The Physiological Sigh: A Small and Slow Solution for Anxiety

Indigenous people worldwide have known the value of using slow and small solutions, Permaculture Principle 9, to live in harmony with Mother Earth.  The physiological sigh, which decreases anxiety and heart rate, is one example of a slow and small solution for maintaining health and well-being. We explore this simple but powerful practice as well as the recent research evidence to support its effectiveness.



What is a Physiological Sigh?

The physiologic sigh involves three steps:

First, take a long in breath from the lower abdomen through the nose.

Second, before exhaling, take a short additional inhale through the nose.

And third, open the mouth and exhale long and slow, feeling the exhale and relaxing throughout your whole body.

For optimal impact, repeat this breathing pattern two to four times. For an example of a physiologic sigh breathing practice, see the video below.


Physiologic Sigh Practice


Research Evidence to Support the Physiologic Sigh

Researchers at Stanford University recently published the results of their study that compared the effectiveness of three different types of breathing: the physiological sigh, box breath, and cyclic hyperventilation with mindfulness meditation.  They found that while both a daily 5-minute breathwork and a mindfulness meditation practice improve mood and reduce anxiety, breathwork improved mood more than mindfulness meditation, and physiological sighing was the most effective at reducing both anxiety and respiratory rate.  Why is a slower respiratory rate beneficial?  Slower respiration balances oxygen and carbon dioxide levels and lowers heart rate and blood pressure.  You can also use the physiological sigh in the moment to calm anxious or panicky feelings. Try three sighs, one right after the other, using the 3-step process described above, and see how you feel!


A meditation practice can decrease anxiety and blood pressure.  However, recent research has found that 5 minutes of a daily breathing practice, specifically the physiological sigh, reduces anxiety and respiratory rate more significantly, and more quickly, than meditation. The key components of the physiologic sigh include a quick, but double inhale through the nose followed by a long exhale through the mouth. On the inhale, the abdomen expands and, on the exhale, it relaxes.  This practice is simple and impactful and might be worth a try!

The Self-Care Solutions newsletter allows you to personalize your approach to health and wellbeing.  It offers you choices.  Safe choices.  Evidence-based choices. The articles allow you to try on different options and see what works for you. Think of each as an invitation. While not a substitute for care by your medical team, we’re here to support you in your quest for wellbeing!

Interested in Hero’s Journey Coaching?  Contact me at or visit

Reference Links

Brief structured respiration practices enhance mood and reduce physiological arousal





Dr. Ruthann Russo

I love assisting people on their hero’s journey towards self-transformation. A passion which is born comes partly from personal experience – I view my own life as a series of self-transformations. I have 20+ years of education, training and experience, including being the CEO and founder of two health technology start-ups and global wellness consultant to Fortune 100 corporations.

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