Hello dear listener! This is episode four of The Sensate Space podcast, a psychology show about vaginismus / GPPPD and other pelvic and sexual pain disorders, this time exploring the extended exhale breathing technique for whole-body relaxation.

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Hi there, welcome! Thank you for sharing your time with me today.

This episode, we're talking about extended exhale breathing – a simple technique that can be pretty powerful. If you're tackling stress, or need to reduce whole-body muscle tension to then help reduce your pelvic pain, or you’re just looking for a little boost in your day - this might be the tool for you.

Inhale. Exhale. The rhythm of our breath is so much more than just a biological necessity – it can influence our body's response to stress and promote a state of relaxation. One technique that is particularly known for its calming effects is "extended exhale breathing." So, by breathing out for a slightly longer duration than breathing in, you can activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This leads to a cascade of physiological responses that support relaxation.

What happens in our body?

When we exhale for a longer period than we inhale, we engage the parasympathetic nervous system. This branch of our autonomic nervous system is often dubbed the "rest-and-digest" mode – it's responsible for slowing down our heart rate, reducing blood pressure, and creating an overall sense of calm. The vagus nerve, a really important part in this system, gets stimulated during an extended exhale. This stimulation then triggers a series of responses that culminate in a state of relaxation. So, Imagine it like a switch that shifts your body from the stress-driven "fight-or-flight" mode to a more restorative state.

Research spotlight

Recent studies have delved into the effects of different breathing patterns on heart rate variability (HRV), which is a marker of autonomic nervous system activity. Two studies conducted by Bae et al. (2021) and Laborde et al. (2021) have recently explored the benefits of extended exhale breathing. Their results echoed what yoga practitioners have been advocating for centuries – that a prolonged exhale duration correlates with heightened parasympathetic activity and increased HRV. Essentially, this means that individuals who exhale for a longer duration than they inhale exhibit greater signs of relaxation.

Now, these are only small studies that provide a scientific glimpse into the power of extended exhale breathing but it does align with older Eastern practices. So, watch this space!

How do you do extended exhale breathing?

So, how can you tap into this technique for your well-being? It's simple. During deep breathing exercises, pay attention to the length of your exhale. Aim to make it slightly longer than your inhale. You don't need a timer; just allow your breath to flow naturally, extending the exhale gently. As you do this, you're activating the parasympathetic nervous system, invoking a relaxation response. It shouldn’t be uncomfortable, and it shouldn’t leave you lightheaded or wheezing. If you’re prone to this, check in with medical attention first. And obviously - never do any relaxation exercises while doing something demanding like driving or if you have a history of breathing or medical difficulties.

For those of you with muscle tension and pain-related issues like GPPPD, extended exhaling can be a useful strategy to assist with invoking a relaxation response prior to, and during, physical examinations or dilation therapy.

Best of all - it’s a tool you can take with you wherever you go.

To recap, extended exhale breathing is an on-the-go tool you can tap into when you need to release some tension in your body. It’s a chance to stop and check in with yourself, essentially allowing a pause and giving yourself some more time and space during the day.

PS - this is one of the tips mentioned in our free guide to managing physical examinations when you have pelvic pain. Make sure you grab your copy at thesensatespace.com to read our other strategies!


Bae, D., Matthews, J. J., Chen, J. J., & Mah, L. (2021). Increased exhalation to inhalation ratio during breathing enhances high‐frequency heart rate variability in healthy adults. Psychophysiology, 58(11), e13905. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34289128/

Laborde, S., Iskra, M., Zammit, N., Borges, U., You, M., Sevoz-Couche, C., & Dosseville, F. (2021). Slow-paced breathing: Influence of inhalation/exhalation ratio and of respiratory pauses on cardiac vagal activity. Sustainability, 13(14), 7775. https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/13/14/7775#:~:text=The%20aim%20of%20this%20study,inhalation%20phase%2C%20confirming%20our%20hypothesis.


This is a psychology podcast about vaginismus and other pelvic and sexual pain disorders, and related issues (genito-pelvic pain/penetration disorder, dyspareunia, vulvodynia, painful intercourse, gynaecological pain, sexual dysfunction, chronic pelvic pain) for the purpose of education and collaboration; it’s not therapy or medical advice. Information is general in nature and does not replace individualised assessment or treatment advice. Please seek professional support tailored to your specific needs. If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help now, call triple zero (000). You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14 — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Please see our About page for more information.

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