Psychophysiological responses to various slow, deep breathing techniques

Psychophysiology. 2021 Feb;58(2):e13712. doi: 10.1111/psyp.13712. Epub 2020 Oct 27.


Deep breathing exercises are commonly used for several health conditions including pain and hypertension. Various techniques are available to practice deep breathing, whereas possible differential psychophysiological effects have not been investigated. We compared four deep breathing techniques and examined outcomes in blood pressure variability, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, baroreflex function, and emotional state. Healthy adult volunteers performed pursed-lips breathing, left and right unilateral nostril breathing, and deep breathing with an inspiratory threshold load (loaded breathing), all at a frequency of 0.1 Hz (i.e., controlled breathing) and for three minutes each. Results showed that blood pressure variability was higher during loaded breathing versus other conditions and higher during pursed-lips breathing versus left and right unilateral nostril breathing. Respiratory sinus arrhythmia was higher during loaded breathing versus other conditions and higher during pursed-lips breathing versus left unilateral nostril breathing. The effect of breathing condition on respiratory sinus arrhythmia was mediated by alterations in blood pressure variability. There was no difference between the breathing conditions in baroreflex sensitivity or effectiveness. Participants rated pursed-lips breathing as more calming and pleasant and with more sense of control (vs. other conditions). Overall, among the four tested deep breathing techniques, loaded breathing was associated with enhanced cardiovascular effects and pursed-lips breathing with better emotional responses, while also enhancing cardiovascular effects (albeit less than loaded breathing). These findings can be informative in applying deep breathing techniques as self-management interventions for health conditions, in which baroreceptors stimulation and autonomic and emotional modulations can be beneficial, such as pain and hypertension.

Keywords: autonomic; baroreflex; breathing exercise; heart rate variability; hypertension; pain.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Baroreflex / physiology*
  • Blood Pressure / physiology*
  • Breathing Exercises*
  • Electrocardiography
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Respiration*
  • Respiratory Rate / physiology
  • Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia / physiology*
  • Young Adult