A research team at Yale has recently evaluated the impact of three well-being interventions:
– Breathing Exercises: in which you train yourself to control your emotions and inner state through breathing protocols.
– Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: a meditation technique in which you train yourself to be aware of each moment in a non-judgmental way.
– Foundations of Emotional Intelligence: a program that teaches techniques to improve awareness and regulation of your emotions.
They found that „the participants who practiced breathing exercises experienced the greatest mental health, social connectedness, positive emotions, stress levels, depression, and mindfulness benefits.“ I can tell you from my own experience training with a breathing coach and experimenting with different breathing techniques that the benefits really are remarkable.
So what makes breathing so effective?
Researchers have found that there is a direct connection between the part of the brain that controls your emotions and the part that controls your breathing. Moreover, different emotions are associated with different forms of breathing, so changing how you breathe can ultimately change how you feel and vice versa.
In other words, if you feel stressed or anxious, your breathing will be irregular, fast, and shallow. And vice versa: when you follow breathing patterns associated with different emotions, you’ll actually begin to feel those corresponding emotions. For example, if you breathe calmly, the research shows that this can lead to a greater feeling of calm.
How does this all work?
Changing the rhythm of your breath can signal relaxation, slowing your heart rate and triggering the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s “rest and digest” activities (in contrast to the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates many of our “fight or flight” responses). As a result, you will feel calmer, and your ability to think clearly returns.
To get an idea of how breathing can affect your arousal states (calm vs. stressed), try changing the ratio of your inhale to exhale:
– Prolonging the inhalation will bring more oxygen to your system and will increase your energy levels (increased sympathetic activity).
– Prolonging the exhalation will emit more CO2 and will calm you down (increased parasympathetic activity).
While a short breathing exercise can be effective from moment to moment, having a daily breathing routine will train your system for resilience and greater well-being over the long run.