Biofeedback and Self-regulation

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 131–147 | Cite as

Cardiac rhythm effects of .125-Hz paced breathing through a resistive load: Implications for paced breathing therapy and the polyvagal theory

  • Deepa Sargunaraj
  • Paul M. Lehrer
  • Stuart M. Hochron
  • Lawrence Rausch
  • Robert Edelberg
  • Stephen W. Porges


This study examined the psychophysiological effects of slow-paced breathing while subjects breathed through external respiratory resistive loads. Twenty-four normal volunteers completed four 5-min trials of paced breathing (.125 Hz) through an inspiratory resistive wire mesh screen (0 to 25 cm H2O/L/s). Each trial was followed by a 5-min rest trial. There was evidence for hyperventilation and/or fatigue during paced breathing. Also, respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) was elevated in the first minute of paced breathing, and then declined toward baseline. Heart period decreased during paced breathing trials, and fell significantly below baseline during rest periods. These data suggest decreased vagus nerve activity and/or sympathetic activation, following an initial increase in parasympathetic activity during paced breathing. They are not consistent with the use of .125-Hz paced breathing as a relaxation technique, particularly during respiratory resistive stress. Finally, although RSA and average heart period changed synchronouslywithin paced breathing and rest conditions, they diverged incomparisons between pacing and rest. This dissociation suggests that different mechanisms mediate these two cardiac parameters. These data are consistent with Porges' theory that vagal influences on tonic heart rate are mediated by the combined effect of vagal projections from both the nucleus ambiguus and the dorsal motor nucleus, while RSA is mediated only through the nucleus ambiguus alone.

Key Words

paced breathing respiratory sinus arrhythmia vagal tone flow-resistive breathing homeostasis parasympathetic system 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Deepa Sargunaraj
    • 2
  • Paul M. Lehrer
    • 2
  • Stuart M. Hochron
    • 2
  • Lawrence Rausch
    • 2
  • Robert Edelberg
    • 2
  • Stephen W. Porges
    • 1
  1. 1.University of MarylandUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUMDNJ-Robert W. Johnson Medical SchoolPiscataway

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