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Long Exhale for parasympathetic nervous system activation
Long Exhale for parasympathetic nervous system activation
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Written by Mark
Updated over a week ago

Long Exhale is a slow controlled breathing technique with exhale longer than inhale and no breath-holding in between.

We recommend this practice when your measurement implies low activity of your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest. This means you’re under a lot of stress and need some relaxation to think properly and make decisions.

How to do it

You should breathe in and out slowly, gradually extending your exhale until it gets twice as long as your inhale. That’s the pace we set in our audio.

We provide a 10-minute audio, but if you’re pressed for time, it’s ok to cut the practice short — even a 2-minute session will lower your stress. However, the general rule is as follows: higher stress requires longer breathing sessions.

For beginners, we recommend starting with not very deep breaths — otherwise, you may feel faint due to hyperventilation. Deepen your breathing, as you feel comfortable.

If you’re not familiar with breathing practices, you may get bored or find it hard to concentrate. If so, don’t stop the practice: with the audio playing on the background, let your breathing follow the sound while you surf the news or flip through Instagram.

How it works

Slow controlled breathing with long exhales moves the nervous system away from the fight-or-flight mode and towards rest-and-digest.

It happens due to respiratory vagus nerve stimulation: during inhalation, the sympathetic nervous system facilitates a brief acceleration of heart rate; during exhalation, the vagus nerve secretes a transmitter substance (acetylcholine, or ACh) causing deceleration within beat-to-beat intervals via the parasympathetic nervous system.

The Long Exhale technique improves heart rate variability (HRV) metrics and positively affects decision-making.

Proven effect

The effect of the Long Exhale technique is described in the following scientific publications:

  • In 2018, Dutch researchers reviewed a great variety of scientific articles investigating the impact of contemplative activities, including breathing practices, on people’s health. They found a vast array of beneficial effects in three domains: physical health, mental health, and cognitive performance. In addition, they proposed a neurophysiological model of respiratory vagal nerve stimulation. For details, see:

  • Also in 2018, an international group of scientists carried out two studies. The first study (which included 30 participants) analyzed how slow breathing practices affected HRV metrics. The second study (which included 56 participants) examined the effect of breathing exercises on perceived stress and decision-making. The research showed that slow breathing practices significantly increased time and frequency domain HRV metrics, diminished perceived stress, and improved decision-making. For details, see:

Interestingly, longer exhalations are called “an easy way to hack your vagus nerve” by Christopher Bergland, a world-class endurance athlete, with a Guinness World Record for running on a treadmill, and three-time champion of the Triple Ironman. For details, see:

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