Your Breath Controls Your Mind

The Breath Heals

Deep breathing is a proven method to calm the nerves. Meditators who practice breathing techniques, known as pranyama, reports the meditation breathing practices silence or slow down the mind. But how precisely does meditation and pranayama breathing affect the brain, and our moods? A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience examines a direct link between our cognitive function and nasal breathing.

Researchers used electrodes to test the electrical brain signals of seven epilepsy patients; the findings showed that the participants’ natural rhythms of breathing matched the slow electrical rhythms in the brain, in the regions associated with the sense of smell. Researchers also noted that during nasal inhalation, the faster electrical rhythms of the amygdala, a region of the brain responsible for processing emotions, and the hippocampus, associated with emotions and memories, grew stronger.

As a control group, the researchers examined an 60 healthy people, to examine the effects nasal breathing has on emotional behavior and memory. These test subjects were shown photos of both frightened and surprised faces, and immediately asked to describe the emotional expression they just saw. The test participants were able to identify the frightened faces much more quickly when they were inhaling through the nose, than when they were shown the photos during an exhale, or when breathing through the mouth.

The researchers also showed the test subjects photos, and then asked them to recall them later. The test subjects were able to recall the images much better, if they were shown the photos on an inhale through the nose.

The conclusion of the study suggested that nasal breathing plays an integral part in co-ordinating electrical signals in the brain, and in the olfactory “smell” regions of the brain, that receive sensory input from our nose. It became clear that nasal breathing can effect our emotions and memory.

By controlling our breathing, we could actually improve our brain function, developing both a more accurate and faster emotional recognition, and improve our memory. Studies have shown that controlled breathing, often practiced as slow, measured inhalation and exhalation, can have very beneficial effects on our health.

A study conducted by Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) showed that meditation literally rebuilt the brain’s grey matter, which is associated with a sense of self, the memory, empathy, and feelings of stress. Test subjects practiced approximately 1/2 hour of mindfulness meditation daily, and they experienced significant improvement after only eight weeks. Another study showed that controlled breathing and meditation may protect and lengthen the telomeres, which are located at the ends of our chromosomes. If your chromosomes are healthy, your cells are healthy. This proves that meditation can improve cellular health.

In addition to physiological changes, meditation can also help the practioner emotionally and psychologically as well. Studies have proven that experienced meditators produce increased levels of melatonin. A study by the Chopra Center for Wellbeing compared a group of meditators to a group of non-meditators, and found that meditation has long term benefits, including improved mental and cellular health.

The Relaxation Response is the opposite of the “fight or flight” response; it is a deep sense of relaxation, that engages the parasympathetic nervous system. The Relaxation Response can be induced through controlled breathing, and other meditation practices.

According to Herbert Benson, M.D., of Harvard Medical School, the Relaxation Response counteracts the physiological effects of the fight or flight response, including stress, muscle tension, headaches, stomach upset, a racing heartbeat, and shallow breathing.

In conclusion, meditation and mindfulness practices that include conscious breathing practices, could have a profound effect on your mental, emotional and physical health.

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