A study in Cell Reports Medicine showed that five minutes of breathing every day for about a month can improve mood and reduce anxiety — and these benefits may go beyond meditation. for the same period.
“We are always doing more than living,” said David Spiegel, an author of the study. “And it’s a good idea to just take a few minutes to collect yourself, talk to your body and help it prepare to do what you want to do.”
The health benefits of breathing
In a randomized controlled study of 108 adults, researchers compared three different breathing exercises, in which their breathing was guided in different directions, and meditation, in which people experienced their breathing but did not try to control it. Participants practiced breathing at home, following video instructions.
One group of participants was told to practice cyclic sighing. Participants were instructed to breathe slowly through the nose to expand the lungs, and then breathe in again to fill the lungs. They were then asked to exhale slowly and completely through the mouth.
The second group focuses on chest breathing, which involves spending the same amount of time slowly relaxing, holding the breath, relaxing and holding it, before repeating it. taking the process.
The third group practiced cyclic hyperventilation, “emphasizing inhalation before exhalation. This is the mirror image of the cyclic sighing exercise,” said Spiegel, a professor of psychiatry. and behavioral scientist, and director of the Center on Stress and Health at Stanford University.
They take one deep inhalation through the nose, exhale passively and then let the air “fall out of the mouth,” he said. Every 30 rounds, they hold their breath after exhaling for 15 seconds.
The fourth group did mindfulness meditation, which encouraged awareness of the breath and their body – as opposed to force control. their breathing.
After 28 days, the participants reported that the meditation and breathing groups had better positive and negative thoughts compared to before they started their activities. Participants in both groups also reported a decrease in anxiety.
“That’s not good enough for five minutes a day,” Spiegel said. “Exercising control over your breathing seems to be part of a way to control your autonomic function.”
The positive effects of breathing took time: The more days the participants spent in their breathing practice, the better they felt each day.
Snoring efficiency has been found to vary between different breathing exercises. Participants in this group reported significantly improved mood compared to those who practiced mindfulness meditation.
The key to mindfulness is to practice it as a daily routine over a long period of time, says Gemignani, who doesn’t go into teaching or offering breathing exercises. and considering his patients. “I think five minutes is too short to stimulate the needs of subjects.”
What does breathing do for the body and brain?
When we are nervous, we breathe faster.
Breathing exercises allow us to prolong our breathing. And research shows that it can affect not only mood but physiology by inducing a relaxed body state.
A recent meta-analysis conducted by Gemignani and his colleagues shows that slow breathing practices can affect our autonomic system, which regulates important physiological processes such as heart rate. , blood and breathing. Specifically, these techniques appear to shift the balance from the amped-up fight-or-flight sympathetic mode to the rest-and-digest parasympathetic system.
“One hypothesis is that simply taking care of your breathing, and especially ways to stimulate the parasympathetic self-soothing activity, will improve mood and reduce your overall level,” Spiegel said.
In the new study, cyclic sighers were more likely to lower their breathing rate – how often they breathe – compared to regular sighers, although there was no difference in heart rate. Interestingly, the more the cyclic sighers have decreased breathing, the more positive they feel, indicating that those who have undergone the greatest physiological changes shows the greatest benefit to nature.
Breathing can strengthen our sense of responsibility, says Spiegel.
“We want a situation where we can control not only what is happening in the world, but what is happening inside our body, which we call interoception,” he said. “So it’s good to know you can do things to help your body respond and feel better.”
Breathing through the nose — which is used in many breathing exercises — can have a major impact on the brain, Gemignani said.
Slow inhalation through the nose can induce neural oscillations in the olfactory system, which can coordinate and slow down activity in wide areas of the cortex and other brain areas such as the hippocampus and amygdala. This slowing of activity may be important for a positive respiratory effect.
Spiegel said he plans to do neuroimaging research on how breathing patterns change the brain over time.
How to breathe well and be happy
Breathing exercises are simpler and easier than meditative exercises. Here are some tips to help you get started:
Consider the activities that are right for you. The results of this study show that sound is better, but the best breathing technique depends on the individual. Try all three breathing techniques and see which one feels right for you, says Gemignani. “The only choice is in the mind, body, brain of the same subjects,” he said.
Start small and build a routine. Just try it for five minutes and see how you feel doing your favorite breathing exercises, says Spiegel. “It’s not that hard to make it part of your daily routine if it only takes five minutes of your time.” You can do breathing exercises for longer than five minutes, which can increase the benefits.
Use it where and when you need it. The beauty of breathing exercises is that you can use them wherever you breathe whenever you need to stop and relax yourself. Gemignani said he does chest breathing while walking down the street or while taking a shower.
“I think what the study shows is that it’s a small, safe, easy-to-use procedure that has great results,” Spiegel said.
So when you feel anxious or stressed, remember to take a breath.
Have a question about human behavior or neuroscience? email address BrainMatters@washpost.com and we may respond in a future column.
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