Breathing to music videos with Prof. Nigel Osborne

On this page, Professor Nigel Osborne offers slow breathing exercises that use music to harmonise respiration with the rhythms of your heart and the flow of your circulation.

Why breathe to music?

Hello, my name is Nigel Osborne, I am a composer interested in music-medicine and an aid worker who uses music to support victims of conflict.

During the course of my work I meet a lot of people with breathing difficulties, often caused by trauma. The exercises we do, singing and breathing to music, are useful for everyone. They help support natural cycles in the body which relate breathing to the rhythm of the heart and blood pressure.

The videos on this page may also be useful in recovery from illnesses affecting breathing, but please consult your doctor before attempting them. If you suffer from asthma, please breathe to the music in a way that is comfortable for you.

Breathing to Bach

Brandenburg Concerto no 1 Adagio: J.S. Bach

This exercise involves breathing in for 4 seconds, gently and deeply through the nose, then breathing out for 6 seconds, making a total of 10 seconds per breath*. In this video, we breathe to the slow movement from Bach’s first Brandenburg Concerto. You will see an indication on the screen when to breathe in and out, and an example of the breathing in practice.

Please imagine you are in a favourite, quiet place in nature.

The movement has a pulse of roughly one beat per second, so the music can assist you in counting. It is written in bars of six beats (quavers), but nevertheless fits well with the pattern of 4 plus 6. Perhaps Bach had this kind of breathing unconsciously in mind. Please try to enjoy the music as you go along. It is probably one of the most beautiful pieces of its kind ever written.

If this pattern of breathing makes you feel uncomfortable, please return to your natural way of breathing for the rest of the piece - the music will still help you.

* this pattern of breathing is designed to resonate with and support Heart Rate Variability, Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia, Baroreflex and Mayer Wave activity, all close either to 0.1Hz or to 0.25Hz (10 or 4 seconds). The music is also chosen to help stimulate tone in the parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system.

Breathing to Bossa Nova

Corcovado: Carlos Antonio Jobim, Astrud Gilberto, Stan Getz

This exercise involves breathing in for 4 seconds, gently and deeply through the nose, then breathing out for 6 seconds, making a total of 10 seconds per breath*. In this video, we breathe to Carlos Antonio Jobim’s Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars), sung by Astrid Gilberto with Stan Getz on saxophone. You will see an indication on the screen when to breathe in and out, and an example of the breathing in practice.

Please imagine you are in Rio de Janeiro, overlooking Corcovado and contemplating the stars on a quiet evening.

The song has a pulse of roughly one beat per second, so the music can assist you in counting. It is written in bars of four easy Latin-jazz beats, but fits quite naturally with the pattern of 4 plus 6. Please try to enjoy the music as you go along.

If this pattern of breathing makes you feel uncomfortable, please return to your natural way of breathing for the rest of the piece - the music will still help you.

* this pattern of breathing is designed to resonate with and support Heart Rate Variability, Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia, Baroreflex and Mayer Wave activity, all close either to 0.1Hz or to 0.25Hz (10 or 4 seconds). The music is also chosen to help stimulate tone in the parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system

Breathing to Marvin Gaye

I Heard It Through the Grapevine: Marvin Gaye

This exercise involves breathing in for 4 seconds, gently and deeply through the nose, then breathing out for 6 seconds, making a total of 10 seconds per breath*. In this video, we breathe to Marvin Gaye’s version of I Heard It Through the Grapevine. You will see an indication on the screen when to breathe in and out, and an example of the breathing in practice.

Although this is the heart of Motown and therefore Detroit, you may imagine an evening gently rocking on a boat on the Great Lakes, enjoying the silhouette of the city, or maybe looking out towards Canada.

The song has a pulse of roughly one beat per second, so the music can assist you in counting. It is written in bars of four beats, Motown style, but the phrasing makes the pattern of 4 plus 6 quite natural. Please try to enjoy the music as you go along.

If this pattern of breathing makes you feel uncomfortable, please return to your natural way of breathing for the rest of the piece - the music will still help you.

* this pattern of breathing is designed to resonate with and support Heart Rate Variability, Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia, Baroreflex and Mayer Wave activity, all close either to 0.1Hz or to 0.25Hz (10 or 4 seconds). The music is also chosen to help stimulate tone in the parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system.

Nigel Osborne MBE BA BMus (Oxon) DLitt FRCM FEIS FRSE
Emeritus Professor of Music and Human Sciences, University of Edinburgh