Controlled Breathing Improves Focus and Benefits the Brain

We’ve all had that moment. The one where we are in a tizzy, can’t seem to calm down, and our friend/mother/partner/coworker gives us that cliched advice, “Just breathe”. In that moment, we want to do anything but breathe.  We probably want to punch them in the face. And while our initial reactions are to ignore this seemingly useless advice, you might want to think again. There is research-tested supporting that taking a moment to “just breathe” might be exactly what you need.  


Controlled breathing has long been a feature of Eastern health practices, and now, new studies have an explanation behind the long-held connection between breathing-based mediation and cognitive benefits.


The Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity College has discovered in their research a neurophysiological link between respiration and cognition. The research honed in on a small area in the brain called the locus coeruleu (LC) which is a nucleus found in the pons. French anatomist, Félix Vicq d’Azyr, discovered this blue-colored area in the Pons in the early 1800’s apptly naming it locus coeruleu which means “blue spot” in Latin. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that scientists discovered the blue pigment was formed by chemical reactions involving the neurotransmitter norepinephrine other wise known as noradrenaline.


So what does all this have to do with you just breathing? Well, noradrenaline is a chemical that is released when we are challenged, focused or emotionally aroused. The Trinity study showed that those who incorporate intentional and consistent breathing exercises can affect this neurotransmitter. “When we are stressed, we produce too much, and when we are sluggish, we produce too little; those who practiced daily breathing techniques produced the sweet spot in which our emotions, memory and thought are much clearer” said Michael Melnychuk, lead author on the study.


Controlled breathing is becoming recognized as a potent psychological tool to prevent our brains from keeping us in a state of stress and preventing subsequent damage caused by high stress levels. “Brains typically lose mass as they age, but less so in the brains of long-term meditators,” says Melnychuk “more youthful brains have a reduced risk of dementia, and mindfulness meditation techniques actually strengthen brain networks.” This research encourages future research to better understand how breathwork can serve as an aid to those with traumatic brain injuries and provide an alternative to pharmacological treatments for people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Dementia.


“By changing patterns of breathing, we can change our emotional states and how we think and how we interact with the world,” says Patricia Gerbarg, an assistant clinical professor in psychiatry at New York Medical School. So the next time you find yourself being worked into a state of emotional and mental distress, give breathing a shot. It can be your quick and immediate release to clear away the mental fog in these crazy times and to get clarity about your actions. It doesn’t hurt that it will also be beneficial to you and your brain in the long run.


The research was published in the journal Psychophysiology.

Source Trinity college dublin