The (Brain) Power of Breathing

I came across an interesting article entitled, Your Breath is Your Brain’s Remote Control.  Here are the main points from the article…

The power of active breathing – voluntarily inhaling and exhaling to control our breathing rhythm like we do in Pilates – has been known and used throughout history. Even today, in tactical situations by soldiers, or in extreme cold conditions by the Ice Man, we know that slow, deep breathing can calm the nervous system by reducing our heart rate and activating the parasympathetic (calming) nervous system. In this way, our bodies become calm, and our minds also quieten.  Recently, a new study has found evidence to show that there is a direct link between nasal breathing and our cognitive functions.

How Nasal Breathing Influences the Brain

Through a series of experiments, Northwestern Medicine scientists discovered that nasal breathing plays a pivotal role in coordinating electrical brain signals in the olfactory “smell” cortex – the brain regions that directly receive input from our nose – which then coordinates the amygdala (which processes emotions) and the hippocampus (responsible for both memory and emotions). We know that the “smell” system is closely linked to the limbic brain regions that affect emotion, memory and behaviour, which is why a particular smell or fragrance can evoke very strong emotional memories. This study shows, additionally, that the act of breathing itself, even in the absence of smells, can influence our emotions and memory.

The In-Breath Encodes Memories and Regulates Emotions

To further understand the effects that nasal breathing has on our brain regions, the scientists conducted separate experiments to test the effects of nasal breathing on memory and emotional behaviour. 60 subjects were presented with fearful or surprised faces, and had to make rapid decisions about the emotional expressions of the faces they saw. They were able to recognize the fearful faces (but not surprised faces) much faster when the faces appeared specifically during an in-breath through the nose. This didn’t happen during an out-breath, nor while mouth breathing. The scientists also tested memory where the same 60 subjects had to view images and later recall them. They found that memory for these images was much better if they first encountered and encoded these images during an in-breath through the nose.

These findings show a system where our in-breath is like a remote control for our brains: by breathing in through our nose we are directly affecting the electrical signals in the “smell” regions, which indirectly controls the electrical signals of our memory and emotional brain centers. In this way, we can control and optimize brain function using our in-breath, to have faster, more accurate emotional discrimination and recognition, as well as gain better memory.

Before you go, check my brain…distorted guitar riff alert!!!…



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