Posted on Jun 28, 2019, 6 p.m.
Research from the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience and the Global Brain Health Institute shows that deep breathing techniques rooted in ancient wisdom of Yogis and Buddhist practitioners can help to improve our ability to focus.
The researchers have found deep breathing performed in concert with mindfulness or meditation techniques stimulated the release of noradrenaline brain chemicals that improve focus and help the brain to stay youthful by growing new connections between cells.
Deep breathing techniques vary in purpose and benefits: Those that focus on breathing or mindfulness and feeling the sensations in the body tend to be beneficial for those whose attention wanders; those that involve controlling respiration tend to be beneficial for those whose arousal levels are too high/low resulting in feeling of drowsiness or anxiety.
Noradrenaline is produced in the locus coeruleus when feeling stressed, curious, focused, or aroused is suggested to be altered by respiration. When levels are low we feel sluggish and less motivated, when too high there is too much brain activity and we are unable to focus; the goal is to find a balance where we can think clearly and emotions are stable.
This study has shown that as you breathe in, locus coeruleus activity is increasing slightly, and as you breathe out it decreases.Put simply this means that our attention is influenced by our breath and that it rises and falls with the cycle of respiration. It is possible that by focusing on and regulating your breathing you can optimise your attention level and likewise, by focusing on your attention level, your breathing becomes more synchronized.” explains lead author Micheal Melnychuk.
As published in Psychophysiology 14 participants were included in this study, which found that those who did well on a task had good breath control and steady attention compared to those who did not. Respiration was observed to exhibit phase synchronization to stimulus presentation, removal of respiratory pattern generator neurons reduces arousal. Findings and existing functional and anatomical knowledge of the LC and connectivity together suggests respiratory and attentional systems may be coupled.
The researchers purpose coupled respiratory-LC-attentional systems can be described as a dynamical system which can be characterized by a three dimensional attractor in phase space. In this study attentional networks maintained stable states due to its own dynamics, shifts between states can occur by inhibitory processes, energy dissipation, or injections of energy into the system. Evolution of internal dynamics of their systems resulting from deep breathing techniques could influence the stability and/or depth of attractor basins to lower the amount of energy needed to maintain attentional states and to decrease the frequency of unintended attentional shifting.
“Brains typically lose mass as they age, but less so in the brains of long term meditators. More ‘youthful’ brains have a reduced risk of dementia and mindfulness meditation techniques actually strengthen brain networks. Our research offers one possible reason for this – using our breath to control one of the brain’s natural chemical messengers, noradrenaline, which in the right ‘dose’ helps the brain grow new connections between cells. This study provides one more reason for everyone to boost the health of their brain using a whole range of activities ranging from aerobic exercise to mindfulness meditation.” says principal investigator Ian Robertson.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.