How Does Breathing Affect Your Brain?

Breathing is a complex process that influences many areas of the brain. The cortical region of the brain controls behavioral control of breathing. Deep breathing can help calm the nervous system and improve memory and reduce stress. Researchers are beginning to unravel the neural mechanisms behind breathing.

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing can quiet the nervous system in your brain, which controls the fight-or-flight response. This response is activated when you’re under stress. Deep breathing has been proven to be a great way to quiet this response, and it can reduce your overall sense of stress and anxiety. You can check if deep breathing is working by wearing a heart rate monitor. When you take a deep breath, your heart rate should increase, but then drop back down quickly. If your heart rate spikes and stays high, then you’re experiencing higher levels of stress.

Behavioral Control

The central control of breathing involves a complex network of brain regions. Researchers have identified specific areas of the cortex involved in each phase of voluntary breathing. In particular, the diaphragm is controlled by the contralateral motor cortex. Hemispheric lesions also affect the intercostal muscles, which are located in the cortex. Additionally, positron emission tomography (PET) scans have revealed that there is a significant increase in cerebral blood flow during inspiration.

Improve Memory

Recent studies have shown that breathing through the nose helps improve memory. The nasal air helps increase neuronal oscillations in the brain, which improves memory processes. In addition, researchers have found that people with good spatial memory are more apt to remember smells. 

The hippocampus and the amygdala play important roles in memory and emotion. By breathing properly, these areas of the brain can be more relaxed, allowing the brain to work more efficiently. The researchers tested this theory by having twenty-one healthy people complete a series of behavioral tests. In one task, they had to identify the emotion of a face. In another, they had to recall a series of images, twenty minutes later.

Reduce Stress

There are many ways to reduce stress, but one of the most effective is by changing how you breathe. Changing the ratio of your inhale to your exhale will calm your nervous system and lower your heart rate. For example, you can practice breathing in for four seconds and out for eight. Longer exhales are also helpful in reducing stress.

Breathing exercises may also help you to become aware of your breathing patterns. By observing the way you breathe and how it affects your day-to-day life, you can learn how to switch between shallow and deep breathing. Deep breathing will induce a relaxation response in your body and mind, so you should pay attention to your breathing when stressed.

Read: Psychological Tips to Be More Productive

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