The Power of Breathing and High Blood Pressure

Eli Ben-Yehuda

Written by Eli Ben-Yehuda

On August 25, 2019

According to the American Heart Association Journal, meditation has been part of human societies in various forms for thousands of years. The optimal manner to categorize the myriad techniques is open to opinion.
It should be emphasized that their origins typically relate to endeavors to improve awareness or consciousness and have little to do with the treatment of hypertension. But nonetheless, they all involve slow breathing which might lower blood pressure.

Slow Breathing in Research

According to Researchers, at the University of Melbourne and Macquarie University, they have uncovered unusual activity between neurons controlling breathing and blood pressure during the development of essential hypertension.

Lead researcher Professor Andrew Allen says the research parallels what sports people and eastern philosophies have long understood about the link between breathing and heart rate.

Stanford scientists have identified a small group of neurons that communicates goings-on in the brain’s respiratory control center to the structure responsible for generating arousal throughout the brain.

The tiny cluster of neurons linking respiration to relaxation, attention, excitement and anxiety is located deep in the brainstem. This cluster, located in an area Krasnow calls the pacemaker for breathing, was discovered in mice by study co-author Jack Feldman, PhD, a professor of neurobiology at UCLA, who published his findings in 1991. An equivalent structure has since been identified in humans.

Slowing the breath slows heart rate and blood pressure. Researchers generally agree that getting the breath slowed to about 5-7 breaths per minute is a good spot to be. I generally breathe at about 2.8-3.8 breathes per minute when in a meditative state and my average blood pressure is about 120/60.

In the limited context of this review, we have divided practices into focused attention (ie, mantra and training awareness) for example Zen, pranayama, and mindfulness meditation.

The Power of Therapeutic Breathing

As yogis have known for centuries—and as medical science is beginning to discover—the breath has amazing recuperative powers. By controlling the breath (a practice called Pranayama), the yogis found, they could alter their state of mind.

How does slower breathing help? In stressful times, we typically breathe too rapidly. This leads to a buildup of oxygen in the bloodstream and a corresponding decrease in the relative amount of carbon dioxide, which in turn upsets the ideal acid-alkaline balance — the PH level — of the blood. This condition, known as respiratory alkalosis, can result in muscle twitching, nausea, irritability, lightheadedness, confusion, and anxiety.

In contrast, slowing the breath raises the carbon dioxide level in the blood, which nudges the pH level back to a less alkaline state. As the blood’s pH changes, the parasympathetic nervous system calms us in a variety of ways, including telling the vagus nerve to secrete acetylcholine, a substance that lowers the heart rate.

As with any treatment, the breathing remedy must be administered intelligently and judiciously to be fully effective. Each condition responds best to its own special breath. To calm anxiety, for example, you can purposely lengthen your exhalations.

Unaided breathing techniques, such as Zen meditation & pranayama, require training and concentration, whether it is counting breaths or focusing on the breathing sensation. Trying to prolong the exhalation on your own requires conscious “decision making” process which elevates the sympathetic nervous system activity and therefore is less optimal for lowering blood pressure.

Pranayama breathing usually requires concentration and training. For some people, it is a journey and it takes time, effort, and concentration.

If you want your breath to work as an extra-strength remedy, it’s a good idea to do some preliminary practice before you try to apply these techniques. First, spend some time with your breath when you’re feeling in the pink, learning to closely watch its movements and tendencies.

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The Autonomic and Parasympathetic Nervous System

Breathing is part of the autonomic nervous system, which is comprised of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. In general, the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for governing our responses to stimuli, deciding whether they are threatening, and tripping the signals that tell the body how to react. This is sometimes described as fight or flight responses. The parasympathetic nervous system helps the body calm back down after the danger or stressor has passed.

One of the things that the sympathetic nervous system effects is the breath. In the presence of real danger, the breath becomes fast and short as your body tries to load itself with oxygen to facilitate its escape. This kind of breathing is also a response to non-life-threatening stressors. It happens in response to panic and then perpetuates the panic. If we’re aware of this, we can deliberately slow and deepen the breath, by signaling the body that it’s ok to calm down. Your breath is a powerful force you can use to control your body’s responses to stress.

Pranayama Exercises
  • Three-Part Breath – Dirga Pranayama A good breathing exercise for beginners. Doing three-part breath teaches you how to fill and empty the lungs completely, which is important because you’re probably not used to using your full lung capacity. It’s also a nice way to transition into your yoga session.
  • Equal Breathing – Sama Vritti Pranayama Taking long, deep, slow breaths has a relaxing effect on the body. Bringing your full attention to keeping your inhalations and exhalations the same length occupies your mind, giving it a much need break from its usual hum of activity.
  • Alternate Nostril Breathing – Nadi SodhanaIn nadi sodhana, you block off one nostril, exhaling and inhaling through the open passageway before switching sides. This helps bring you into balance by clearing the energy channels on both sides of the body.
Zen Meditation Technique

Before starting your meditation, you need to find a quiet and peaceful place where you will not be disturbed. The room where you will practice in should not be too dark or too bright, too warm or too cold.

There are different ways that you can practice Zen meditation. Traditionally, only the full lotus position or the half lotus position is used. If you lack flexibility, it is also possible, yet least recommended, to practice Zazen kneeling or to sit on a chair.

Zazen is practiced sitting on a zafu, a thick and round cushion, in the full lotus (Kekkafuza in Japanese) or half-lotus position (Hankafuza in Japanese). The purpose of this cushion is to elevate the hips, thus forcing the knees to be firmly rooted to the floor. This way, your Zazen will be a lot more stable and also comfortable. Additionally, you need to have a zabuton, which is a rectangular mat that is placed under the zafu to cushion the knees and legs.

Whatever the position you choose to adopt, make sure that your back and neck stay as straight as possible. Pull your chin in a little to erect the neck and try to “push the sky” with the top of your head. Do not be too tensed or too relaxed while you do this; try to find balance in your posture. Keep your mouth closed during zazen; your teeth should be together, and your tongue should be against the roof of your mouth just behind your teeth.

Traditionally in Zen, the eyes are kept open during meditation. This prevents the meditator from daydreaming or becoming drowsy. Without focusing on nothing in particular, direct your vision about one meter in front of you on the floor. Your eyes will naturally come to rest in a position that is half opened and half closed. When doing zazen in a soto dojo (meditation hall), the meditator sit facing a wall in order to avoid distracted by external movement. It is suggested to do the same at home.

The position of the hands during Zazen is the same for the full lotus, half lotus, seiza and chair positions. This hand position is called the Cosmic Mudra or Hokkaijoin in Japanese.

First, put your left hand on the right one, and palms turned towards the sky. Now, make an oval by touching the tips of the thumbs together so that your thumbs touch each other and form a somewhat straight line. The tips of your thumbs should lightly touch each other.

Both of your wrists should rest on your thighs; the edge of your hands should rest against your belly. Keep your shoulders relaxed.

As with breathing, the mindset is essential in the practice of Zen meditation. The right state of mind emerges naturally from a deep concentration on the posture and breathing. During zazen, it is normal to have images, thoughts and emotions coming up to the surface, appearing from the unconscious mind.

Do not pursue them or fight escape from them. The more you try to get rid of them, the more attention you give them, and the stronger they become. Try not to attach to them. Just let them go without judgement, like clouds in the sky.

Zen breathing cannot be compared with any other, and it is a fundamental part of the Zazen practice. The correct breathing can only be achieved through the right posture. During Zazen, breathe quietly through the nose and keep the mouth closed.

Try to establish a calm, long and deep natural rhythm. You should focus on exhalation while inhalation is done naturally. Zen breathing and martial arts breathing are similar, and they can be compared to the mooing of a cow or the roaring of a tiger.

Whether you are a practitioner of Zazen, Pranayama Yogic Breathing, or Transcendental Meditation, we laud you. These practices have been time tested and proven to be an immense health benefit for those who practice these various meditations.

RESPeRATE: Your Personal Breathing Coach

RESPeRATE acts as your personal coach to lead you to perform the therapeutic breathing exercise subliminally, without any effort. RESPeRATE technology takes advantage of the human body’s natural tendency to follow external rhythms and a patented interactive “feedforward” concept.

The technology composes rhythmic guiding tones, in real time, while measuring the user’s individual respiration pattern.

It dynamically manipulates and recalculates these personalized tones to guide users into a Therapeutic Zone, with almost no conscious effort on the user’s part. This leads to unprecedented efficacy, ease-of-use, and compliance.

RESPeRATE is a combination of “Ancient Wisdom” with “New technology”. RESPeRATE is highly effective technique of breathing to lower blood pressure since it actually combines both the ancient wisdom of pranayama breathing and a patented technological twist of biofeedback called feedforward.

RESPeRATE’s patented “Device-Guided Breathing” taps the body’s natural tendency to follow musical rhythms. RESPeRATE analyses the breathing pattern and composes, in real time, a personalized melody with two distinct inhale and exhale guiding tones.

By gradually prolonging the exhalation tone, RESPeRATE leads the patient to the therapeutic zone of 5-6 breaths per minutes with prolonged exhalation guiding tones. After each session of device-guided breathing, respiration returns to normal, but the beneficial impact on blood pressure accumulates and is maintained with routine use.

RESPeRATE works by reducing sympathetic neural activity and creating a sustained decrease in peripheral resistance and arterial stiffness.

Both RESPeRATE and pranayama are based on slow breathing with prolonged exhalation.

Conscious breathing is a choice that prompts conscious awareness. Choosing to breathe with no pauses in a connected way, propels an increase of awareness within the body’s physical, energetic, and perceptual systems, and inspires an increased interchange between a person’s conscious and subconscious mind. But with RESPeRATE we have created a device that will allow you to do this effortlessly.

aha breathing to lower blood pressure recommendation

Finally, I want to remind you that the American Heart Association (AHA) a very conservative medical group found RESPeRATE to be the #1 most effective non-drug method after diet and exercise: Taken from Hypertension Journal. Click here to read the full article. 

Tags: relaxation techniques


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2 Replies to “The Power of Breathing and High Blood Pressure”

  1. A great article, Eli. I’ve always loved alternate nostril breathing! I especially like these words: RESPeRATE is a combination of “Ancient Wisdom” with “New technology”. RESPeRATE is highly effective technique of breathing to lower blood pressure since it actually combines both the ancient wisdom of pranayama breathing and a patented technological twist of biofeedback called feedforward. I don’t know if the TM model’s use of mantras adds anything to its impact on BP, but I’ve been combining a two syllable or two word prayer with my tones, to make it a more meditative experience for myself!

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