years ago I started martial arts training. One of the first things I had to unlearn was shallow chest breathing. Imagine that, 40yrs old and having to relearn how to breathe properly. It took me probably close to 6 months to adjust.


Yeah, I was surprised how long it took me to realize the error in my breathing. In hindsight, my athletic life before 21 could have benefited greatly from breathing "right".


Healthy, full breathing involves significant expansion of the rib cage in all directions. I wish people would remember this before spreading the advice, “breathe into your belly, not into your chest.” Your lungs are in your chest. (And contrary to the article, by the way, the “lower part of your lungs” is not “just above your belly button.”) Most importantly, do not lock your chest or inhibit its movement.

If you have poor posture and core support and a tight chest, I would say experiment with filling your lungs completely, and with engaging your abs very slightly on the _inhale_, to feel some of the sensations of full, supported breathing. Your core muscles create pressure that helps fully inflate your lungs.

Don’t listen to any admonishments about “breathing wrong” as your body will use them to create additional tension and restriction rather than relaxation and freedom.


> maximizing both oxygen intake and carbon dioxide excretion.

Assuming you're a reasonably healthy person (i.e. you don't have a chronic breathing condition like COPD), then your tidal volume isn't the limiting factor in either of those things.

Your respiratory rate is driven by the level of carbon dioxide in your blood. Your body will adjust the rate up and down to keep it at an appropriate level (this is an important tool in your body's toolbox for maintaining the correct pH of your blood). Getting rid of too much CO2 is also bad (it's why someone who is hyperventilating ends up with spasms in the hands and feet). Getting rid of CO2 requires much more air movement than is necessary to keep your blood oxygen levels up.

tl;dr; "Maximizing" those things shouldn't be a goal. Your body is already managing CO2 and O2 levels appropriately.


People! please be careful with these casual references to breathing exercises and other mind-body techniques. Breathing changes can hurt you. Please seek an experienced teacher.. for example, another post mentioned a cessation of breathing rhythm as a gateway.. BS, and dangerous too. Blood pressure, cardiac rhythm, mental balance, are all deeply effected. thanks and take care


" Breathing changes can hurt you. Please seek an experienced teacher."

Could you provide some reference of the dangers? That sounds like a generic marketing speech for yoga instructors.

I don't mind finding guidance, but empty scare tactics are the cheapest trick in the salesmans arsenal.

If there are explicit dangers, give external reference. Otherwise you just sound like a snake oil salesman.


The key word is spontaneous breath retention. Google "kevala kumbhaka". Not BS at all, in fact it is a primary aim of the breathing exercises known as pranayama and is very widely documented within yogic texts, both old and current.


While breath retention is part of pranayama techniques, they are NOT beginner techniques, and misuse certainly does have the capacity to do damage.

Consider the inner breath as a pneumatic tool. Can you imagine holding in a powerful sneeze or cough and hurting yourself? That’s the power of the diaphragm. Getting it under control cannot be done overnight, and retention techniques increase the risk of accidental injury.


Also, vagus nerve can be stimulated by anal penetration. Some people might also recognize the feeling of having a very relaxing poo.


I'm curious if the converse is also useful.

In holotropic Breathwork breath is made faster and deeper in order to access and release old trauma (including PTSD).

I imagine this uses a mechanism of conciously activating fight or flight to confront whatever psychological material is available and recontextualize the self as safe.


Would that be a strong effect on an uncontrolled basis? (I.e., fast irregular shallow and/or interrupted breaths tending to reinforce anxiety etc.?)


I'm not entire sure I understand your question. Maybe I can clarify what I said and that will help.

Holotropic Breathwork was created by Dr. Stan Groff as an alternative to LSD Therapy after prohibition.

His thesis was that symptoms were just a half expressed cure. Meaning, if you have anxiety, the trick is to actually "make it bigger" - in this case using breath work, to release whatever trauma was at the core of it.

Holotropic Breathwork is usually "faster and deeper" breath.

After 20 minutes or so (combined with Rythmic music) you end up in a space very similar to classic psychedelics. However this space is much more controllable in that if it gets too intense you can always slow your breath down.

Much in the same way people find relief from PTSD, anxiety, depression, etc. with the classic psychedelics, they have similar results with Holotropic Breathwork.

Once these sessions are over, often whatever it was that was the issue is resolved for good or at least dramatically diminished.

I've found HB to be very useful in conjunction with more classic Psychedelic therapies.

Does that help? If not, please rephrase for me and I'll try to answer.


Where did you learn? There seems to be a large divide between the training, time, and money required to become certified, and the one-off Saturday event. I'd like to use it but I'd also like to understand how it works. Grof's book doesn't contain a how-to and the knowledge seems a bit cloistered...too much so given that it's hard to hurt yourself in this method.

I'm already "sold" on the healing potential of these modalities: psychedelics, float tanks, Lucid Lights, etc...HB would be good to add to the list, mostly because it's probably a great gateway for others to direct spiritual practice and more healing. Thank you!


Are you based in NYC? I'm actually going to a day long session this Saturday - it's about $150 for the day including lunch and dinner. You get an intro session for an hour with someone who trained with Grof; then you either breathe or sit with someone for 3 hours; lunch; switch and sit/breathe; dinner & integration.

I love it and have been going every few months.

email me if you like and we can chat more.

A@175g.com

Ps, while it's simple enough to put on a Breathwork playlist and turn up the volume and to breathe faster and deeper for a few hours, having a trained sitter to hold the space is useful for getting at and working with material you may not allow yourself to confront on your own. Also, can be a little risky if, say, your deep abandonment terror comes up and you are all alone.


Thank you! I'm not in NYC but these are great guidelines. Something I'll be scheduling for myself in the near future.


Check out rebecoming.org for some more info and I'm happy to talk anytime.


Don't do it while sitting when first getting started, stand up or lie on your back. Hand on belly and chest, only let belly move and feel your back and ribs expand too, not just belly. Go slow and you'll find truly how large your lungs are.


could this work to calm breathing in freestyle swimming? I try using 'box' breathing exercises and they seem to work a little (in-count-4, hold-count-4, out-count-4, hold-count-4 cycle)


Not a direct answer, but I've found this helpful: http://www.swimsmooth.com/exhalation.html


Is there any benefit to taking a deep breath and holding it for a while before commencing the diaphragmatic breathing?


Does anybody here have experience with the VNS devices mentioned in the article?


Usually they are implants, a control unit with battery embedded under the skin in your shoulder and then a wire up to the vagus nerve in the neck. They are used to control epilepsy among other things. I think there may be external versions too but they are newer and I'm not sure how effective they are.




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