In recent years, science has confirmed what yogis and monks have known for many years — that breathwork promotes physical and mental health. For over 80 million Americans who practice yoga and millions more who practice mindfulness, breathwork is an essential part of maintaining balance in their daily lives.
Breathwork is a varied practice that involves exerting conscious control over your breathing patterns. Breathing is both an autonomic and voluntary function. While many of us don’t think about how we breathe, breathwork interventions explore how, by controlling your breathing it can benefit your overall well-being.
As an increasingly popular intervention, breathwork is being viewed as a complementary and alternative medicine for many health-related issues. Companies and organizations are integrating breathwork and mindfulness programs into their employee stress management mechanisms. There’s also a flurry of apps and startups that leverage the idea that breathwork can help you in many use cases. But what does science say about all this?
A systematic literature review published in the British Journal of Healthcare Management found that breathwork through mindfulness interventions can help people suffering from chronic pain or any other stressful long-term condition. After looking at more than 50 studies on mindfulness and breathwork, the review also found that the current body of research is confounded by a number of methodological flaws.
Although the evidence suggests that breathwork and mindfulness are legitimate therapeutic interventions for a variety of conditions, science still has a lot of catching up to do in terms of drawing conclusions. Thankfully, many scientific minds are stepping up to the challenge.
Yogic breathing and stress reduction
Yoga practitioners often claim how conscious deep breathing can relieve stress. Until fairly recently, most of these claims have only been backed up by anecdotal and self-reported evidence. In 2016, researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina did a controlled experiment on yogic breathing. After analyzing saliva samples from study participants, those who did breathing exercises were found to have fewer cytokines than the control group. Cytokine presence in saliva is linked to both stress and inflammation.
These findings provided insights on how science can quantify that relaxing feeling you get after deep yogic breathing.
Nasal breathing and cognitive ability
Additionally, breathing through your nose has been linked with enhanced memory and learning capabilities.
A study underscored by the New York Times found that breathing through your nostrils enhances memory consolidation. The researchers postulate that this has something to do with the engagement of the olfactory bulb—also linked to clarifying thoughts, improving mood, and reducing stress.
This coincides with what Maryville University explains about the newly recognized connections between mental health and learning ability – that psychology and education are intertwined. As businesses increasingly value these inherent connections and more research about the effects of breathwork surface, the connections between respiration and brain function will become clearer as well.
Breathing exercises and health
Breathing exercises have been used to combat a variety of medical conditions like panic and anxiety attacks, stress-induced asthma, and pain management. Cardiac coherence – breathing in 10-second cycles – has been found to stabilize heartbeat and improve mood management. Slow breathing exercises before going to bed have been recognized by scientists to improve sleep quality. The working theory as to why it happens lies with the engagement of the vagus nerve in breathing exercises.
Practices like holotropic breathing, however, should only be done with guiding professionals. The growing combination of neurobiological and psychological studies on why breathing works, leads us ever closer to uncovering the science of breathwork.
Exclusively written for ELHappyCoach.Com
By: Amber Summer