Taking slow, deep breaths is known as a way to calm down. There is a physiological basis that slow deep breathing can slow the heart, reduce blood pressure, and lessen stress. It may even help control pain.
Slow, deep breathing is an important aspect of our autonomic nervous system.
The vagus nerve helps lower heart rate and blood pressure and also helps manage fear.
Rhythmic breathing devices may be worth the investment for the motivated patient who will be consistent in their use.
Rhythmic breathing devices are not a substitute for diet, exercise, and appropriately prescribed anti-hypertensive medications.
Many doctors and researchers have said that slow, rhythmic breathing may have long-term health benefits. Recently, wearable or portable technology that promotes the habit of healthy breathing and its associated soothing sounds has come onto the market.
Rhythmic breathing techniques are taught in yoga, mindfulness training, and meditation. There is ample evidence that with the right attitude and dedication, these methods can be beneficial.
Rhythmic breathing devices offer another way to shift our focus from our busy lives, anxiety, or pain to a soothing, calm environment.
Is there a scientific or medical basis for rhythmic or slowed breathing?
By slowing down our breathing into a rhythmic pattern, there are stimulating effects on our vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is one of the cranial nerves that is a vital part of our autonomic nervous system. It is referred to as the “rest and digest” system because it works in opposition to our “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system.
The vagus nerve affects us in many ways:
- Parasympathetic nervous system: digestion; respiration; heart rate.
- Motor: movement of muscles in our neck; speech and swallowing.
- Sensation: throat; heart; lungs; abdomen.
Most importantly, stimulation of the vagus nerve helps us manage our fears. It helps us deal with stress and anxiety. It is why the term “gut feeling" came about.
What are rhythmic breathing devices?
Unlike vagus nerve electrode stimulators, which involve more invasive implantation and use, rhythmic breathing devices are biofeedback devices and are used externally to our bodies. They mainly work on heart rate variability and blood pressure lowering.
The only FDA-cleared, non-drug medical device that fits this category for lowering blood pressure is RESPeRATE. It works with your breathing to guide your progress into relaxation and reduce your heart rate and blood pressure.
RESPeRATE is a device-guided slow breathing technique. It is an interactive system where the individual wears a belt around their chest to monitor the breathing rate. The information is sent in real-time into a battery-operated control box. The result is a generation of musical tones that are heard using headphones, which correspond to inhalation and exhalation.
Another example is Spire Health’s remote patient monitoring for chronic respiratory disease. This works like a pedometer and seems to help many individuals improve their breathing patterns
There is ample evidence in the scientific literature about the safety and effectiveness of this device and others in reducing heart rate and blood pressure. Studies also demonstrate:
- Reduction in sympathetic activity.
- Decrease in artery stiffness.
- Benefits to heart failure patients; COPD patients; PTSD and anxiety patients; chronic stress.
- Improved sleep quality.
Are rhythmic breathing devices worth purchasing?
Many medical schools teach the psychosocial model of medicine. It is thought that teaching the care of the whole person is as important as the physical part alone. We see many patients improve from illnesses with the right psychology, not just the right physiology and treatments.
Generally, it is thought that our psychology plays a large role in our response to illness in many different types of settings. Hence, the term “mind and body.”
Using a rhythmic breathing device may be beneficial for many people, not just those with underlying medical conditions such as COPD, cardiovascular disease, or hypertension.
Hypertension, for example, is one of the most common disorders worldwide. It is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality. It is likely a result of our busy, stressful lifestyles in many instances.
Beyond dietary and exercise strategies, there are drugs to control blood pressure. Rhythmic breathing devices may be a non-pharmacological solution that may help, too.
It is important to recognize that a rhythmic breathing device alone will not be effective. You must take the initiative and be motivated to continue using it. The user must match generated musical tones to their breathing pattern, for example, when using the RESPeRATE device. Ask your healthcare provider about whether to use a rhythmic breathing device as an addition to your medical care.