Connection Between Breath and Brain Function
There is a resurgence of interest and research on the benefits of breathwork in the past decade. A recent 2017 study identified a link between breath rate and brain activity. They found a group of neurons in the brain they coined the “breathing pacemaker” that can be adjusted depending on our respiratory rate.
Calm and slow breathing decreased activity and fast erratic breathing increased activity in this region of the brain. These changes in the “breathing pacemaker” caused changes in the emotional state of mice being observed. This is an important step in understanding how we can use our breath to affect our nervous system and emotional states.
Benefits of Breathwork on Emotional Wellbeing
A 2018 study revealed the effects of counted breaths on our emotional wellbeing. This study measured changes in the cortical and limbic regions of the brain in response to controlled breathing. Participants were asked to count their breaths over a 2-minute period. These participants increased coherence in the limbic and cortical regions compared to a resting state.
The cortical region of the brain is responsible for memory, thought, awareness, attention, language and consciousness. The limbic region of the brain is responsible for emotion, behaviour, memory and smell. Therefor, breath awareness can optimize these aspects of ourselves.
Effects of Different Types of Breathwork
This study also revealed different outcomes when participants actively counted the breaths vs just focused breathing.
The participants actively counting their breaths engaged the frontotemporal-insular cortices. This area of the brain is involved in consciousness associated with emotion, empathy, self-awareness, perception and cognitive functioning.
The participants who were not counting their breaths, but were witnessing and observing their normal respiration, engaged the cingulate cortex. The region is part of the limbic system involved in emotional processing, learning and memory.
The research is finally catching up to what people have intuitively experienced for centuries, that our breath can be the key to regulating our emotional, mental and interpersonal wellbeing. This is a very handy tool in our sympathetic driven society, and the best part is that it’s free and always available!