Yogis have been demonstrating the amazing benefits of meditation for centuries now. Recently, meditation has become a popular way to deal with stress and anxiety, since deep breathing has been shown to calm the nervous system and slow down the heart rate. Meditators or those who practice breathing exercises report that these methods are capable of slowing down the mind.
We have all heard the saying “take a deep breath,” and this actually indeed makes senses. A recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found a strong link between nasal breathing and cognitive function.
The Link Between Our Breath and Our Brain
When practicing yoga, you typically breathe through the nose. While this seems more convenient, more peaceful, and less strenuous, researchers at Northwestern Medicine have come up with yet another explanation for this.
The researchers started by testing the electrical brain signals of 7 epilepsy patients with electrodes in their brain. It was found that the rhythms of the subjects` natural breathing equal the slow electrical rhythms in the brain regions linked to their sense of smell.
They also noted that during the nasal inhalation, the electrical rhythms in the amygdala, which is in charge for the ability to processed emotions, and the hippocampus, linked to memories and emotions, become stronger.
To learn more details regarding the topic, the researchers examined an additional 60 healthy subjects to discover the effects nasal breathing has on emotional behavior and memory. The subjects were shown both surprised and scared faces, and then they were supposed to immediately determine the emotional expression on the face. It turned out that they identified the scared faces much faster when they were inhaling through the nose compared to when they were shown the images when exhaling through the mouth.
The researchers also tested the subjects by showing them images and asking them to recall them. They did better at recalling the images if they were shown them on a nasal inhalation.
According to this study, nasal breathing plays an important role in the coordination of electrical brain signals in the olfactory smell cortex. So, it`s no wonder that the act of nasal breathing affects emotions and memory even when we don’t smell anything.
Therefore, nasal breathing is considered “the remote control of the brain,” since breathing through the nose impacts the electrical signals in the smell regions of the brain. By keeping our breath in check, we can improve brain function and develop better and quicker emotional recognition abilities and memory.
As a matter of fact, this is not the first study of this kind. A study done by Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) found that meditation rebuilds brain`s gray matter, which is associated with empathy, memory, stress and sense of self. Subjects practiced 27 minutes of mindfulness on a daily basis and experienced notable improvement within two months.
Other Health Benefits of Controlled Breathing and the Relaxation Response
The Relaxation Response is the opposite of the “fight or flight” response and is described as a deep relaxation which involves the parasympathetic nervous system. Yoga, breathing, and similar practices are all good ways to induce Relaxation Response.
According to Herbert Benson, M.D., of Harvard Medical School, Relaxation Response might counteract the physiological changes of stress, such as racing heartbeat, shallow breathing, headache, tension, and upset stomach.
As found by a Harvard study, meditation and Relaxation Response have the ability to mitigate symptoms of IBS and improve gut health. In this particular study, the participants reduced symptoms of IBS and anxiety by inducing the Relaxation Response.
Another study compared a group of meditators to a group of non-meditators and discovered that meditation offers long-term benefits, such as improved cellular and mental health. A study done on the same topic found that meditation indeed improves cellular health by protecting telomeres, which are situated on the ends on the chromosomes.
Besides physiological changes, meditation can also cause psychological and emotional changes. One study found that meditators produce higher melatonin levels when engaged in yoga or Transcendental Meditation-Sidhi.
Ultimately, according to Ellen L. Idler, Ph.D., a professor at Emory College, meditators are more likely to make healthy and positive changes. As Idler explains, meditation is a good way to reduce chronic stress.