Nurture Your Heart with these Conscious Breathing Techniques

What Your Heart Rate Variability is Telling You

Mary Clymer
7 min readFeb 6, 2024

Stress has become a constant companion in our fast-paced world. With all the talk about mental health, we still can’t seem to slow down to catch our breath. Lucky for us we have our breath to help regulate our nervous system. Your breath has the power to help manage your heart health, and we could all use some help in that area. Here’s how.

Dysfunctional breathing is messing with your health and to fix this problem you need to start with your heart. With each beat of your heart, a tug-of-war takes place between the two branches of the autonomic nervous system. We know these branches as the sympathetic (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic (rest and digest).

Which branch wins this tug-of-war has to do with the space between each beat of the heart.

This is called your heart rate variability (HRV)

The Sympathetic branch of your nervous system is very vigilant. It’s constantly on watch looking for emergencies and is ready to accelerate your heart rate at the first sign of anything out of the ordinary because its job is to keep you safe.

The parasympathetic branch is just the opposite. It wants to calm you down and wants you to use your energy to optimize your immune system. It wants to aid in the detoxification of particles from your body.

With this understanding, you can begin to see where each heartbeat is coming from. Are they more stressed? Or more relaxed? Our thoughts play a huge role in this interplay, and our breath responds to our thoughts.

Ideally, we would be calm and have relaxed heartbeats all the time. Unfortunately, we live in a world where you are always running from one thing to the next. Are daily routines are so full of stress that most of our heartbeats are being dedicated by that sympathetic nervous system and this is causing all kinds of problems with our heart health.

Here’s why…

Every day you are dealing with some kind of stress

  • Getting the kids to school
  • Sitting in traffic
  • Dealing with customers
  • Choosing what for dinner
  • Disciplining employees
  • Angry boss
  • Waiting on hold
  • More traffic
  • Bills stacking up
  • Conflicts in our relationships
  • Health problems

Anything that causes any kind of stress in your thoughts affects your breathing, and your blood pressure and heart rate are going to go up. The muscles in your shoulders and chest get tense and you start to breathe short and shallow.

When this happens your body has got the signal that you are not in a safe space, and when you are in a fight or flight mode it is not the time to digest your food, or be creative, or feel open to love. Fear is going to start dominating and controlling your emotions and you begin to make thoughtless and impulsive decisions just to get through the day.

We all go through stressful times. But what if stressful times become your norm?

What if you are breathing into a stress state all the time? Well, then your blood pressure and heart rate would stay high. Your body would never feel safe to relax and digest, to be creative, to love and your immune system is going to become weak.

At some point, you’re going to start losing focus, stamina, and energy. You’re going to start to feel defeated, and your heart rate variability will be super low.

Chronic health problems begin to occur when people hit a sympathetic overdrive.

Chronic stress is a known risk factor for heart disease. It can contribute to hypertension, inflammation, and depression. Conscious breathing exercises help you to trigger your parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest branch. This reduces stress and helps you to relax. By incorporating these practices into your daily routine you can mitigate the impact of stress on your heart.

4x4 Breathing

Balance out the autonomic nervous system with 4x4 Coherent Breathing. This form of conscious breathing helps to balance out the nervous system and contributes to overall heart health.

By consciously slowing down and deepening the breath with equal parts inhales and exhales you create balance in your HRV and invite a moment of peace into a chaotic mind.

How to perform 4x4 Breathing

  • Be mindful of your posture. Move your back away from any support and plant your feet firmly on the ground.
  • Begin by inhaling through your nose to the count of four. Let the breath come from your belly.
  • Take a slight pause at the top and feel the air move through your body.
  • Exhale fully through the nose to the count of four. Consciously let go of thoughts and toxins that no longer serve you.
  • Repeat for five cycles.

I find it helpful to count in my head to encourage my breath into a rhythm. The most challenging part of 4x4 breathing is creating the time to do it. It’s so simple that we often overlook this powerful practice.

3–5–6 Triangle Breathing

Bring your blood pressure down with 3–5–6 Triangle Breathing. This slows down your pace and can lead to a decrease in blood pressure reducing strain on your heart. You might have heard of 4–7–8 breathing to help you to sleep, 3–5–6 is a condensed version of the same practice.

By exhaling twice the length of the inhale you are allowing room to offset stagnant air held in the lungs so you can bring in more fresh air on the inhales. The hold offers an opportunity for you to slow down and feel the effects of this new circulation of fresh air while also helping to slow you down.

How to perform 3–5–6 Triangle Breathing

  • Inhale through your nose for a count of 3
  • Hold your breath at the top of your breath for a count of 5
  • Exhale completely through your mouth making a whoosh sound for a count of 6. So pursed lips. Rounded on the edge
  • This completes one cycle.
  • Do 5–7 rounds

The challenge here is to use the entire 6 count to expel the air from the lungs. Give yourself a couple of rounds to feel the tension begin to melt and the breath to soften.

Pursed-Lip Breathing

Enhance oxygenation and circulation with pursed-lip breathing. As you take deliberate deep breaths you begin to increase the oxygen supply to your tissues and organs, including your heart. Your heart can then more efficiently deliver oxygenated blood throughout the body, improving your cardiovascular health.

Much like 3–5–6 Triangle Breathing, this practice is done by exhaling out twice the length of the inhale. This may feel odd at first like you’re not getting enough air, but by slowing your breath rate you are taking in the same, if not more, oxygen because you are breathing lower into your diaphragm.

How to perform pursed-lip breathing

  • Place one hand on the belly and on the chest as a guide to help you breathe deeply
  • Inhale through the nose as you count to 4
  • Exhale through pursed lips — like you’re blowing out a candle — as you count to 8
  • Do this for 10 rounds.

If this feels too stressful, adjust to 3–6 or 2–4. What’s important is the ratio.

Your breath and your heart both play a role in creating and maintaining a healthy body and mind. To receive the benefits of breathwork for a healthy heart, consider adding one of these practices into your daily routine. Perhaps when you first wake up or during a quick mind-morning break. They take very little time to do and you will begin to feel the impact they have almost instantly.

As you continue to navigate through your busy life let your breath be a steady guide towards a healthier, more resilient heart.

Looking to get started with a daily breath practice? Join my 7-Day Breath Challenge and see what a week of conscious breathwork can do for you.



Mary Clymer

Breathwork Coach, Pulmonaut Explorer, & Content Creator. Taking it one breath at a time. Join me at