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The Calming Benefits of Controlled Breathing

September 7, 2018 by

Whether you breathe quickly or slowly, shallow or deep, it has an impact on your body, mood, immune system, and stress levels. Breathing is often done without thinking, it just occurs automatically, however, when you are feeling tense or stressed, you may be reminded to concentrate on your breathing or take a deep breath.

Researchers recently discovered that breathing can impact your brain activity, as it is initiated by neurons in your brainstem. Certain neurons in the brain are linked to arousal, meaning there is a link between one’s breathing rate and emotional state. This study accidentally uncovered the neural circuit in the brainstem that plays a key role in the the connection between breathing and the brain.

This circuit can be adjusted by changing your breathing rhythm, meaning that slower and more controlled breathing will slow down the activity in the circuit and fast breathing will increase activity, which then has an impact on your emotions. Common controlled breathing techniques like the 4-7-8 breathing method can regulate the circuit.

Taking a deep breath during stressful situations is impactful, especially in controlling your blood pressure. Research shows that slowing down your breathing helps regulate your blood pressure through your heart rate. With time, controlling your breathing may lower your risk of having a stroke or an aneurysm, and can also decrease the stress on your blood vessels.

By actually counting your breaths, you can help influence your emotions. Participants in a study were asked to count the number of breaths they took in 2 minutes, which in turn helped them pay attention to their breathing. Results showed that their brain activity became more organized than it normally is when they are not counting their breaths. This suggests that controlling your breathing may have an impact on other physical and emotional states.

Further, your memory may also be impacted by your breathing. One study showed that the rhythm of one’s breathing impacts the activity in the brain that controls memory. The study showed that there was a difference depending on if people were breathing in or breathing out and if they were breathing with their nose or mouth. Inhaling through the nose specifically led to a greater memory of fearful faces. Also when inhaling, study participants were able to have a better recollection of specific objects. From this study, researchers believe that breathing through the nose generates more activity in the portion of the brain that controls emotions, which aids in the recollection of fearful stimuli. Additionally, inhaling may be linked to more activity in the portion of the brain that controls memory.

Although it is still in preliminary phases, studies have also shown that controlled breathing can help boost immunity and metabolism. One study looked at the brain’s relaxation response, which is a method of engaging the nervous system to not default to the fight or flight response to stressful situations. Controlled breathing causes one’s body to have a parasympathetic response and can also improve one’s immune system resiliency.

Additionally, this study found improvements in one’s metabolism and saw that people who did controlled breathing had more efficient insulin secretion, which leads to a more stable blood sugar level. If this is true, the results of this study add to the conclusion that doing controlled breathing not only works to fight stress, but it also can help improve one’s overall health.

Small changes in your breathing techniques can lead to significant changes in your overall health. Different breathing techniques can possibly offer a variety of advantages to your body. Because of this, it is a good idea to practice controlled breathing and see which techniques work best for you and which ones you are the most likely to stick with in the long run. You can even pick a few and rotate with which ones you use to give yourself a variety of options. Controlled breathing exercises can work to reduce stress and decrease anxiety, whether they involve taking deep breaths or just counting smaller, more shallow breaths.

Focusing on your breathing is a great way to improve your overall health. With many preliminary studies showing promising results, this is one thing that you can do to help your health improve that will cost you no money and very little time.

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