Respiration is a powerful modulator of heart rate variability, and of baro- and chemoreflex sensitivity. Abnormal respiratory modulation of heart rate is often an early sign of autonomic dysfunction in a number of diseases. In addition, increase in venous return due to respiration may help in maintaining blood pressure during standing in critical situations. This review examines the possibility that manipulation of breathing pattern may provide beneficial effects in terms not only of ventilatory efficiency, but also of cardiovascular and respiratory control in physiologic and pathologic conditions, such as chronic heart failure. This opens a new area of future research in the better management of patients with cardiovascular autonomic dysfunction.