Breathwork can improve mood and alter physiological states more effectively than mindfulness meditation

A new report published in Medicine Reports Unit found that people who use assigned breathing techniques experienced greater mood improvements and reduced respiratory rates compared to those who practice mindfulness meditation. These results indicate that breathing may be an important therapeutic tool for people with depressed mood or an overactive nervous system.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, breathing has become a popular and cost-effective intervention to improve health and well-being through intentional breathing techniques. Numerous scientific studies have shown how our breathing affects our heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen levels and ventilation. Additionally, initial research has provided evidence that techniques such as slow and nasal breathing can improve quality of life for asthma patients, reduce anxiety, and improve people’s alertness and learning abilities.

Interestingly, research has shown that mindfulness breathing and meditation have distinct differences. Unlike mindfulness meditation, breathing involves intentionally altering the physiological state of the body through controlled breathing techniques. Mindfulness meditation focuses on observing your breath without actively trying to change it, with the goal of increasing awareness of the present moment.

Although there is a growing body of evidence supporting the benefits of breathing for overall health and well-being, more studies are needed to understand the relative impacts of different breathing techniques and the number of breathing exercises needed. to achieve these results. Therefore, Melis Yilmaz Balban and her colleagues sought to compare the psychological and physiological effects of mindfulness meditation to three different breathing exercises.

The research team recruited 108 participants who were assigned to different technical conditions: meditation, cyclic sighs, canned breathing or cyclic hyperventilation. During the month-long study, participants practiced their assigned technique for five minutes a day. At the start and end of the study, the researchers collected information about anxiety and sleep disturbances. Participants completed daily measures of anxiety, affect, heart and breathing rate, and sleep quality.

The results revealed that all four groups experienced significant improvements in positive affect as well as reductions in state anxiety and negative affect. However, there were notable differences between mindfulness meditation and breathwork in positive affect, with the cyclical sighing group showing the greatest increase and the mindfulness meditation group showing the least. Additionally, the breathing group experienced significant physiological changes, such as a lower respiratory rate compared to the mindfulness meditation group.

Based on the data, cyclical sighing, which involves prolonged exhalation and double inspiration, was found to produce significant benefits for mood and physiology. The effects of various breathing techniques on cardiac function have been established, and studies suggest that heart rate variability reflects vagal function.

The new study suggests that breathing may be more effective in inducing mental and physical relaxation due to its direct influence on the physiological state of the body through controlled breathing.

Although there were no significant variations in heart rate variability across different respiratory conditions, deliberate breathing practices are believed to affect brain function through vagus nerve pathways. Additionally, breathing can enhance interoceptive processes, which involve sensing and interpreting visceral stimuli through the brain-body axis.

COVID-19 restrictions limited the study; the data was collected remotely, so it is unclear whether participants were following daily practices. Also, the sample size was quite small.

The results of this research indicate that intentional breathing techniques can have a diverse impact on physiology and mood compared to mindfulness meditation by managing vagal function and improving interoceptive processes.

The study, “Brief Structured Breathing Practices Improve Mood and Reduce Physiological Arousal,” was authored by Melis Yilmaz Balban, Eric Neri, Manuela M. Kogon, Lara Weed, Bita Nouriani, Booil Jo, Gary Holl , Jamie M. Zeitzer, David Spiegel and Andrew D. Huberman.

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