How Breathing Makes Your Brain Bigger

It turns out, breathing is good for you.

Who would have thought it to be true!?

In a study done at Trinity College Dublin, researchers found that breath-work enhances concentration, focus, and can even lead to growth of new connections in the brain.

Take a breath.

Inhale for one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, four-one-thousand.

Hold for one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, four-one-thousand.

Exhale for one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, four-one-thousand.

Hold for one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, four-one-thousand.

Keep doing this, if you can, while you’re reading.

You’re performing a pranayama called Sama-vritti, or in English, The Identical-Motion breath. More recently, you may have heard this referred to as The Four-Square Breath, or Box-Breathing. This technique is used by Navy Seals, athletes, and yogis alike to heighten performance and concentration, and alleviate stress.

Prana, in yogi-speak, means life-force.

Yama, in yogi-speak, means control.

In yogic thought, breathing is an external manifestation of prana. This life-force-control has been thought to increase the supply of oxygen and prana available to your system, supercharging the body and the mind, and allowing for higher states of consciousness. Yogis have made this claim for around 2,000 years.

They’ve been making this claim for a long time.


Mindfulness and meditation are kind of a dad right now.

I should know, I’m completing my Meditation Teacher Training at Temple of Kriya in Chicago.

With that being said, fads lead to research, and research leads to validation. And invalidation of claims.

Recently, a study was completed at Trinity College Dublin which sheds some light on the use of breath-work and its influence on attention.

In cases where an individual was struggling to maintain attention, a mindful-breathing technique was shown to improve the attention span.

How do you implement this practice in your own life? When you’re struggling to focus, take a moment to bring your attention to the breath.

When you inhale, simply note that the breath is rising.

When you exhale, simply note that the breath is falling.

Like water in the ocean, the breath is rising and falling.

Rising and falling.

Close your eyes and follow the rise (1), and the fall (2) of the breath until you reach 10.

Then, open your eyes and keep reading. I’ll wait.

 

Welcome back! You just practiced a mindfulness technique called Observing the Breath. Perhaps it didn’t work, though. Perhaps, you’re feeling a bit tired, or a bit overstimulated. Researchers found that, when the level of arousal is the issue, a deep-breathing technique is more beneficial.

Queue Sama-Vritti, The Identical Motion Breath, the Four-Square Breath, or the Box-Breath, however you want to remember it.

Ready?

Inhale to a count of 4, but you can keep going if you want a deeper breath.

Hold for the same amount of time.

Exhale for the same amount of time.

Hold again for the same amount of time.

Repeat this for 4 cycles. Close your eyes. I’ll wait.

 

Welcome back, again! Do you feel more focused? I sure hope so.

If you don’t, that’s okay too! This is one technique of many.

Researchers were able to show that breath-work improved focus, decreased mind-wandering, improved arousal, increased positive emotions, and decreased emotional reactivity.

Researchers were able to measure the effect of breathing on a chemical messenger in the brain called noradrenaline. This chemical messenger is aroused when we’re challenged, curious, exercised, focused or emotionally stimulated. Noradrenaline also acts as Miracle-Gro, increasing the growth rate of connections in the brain.

This data was so intriguing that further research shows potential for improvement of conditions like ADHD and traumatic brain injury, as well as supporting cognitive health in aging populations. Meditators tend to retain more brain-weight as they age when compared to non-meditators, which is correlated with a reduced risk for dementia.

So, my questions for you are these:

  1. Do you have ten seconds?
  2. Observing the Breath, or Sama-Vritti Technique? You choose.

Ready? Go! Close your eyes, and practice your technique.

Then, go back to your task.

You can thank yogis and scientists later.


Still reading? Interested in learning more about meditation, and deep-breathing pranayamas? What I haven’t told you is that I’m a Meditation Teacher too. Feel free to drop in on one of my guided meditations at Life Time Fitness – Schaumburg at 11:15am on Sundays or 6:05 am on Wednesdays.

You can also find some information on my Soundcloud or Youtube channels.

In addition to that, I’m available for private lessons! Shoot me a text at 847.807.5361 if you’re interested in that.

Shanti.

References:

  1. Trinity College Dublin. “The Yogi masters were right — meditation and breathing exercises can sharpen your mind: New research explains link between breath-focused meditation and attention and brain health.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 May 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180510101254.htm>.
  2. Michael Christopher Melnychuk, Paul M. Dockree, Redmond G. O’Connell, Peter R. Murphy, Joshua H. Balsters, Ian H. Robertson. Coupling of respiration and attention via the locus coeruleus: Effects of meditation and pranayamaPsychophysiology, 2018; e13091 DOI: 10.1111/psyp.13091

Photo courtesy of Samuel Silitonga, via Pexels.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s