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Breathwork For Higher HRV: Coherence Breathing

March 20, 20243 min read

“Maintain a state of balance between physical acts and inner serenity, like a lute whose strings are finely tuned.” - Gautama Buddha


Ever wonder what the "Recovery Score" on your smartwatch is talking about? Most likely it's referencing your HRV score, a biomarker that has risen in the last decade as the health metric to look at on a daily basis.

Quick Overview of HRV

  • First used by Nasa during the space program as the best predictor of astronauts' ability to handle stress

  • With the advent of wearables, it has become measurable for most of us.

  • HRV is not comparable from person to person. Instead, you need to establish an HRV "baseline"; you measure your HRV at the same time of day to get your baseline, and then assess this over time. Most trackers will take the measurement early in the day.

  • A low HRV upon waking means your body is still recovering from a stressor. This could be a physical stress (tough workout), immune stressor (virus), or simply getting poor sleep.

  • HRV essentially tells you if your body is still recovering from something, meaning your bandwith to take on additional stress is lower.

Breathing & HRV

  • There are both immediate and long-term variables that affect HRV; sleep/immunity/workload are all things that occurred in the past that are mediating your current HRV. One of the immediate tools we can use to change HRV in this moment is... our breath.

  • See, what HRV specifically measures is the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of your Autonomic Nervous System. The sympathetic is giving signals to increase heart rate, and the parasympathetic is promoting the opposite.

  • It's important to note that at any given moment, these two are in a seesaw-like dance with each other. They're never completely off, they're just in a state of push-pull.

  • With that in mind, the inhale is a sympathetic process and will lead to a signal to increase heart rate. Spending more time / energy on the inhale will speed up the heart, and vice versa.

  • More technical explanation: this is achieved via the process of Respiratory Sinus Arrythmia, which dictates that when we inhale, the diapgrahm moves down, creating more space around the heart, requiring it to pump faster in order to push blood through a great volume. On the exhale, the opposite happens.

Coherence Breathing

  • Coherence Breathing takes advantage of this by equalizing the amount of time and effort we put into the inhale vs the exhale.

  • Specifically, it's a 5.5 second inhale followed by a 5.5 second exhale.

  • You might wonder if there's a reason for this (couldn't we do a 15 second inhale and 15 second exhale). The studies have all centered around this number, most likely because a 2001 study from the University of Pavia in Italy showed that ancient prayers such as the Catholic prayer cycle of the Ave Maria, as well as Hindu, Taoist, and Native American mantras all indirectly caused the subjects to adopt this breathing pattern.

  • Additionally, functional breathing experts like Patrick McKeown advocate for 6 breaths per minute, which if done at rest will lead to 6 liters of air exchanged per minute.


  1. Inhale through nose for 5.5 seconds.

  2. Gradually shift to a 5.5 second exhale through pursed lips.

  3. Repeat for 5 minutes.

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Alexander Gouyet

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