The Science of Breathing

Spire’s custom activity and force sensors combine to identify periods where your breathing reflects a tense, focused, or calm state of mind. Spire senses your breathing through the rhythms of expansion and contraction in your torso and diaphragm as you inhale and exhale.

Advanced algorithms then classify breathing patterns based on results from dozens of laboratory studies correlating respiratory characteristics with cognitive and emotional state.

The guidance in the app is also based on protocols from clinical studies on alleviating anxiety and pain, increasing heart rate variability, and reducing blood pressure.

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RESPIRATION

How you breathe dictates every internal process in your brain and body.

Respiration is the only autonomic function you have direct control over. Spire senses inhale and exhale by combining input from super-sensitive force and movement sensors. It then feeds this data to algorithms that de-noise and classify them according to the way you normally breathe: what’s “calm” for you is different than what’s calm for another (what’s calm for you even changes over time).

These algorithms use a multitude of characteristics of the respiratory waveform: inhalation/exhalation duration and slope, hold durations after inhale and exhale (which have very different implications), inhalation/exhalation ratio, consistency, and the morphology of the cycle itself.

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Sherwood, L. (2006). Fundamentals of Physiology: A Human Perspective, Thomson Brooks/Cole, ISBN 0534466974

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Spire

CALM

This state generally occurs in the range of 6-12 breaths per minute.

Calm breathing, measured as breathing consistently slower than your average rate, is the term Spire uses to to refer to an ‘autonomically down-regulated’ state of relaxation. This state is characterized by parasympathetic activation, the “rest and digest” branch of the nervous system, which is associated with healthy blood pressure, sexual function, digestion, immune system function, and sleep quality. It counteracts the stress response, helping the body and mind maintain homeostasis.

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Your Spire app will tell you when you’ve left a significant streak of calm breathing and provides progress metrics over time.

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DID YOU KNOW?

Your Spire app displays your real-time breathwave (respiratory morphology) on the Home screen of the app. This type of feedback is one of the most effective ways of regulating your breath.

Grossman, P. (1983). Respiration, Stress, and Cardiovascular Function. Psychophysiology. Vol. 20, No. 3.

Sherwood, L. (2006). Fundamentals of Physiology: A Human Perspective, Thomson Brooks/Cole, ISBN 0534466974

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Spire

TENSE

This state generally occurs in the range of 18-24 breaths per minute.

Tense breathing is measured as breathing more rapidly (particularly exhalation) and erratically than your average rate and consistency. It is the term Spire uses to to refer to an ‘autonomically up-regulated’ state associated with anxiousness, escalating cognitive load, and agitation or excitement.

This state is characterized by sympathetic activation, the “fight or flight” branch of the nervous system. There are some benefits to this state as it prepares the body to deal with a threatening situations: helping store emotional memories, restricting blood flow to the torso, and preparing the body for physical exertion (exercise).

However, repeated or frequent tension is associated with high cortisol levels and blood pressure, adrenal fatigue, gastrointestinal disorders, and a compromised immune system.

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Your Spire app will tell you when you’ve entered a streak of tense breathing and provides progress metrics over time.

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Plarre, K., Raij, A., Hossain, M., Ali, A., Nakajima, M., al’Absi, M., Ertin, E., Kamarck, T., Kumar, S., Scott, M., Siewiorek, D., Smailagic, A., & Wittmers, L. (2011). Continuous Inference of Psychological Stress from Sensory Measurements Collected in the Natural Environment. IPSN 2011, Chicago, IL.

Van diest, I., Bradley, M. M., Guerra, P. Van den Bergh, O. & Lang, P. J. (2009). Fear conditioned respiration and its association with cardiac reactivity. Biological Psychology, 80, 212-217.

Vlemincx E, Taelman J, De Peuter S, Van Diest I, Van den Bergh O. (2011). Sigh rate and respiratory variability during mental load and sustained attention. International Journal of Psychophysiology.

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Spire

FOCUS

This state occurs with greater stability and consistency in breathing.

Focused breathing is measured as breathing around your normal breathing rate but significantly more consistently than you normally do. It is the term Spire uses to to refer to sustained attention or concentration. In this state, the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches are in balance. It is characterized by alertness without perceived threat.

This is a form of “positive stress” where our skills are being challenged but we can meet those challenges without feeling anxious. Being in this state has been referred to as being “in the zone” or “in the flow” when doing knowledge work.

Spire

Your Spire app will tell you when you’ve left a streak of focused breathing and provides progress metrics over time.

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Boiten, F. (1994) Emotions and respiratory patterns: review and critical analysis. Journal of Psychophysiology. 1994 Jul;17(2):103-28.

Vlemincx E, Taelman J, De Peuter S, Van Diest I, Van den Bergh O. (2011). Sigh rate and respiratory variability during mental load and sustained attention. International Journal of Psychophysiology.

STATE-OF-MIND FACT SHEET

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Calm

Spire

Tense

Spire

Focus

6-12

breaths per minute*

18-24

breaths per minute*

16-20

breaths per minute*

slow,
regular

breathing

fast,
erratic

breathing

very
consistent

breathing

*Spire personalizes these numbers to you based on your baseline breath rate.

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MINDFULNESS

A mindset for daily living based on purposeful attention and non-judgemental awareness.

Mindfulness is the practice of creating space for agency between stimulus and response; it cultivates fluency in responding to a situation versus reacting to it. This requires strong ability to direct one’s attention.

A core technique in mindfulness is to use breathing as an anchor for attention. A second tool is regulation of the breath as a means of regulating the nervous system to reduce fear and calm the mind. Greater mindfulness practice results in a lower resting respiration rate.

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Your Spire app provides notifications on changing patterns of your breathing to enhance mindfulness in daily living situations.

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Baer R.E., (2005), Mindfulness-Based Treatment Approaches, First Edition: Clinician's Guide to Evidence Base and Applications (Practical Resources for the Mental health Professional); Academic Press.

Vlemincx, E. (2013). Do not worry, be mindful: Effects of induced worry and mindfulness on respiratory variability in a non-anxious population. Journal of Psychophysiology. 2013 Feb;87(2):147-51.

Wielgosz J, Schuyler BS, Lutz A, Davidson RJ. (2016) Long-term mindfulness training is associated with reliable differences in resting respiration rate. Nature – Scienti c Reports. 2016 Jun 7;6:27533.

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MEDITATION

A practice to improve attention.

Meditation, in the way that Spire uses it, is a practice where we train our attention – to be able to control its direction but also to be able to have greater awareness and control over emotions. The most common meditation technique is to focus attention on the breath.

Regular meditation training has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, increase the brain’s gray matter, reduce activity in the “self-centered” and self-referential part of brain, and improve concentration.

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Your Spire app provides guided experiences called Boosts to teach meditation techniques as well as timers to practice. It also combines the guidance with biometric analysis to display the effect of that particular Boost on you.

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VALIDATED ACCURACY

IEEE peer-reviewed study shows Health Tag's accurate measurement of respiratory patterns and events.

Download Validation Paper

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

You can learn even more about the science behind Spire on our blog.

If you have any questions or comments, we'd love to hear from you at hello@spire.io.

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