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N=1 Experiment: Effect of Paced Breathing on Blood Pressure

Recently I received an email communication from William Tracy. Bill is a ;retired psychologist, residing in Chattanooga, TN. He received his doctorate from the University of Mississippi and have worked in academic, administrative, and private practice, and have been retired for fifteen years. He largely functioned in experimental and applied areas of psychology.

Having read about the benefits of meditation for several years I decided to take a look into it. The thing that came through in all the studies of the various types of meditation I looked at, as being the common element was that of breath control both in rate, depth, and duration of breathing.

All breath studies agreed that paced breathing had positive health benefits especially as related to heart issues, namely blood pressure. I was interested to see if it were true that paced breathing did in fact have a positive effect on resting blood pressure.

I tried several sessions of self-paced breathing but found that I easily varied from the path of a controlled rate and depth for each breath. So I decided some form of non-intrusive pacing device was needed. I looked at several software programs and finally settled on the York Biofeedback Breath Pacer as best for my needs.

Study Design

The study was a single subject design with the subject serving as his own control. The null hypothesis was that there was no difference between the Experimental and Control means. The null hypothesis was tested using a t-test for 2 dependent means.


Omron HEM 711 Automatic Blood Pressure Monitor, York Biofeedback Breath Pacer. Zoom H1 Digital Recorder, headphones.


Breath Pacer set for 6 breaths/minute, 50/50 inhalation ratio with pause after inhalation of 32% and 20% exhalation, inhalation pitch was 96Hz and exhalation pitch 192 Hz. Fifteen minutes of paced breathing sounds were recorded via Audacity using the system sound method to produce a .wav file which was placed in the Zoom H1 and played via earphones in the Experimental phase.

The Study

Each trial session was devided into two parts of equal duration, Control and Experimental. Control consisted of sitting quietly for 15 minutes. At the end of 12 minutes blood pressure was taken and recorded every minute for 3 times, at the end of the Experimental portion the Control data was averaged and recorded. For the Experimental fifteen minutes of paced breathing was listened to, while comfortably seated, in a quiet room, with eyes closed, and attention focused on a point about 3 inches from my forehead or on my hands. At the end of the Experimental portion blood pressure was taken and recorded every minute for 3 times, at the end of the Experimental, data was averaged and recorded. The study length was 39 trials over 3 weeks.


  Systolic (mm Hg) Diastolic (mm Hg) Pulse Rate (bpm)
Control 130 62 62
Experimental 117 57 59
t-test Results Control vs Experimental

Systolic:    t=7.55   p < .01
Diastolic:   t=3.39   p < .01
Pulse:        t=3.72   p < .01

paced breathing effect on blood pressure


The difference between Control and Experimental conditions was significant. It was concluded that paced breathing does reduce blood pressure and pulse rates.

Next directions: does the length of the paced breathing duration effect the amount blood pressure reduction?

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