The Benefits of Slow Breathing That Go Beyond Curing Hiccups

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How do you get rid of hiccups? I’ve heard of everything from inhaling pepper to eating a spoonful of peanut butter. What about controlling our breathing? 

In my video How to Strengthen the Mind-Body Connection, I talk about “supra-supramaximal inspiration.” This purported hiccup cure has you take a deep breath, hold it for 10 seconds, breathe in even more (without exhaling), hold for another five seconds, inhale one more time (again without exhaling), and hold a final time for five more seconds to achieve “an immediate and permanent termination to hiccups…”

The Mind-Body Connection

The vagus nerve connects our brain to our heart, gut, and even our immune system. You’ve heard about the mind-body connection? That’s what the vagus nerve is and does. “There has been increasing interest in treating a wide range of disorders with implanted pacemaker-like devices for stimulating the vagus nerve pathways,” but certain Eastern traditions, like yoga, Zen, and QiGong, have already figured out how we can do it without implanting electrodes into our body.

Your heart rate goes up and down with your breathing. When you breathe in, your heart rate tends to go up. When you breathe out, your heart rate tends to go down. Feel your pulse change as you breathe in and out. Remarkable, isn’t it?

That variability in your heartrate is a measure of vagal tone — the activity of your vagus nerve. You can manipulate your heart rate with just your breath. How? While you’re breathing, an entirely other oscillating cycle is going on at the same time, as you can see at 2:08 in my video: the speeding up and slowing down of your heart rate, based on changes in blood pressure. As any physics student knows, “all oscillating feedback systems with a constant delay have the characteristic of resonance.” Sync the cycles, and boost the amplitude. It’s like getting pushed on a swing: If the timing is just right, if you get pushed at just the right moment, you can get boosted higher and higher. Similarly, if you breathe in and out at just the right frequency, you can sync the two cycles and boost your heartrate variability. 

What’s the benefit? More than just curing hiccups. Practicing slow breathing a few minutes a day may have lasting positive effects on many disorders, such as depression, asthma, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome. It has even been used to improve batting performance in baseball.

For most, we can achieve this syncing at about five and a half breaths per minute, a full breath in and out every 11 seconds or so. Slow breathing helps with high blood pressure, too. As you can see at 3:52 in my video, this technique can significantly drop blood pressure in minutes.

Practice slow breathing a few minutes every day, and you may enjoy positive effects the rest of the day when you’re just breathing normally. Take five or six breaths per minute — five seconds in, then five seconds out. Just breathe “shallowly and naturally.” Try it the next time you get hiccups. Works like a charm for me.

This article was originally published on Nutrition Facts

Tags: Mental Health, Self Care, wellness

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Written By

Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member and Fellow of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, MD, is a physician, New York T... See Full Bio

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