Most of us know that breathing can help slow down the sympathetic nervous system and help us feel calmer by taking several deep breaths when stress creeps up on us, but a recent study finds that the power of the breath extends much further.
Breathing influences brain functions much closer than previously believed. Even the distinction between inhaling and exhaling exerts different results on the brain. Attention to surroundings is higher during an inhale, but outside stimulus is reduced and more focus to the task at hand is present when we exhale. People have been using this knowledge without really understanding just how attuned the brain is to the rhythm of the breath, such as in moments when clear focus is required, like in moments of aiming to hit a target.
Breath has also been used to calm and center emotions during yoga and meditative states of mind. When not actively practicing control over the breath, links between physical reasons for not taking deep breaths and a risk of increased poor mental health have been noted in the past. The researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark have identified three neural pathways that connect the brain and breath.
They noted that the brain fires more at different points of the breathing rhythm and are currently working towards studies that further explain how breath is tied to cognitive performance and emotional health. As a powerful cognitive tool, becoming more in tune with our own breathing rhythms can be an accessible way to get the most out of our brain power.
Micah Allen, Somogy Varga, Detlef H. Heck. Respiratory rhythms of the predictive mind.. Psychological Review, 2022; DOI: 10.1037/rev0000391