I have taught fast / rebirthing breathing for 40 years. During hibernation, I discovered Resonance Frequency Breathing (RFB). This breathing integrates and optimizes our respiratory system, the rhythm of our heart beat, our circulatory system, our sympathetic nervous system and our parasympathic/vagal nervous system. I’m surprised how slowly a crucial practice like Resonance Frequency Breathing makes its way into sex education.
Resonance Frequency Breathing
Humans in Western society normally breathe between 12 and 18 breaths per minute. Breathing at approximately 5.5 breaths per minute is perhaps the healthiest pace we humans can breathe. This is called Resonance Frequency Breathing.
“For all my travels and travails there is one lesson, one equation that I feel is at the root of so much health, happiness and longevity…The perfect breath is this: breathe in for about 5.5 seconds, then exhale for 5.5 seconds. That’s 5.5 breaths a minute, for a total of about 5.5 liters of air.” James Nester in Breath: A New Science of a Lost Art (p.212)
Resonance Frequency Breathing (RFB) gets its name because it brings into resonance our respiratory system, the rhythm of our heart beat, and our autonomic nervous system. This breathing at 5.5 breaths per minute (BPM) helps all of these systems to function more efficiently and synergistically, promoting an incredible integration within our body. The optimal Resonance Frequency does vary among individuals, but for most people, it falls between 5 and 6 breaths per minute. Many practices and forms of meditation demand mindfulness; if you are breathing at 5.5 breaths per minute, this resonance of body systems happens even if you are distracted.
Guidance for Your RFB Practice
- You can either sit or stand while practicing RFB.
- RFB practice sessions are usually between ten and twenty minutes long. Most RFB practice videos on YouTube are ten minutes long.
- Begin your breathing session by scanning through your body, noticing your current state. You may wish to set an intention for your practice. Do this same scan at the end of your practice and reflect on your intention.
- RFB is best practiced by inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the nose or mouth.
- As much as possible, breathe into your abdomen/belly using your diaphragm muscle (rather than your chest muscles).
- Your inhale should maintain a consistent pace for 5.5 seconds (likewise, the pace of your exhalation should be maintained for 5.5 seconds). Learning this may take several practice sessions.
- Many people find it helpful to move their hand up while inhaling and to move their hand down while exhaling. This smooth movement of the hand helps the respiratory muscles maintain a fluid movement of inhalation and exhalation.
- Many people walk while doing RFB because the movement supports their mindfulness.
- Clenching of muscles during RFB adds another dimension to the physiological integration that is taking place. You can clench muscles in just one part of your body or clench as many muscles as possible. Let the clenching of the muscles be gradual through the whole 5.5 seconds. Also allow the relaxing of the muscles to take 5.5 seconds.
- When you first add muscle clenches to RFB, it may be for just one or two minutes. Some people intersperse muscle clenches with shaking or bouncing. This resets the muscles for the next round of clench and release.
- There are many breathing apps available to assist RFB. The Apple iWatch can be programmed at either 5 or 6 breaths per minute for a five-minute long session.
RFB Practice Files
The downloadable audio clips below can support your practice of breathing at 5.5 BPM.
YouTube Practice Videos. There are more than 30 RFB practice videos on YouTube. Search for “5.5 paced breathing.” You can also search for breathing videos at 5 or 6 breaths per minute.
RFB with visual and audio prompts, 10 minutes
RFB with visual prompts, 10 minutes
RFB with audio prompts, 33 minutes
RFB (Coherent Breathing) with Guidance for Relaxation, 12 minutes
We recommend Dr. Brown’s breathing with hand movements.
Physiological Benefits of Resonance Frequency Breathing
Dr. Rosalba Courtney describes the physiology of Resonance Frequency Breathing:
Heart rate and blood pressure both oscillate. They interact with and respond to each other’s oscillations as well as with the oscillations of breathing and the oscillating activity of the autonomic nervous system. For example, in a healthy person, a faster heart rate makes blood pressure go down and a slower heart rate makes blood pressure go up. Likewise, inhalation makes our heart rate go up and exhalation makes our heart rate go down…These types of coordinated responses do things such as protect our arteries from damage, improve uptake of oxygen and regulate our autonomic nervous system…[these coordinated responses] can be improved with resonance frequency breathing.
In addition, when we breathe at the slow pace of Resonance Frequency Breathing, we increase carbon dioxide levels in our blood by up to 25%, facilitating increased oxygen absorption into our cells. RFB also helps our bodies to maintain a level of alertness and excitement while simultaneously allowing our bodies to relax.
Sex educators should note that Resonance Frequency Breathing (RFB) can be a recommended practice before sexual activity, either as a solo preparation or together with partners. Couples preparing for sex by breathing together at the 5.5 BPM can look forward to increased sensation, arousal and pleasure. (See peer-reviewed studies below).
Please reflect on the following questions you feel would be of most value for your teaching with others.
- What might you tell a friend that would interest them in Resonance Frequency Breathing?
- RFB can help people with what sexual dysfunction?
- Describe something you have learned about breathing that will be a part of the sex education you offer your students?
- If you practiced RFB prior to sexual activity, did you notice any difference in your sexual experience?
In these somatic exercises you will explore RFB solo and with another person unfamiliar with RFB.
Note: We have structured these practices to offer the experience of resonance frequency breathing, but the following structure can be used to practice any breathing patterns you might choose.
Solo Practice: For your solo practice, you will do 20 minutes of RFB. Begin by briefly scanning through your body and notice your current state (tired, hurried, aroused, curious, anxious, relaxed, etc). You are going to compare this state with your state after breathing. During your 20 minutes of practice, you can sit, stand, move, clench muscles, shake…whatever feels right for you.
The music in the audio clip below will guide your inhale and your exhale at 5.5 BPM.
Resonance Frequency Breathing (20 min)
Partner Practice: Invite someone unfamiliar with RFB to two practice sessions with you (either in person or online).
Start the first session by explaining RFB to your partner. Give them body position options (sitting, standing, moving). Encourage self-touch. Suggest breathing in through the nose and out through the nose or mouth. Breathe together for ten minutes and then share with each other about your experience. You might suggest further breathing sessions and provide hyperlinks or audio files for them to use.
In their second session with you, your partner can choose either a ten- or twenty-minute session. They can stand or sit; move or be still. You will take on the role of witness. When the session begins, ask them about any breathing sessions they did on their own. After the session ends, you will again ask them about their experience, including their experience of being witnessed. Take care to limit any judgements or evaluations. The role of witness is to appreciate “what is.” A great question to ask your partner is “what would make your breathing practice even better?”
- An informative one-page description of Resonance Frequency Breathing
- A Practical Guide to Resonance Frequency Assessment for Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback. (This article explains the physiology of resonance frequency for those who want to go deeper).
The following two studies found that women with below average heart rate variability are significantly more likely to report sexual arousal dysfunction and overall sexual dysfunction than others. There is already an established link between resting heart rate variability and erectile dysfunction in men. Resonance Frequency Breathing facilitates optimum heart rate variability.
- Heart rate variability biofeedback increases sexual arousal among women with female sexual arousal disorder: Results from a randomized-controlled trial.
- Lower resting heart rate variability linked with sexual difficulties in women.
Written and researched with assistance from Christy Ahna Zahava, CSB