The Ideal Breathing Rate is Individual

23 December 2008
– a BioFeedBack Resources International email newsletter –
written & edited by Harry L. Campbell, President
technical editing and production by Edwin Johnson

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Inside this issue:

  1. The Ideal Breathing Rate is Individual – by Harry Campbell
  2. Announcements


I. The Ideal Breathing Rate is Individual – by Harry Campbell
Dr. Paul Lehrer, Professor of Psychiatry at UMDNJ – Robert Wood Johnson Medical School gave us a lesson on resonance frequency at the October 1, 2008 North East Regional Biofeedback Society (NRBS). Evgeny Vaschillo, Ph.D, Associate Research Professor, Rutgers University, Bronya Vaschillo, MD, Research Associate, Rutgers University, and Maria Karavidas, PsyD, Instructor in Psychiatry, UMDNJ also presented with Dr. Lehrer on the subject of Heart Rate Variability, resonance, and some of the applications for which they are using HRV biofeedback, including depression.

(Evgeny Vaschillo, Ph.D 4th from L, Bronya Vaschillo, M.D. 5th from L, Maria Karavidas, Psy.D. 7th from L, Harry L. Campbell 8th from L) Picture taken at the Veterans Administration Medical Center, East Orange, NJ

(Evgeny Vaschillo, Ph.D 4th from L, Bronya Vaschillo, M.D. 5th from L,
Maria Karavidas, Psy.D. 7th from L, Harry L. Campbell 8th from L)
Picture taken at the Veterans Administration Medical Center, East Orange, NJ

Like many other people I have been learning and using heart rate variability biofeedback in a fairly simplistic way. I continue to attend workshops on heart rate variability to increase my understanding of this powerful modality. Many people tend to use HRV because it is simple to apply the sensor. The sensor is simply clipped to the finger or ear. There is no skin prep, no cream or paste (unless you are using an EKG sensor), and no fussing with the client’s hair or even touching the client much. The process of skin prep and applying sensors is a great deterrent to many clinicians who like the idea of biofeedback but hesitate to use it. I still strongly suggest that clinicians use all of the major modalities including EMG, Temperature, Skin Conductance, Respiration, and EEG as well as HRV. There often is a best modality to focus on for a specific purpose. A single modality usually will not be the only one that should be used for most clients and most applications. I have discussed this in other newsletters so I will not address this further in this issue. Please refer to our archived newsletters for more on this subject.

The idea of slowing the breathing to 6-10 breaths per minute is what most people learn initially when we are taught respiration and HRV. Many of us have been taught that 6 breaths per minute (BPM) is ideal. Dr. Lehrer explained that 6 BPM is not ideal for everybody. He explained that each person has a unique number of breaths per minute that is ideal for that individual. He referred to this number of breaths per minute as the resonance frequency. It is also sometimes called the resonant frequency. Dr. Lehrer showed us a procedure that can be used to determine the resonance frequency for a client/subject.

Breathing at the resonance frequency has a much greater positive health effect than breathing at a rate even slightly slower or faster. It triggers the barrow reflex. This causes the highest oscillations in the cardiovascular system.

The procedure requires that you use a respiration pacer like the E-Z Air (Available as a free down load from BFE (The Biofeedback Foundation of Europe) web page. You can use this link to download the free pacer program:

E-Z Air is a software program that prompts a person to inhale and exhale at a pre-determined rate. First you set the pacer at the number of breaths per minute you want to test. It is suggested that you start at 6 breaths per minute and work your way down to 4 BPM in .5 BPM steps. – 6.0, 5.5, 5.0, 4.5, and 4.0. Have the client/subject practice breathing at the selected rate by following the pacer for 2 minutes without recording HRV data. Start recording HRV data once the client/subject is comfortable breathing at the selected rate. Stop the recording after 2 minutes. Save the data. Let the client/subject rest and breath normally for a few minutes.

Set the pacer to the next number of breaths per minute. Have the client/subject practice breathing at that rate and repeat the process. Go through this process for each breathing rate. You should now have HRV data recorded for each breathing rate.

Inspect the spectral graphic report for each recording. Identify the highest low frequency spectral peak. This should appear as a high amplitude peak towards the left side of the graph somewhere around .1 Hz. It may be slightly higher or lower than .1 Hz. There should not be other peaks anywhere near the same amplitude as the highest peak for the breathing rate that is the resonance frequency. You need to be able to quantify the amplitude of the peak so that you can compare the different recordings at the varied breathing rates. On the Heartmath Freeze Framer or EmWave-PC software you should click on the View HRV Power Spectrum button. Look at the graph on the bottom of the screen. The amplitude is represented in msec.²/Hz. Check the amplitude for each data recording. The one that shows the highest amplitude is the resonance frequency. This is the breathing rate that is suggested for training for the individual client/subject.

The screen and amplitude units will be different on other software. Dr. Lehrer has created a special application for HRV that works on the Procomp Biograph Infiniti Software. You should now begin to train the client/subject to breathe at the resonance frequency using a watch or clock with a second hand or with the E-Z Air or other pacer. You should train them to do this in the office and then have them practice it at home regularly. The client/subject should practice reaching maximum HRV amplitude without the breath pacer using only the HRV feedback by the third office session. The office training process should be completed at the end of four sessions. The client/subject should continue to practice at home regularly.

You should look up the writings of Paul Lehrer at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School for more detailed information on this procedure.

EmWave-PC and Procomp Biograph Infiniti systems are available through Biofeedback Resources International:


II. Announcements
On January 1, 2009, training prices will increase as follows:
Biofeedback Current Price: $1,095 – New 2009 Price: $1,195
Neurofeedback Current Price: $790 – New 2009 Price: $995
Register by December 31, 2008 to lock in current pricing.
Upcoming Training ————–
Jan 24-28, 2009 – Miami, FL
May 2-6, 2009 – Hawthorne, NY
Aug 1-5, 2009 – Hawthorne, NY
Oct 24-28, 2009 – Hawthorne, NY
Apr 17-20, 2009 – Hawthorne, NY
Jul 17-20, 2009 – Hawthorne, NY
Nov 13-16, 2009 – Hawthorne, NY
Call 914-762-4646 or 877-669-6463 to schedule or go to our website:


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