Everyone knows this situation: you are super stressed and can not think clearly anymore.
The solution: take a deep breath!
And indeed, after a few deep breaths, you are more relaxed and the brain seems to work again. But why is that? What are the effects of breathing on the brain?
Control Your Breathing
Breathing is controlled by the autonomic nervous system and works automatically if we do not focus on it.
Because breathing is vital – without breath no life.
The peculiarity is that, in contrast to all other functions of the autonomic nervous system, we can consciously control our breathing.
We can consciously breathe slower or faster, hold the air or let the breath flow into the abdomen or chest.
You can already recognize the interaction between breath and brain.
Your thoughts can control your breathing while breathing influences your brain.
Take-home message # 1: Breathing is a vital, automatically controlled reflex that we can consciously influence.
Effects of Breathing
To get air into your body, you inhale through the nose or mouth.
This air is transported directly to the lungs via the respiratory tract. Here, the gas exchange happens: Oxygen (O2) is absorbed from the air into the blood, at the same time carbon dioxide (CO2) is released from the blood into the air, which is released again when exhaling.
The deeper and more intense you inhale, the more oxygen enters the bloodstream through the lungs. But even a strong exhalation is important so that enough CO2 can be removed from the body.
For example, scientists at University College London found that astrocytes, the star-shaped cells of the brain, control our breathing. In rats, they found that these astrocytes were significantly activated by elevated levels of CO2 in the blood and stimulated the release of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), an important energy source in cellular respiration.
If too little oxygen is absorbed into the bloodstream or too little CO2 is released due to too shallow respiration or increased physical activity, the brain reacts immediately to stimulate the respiration and to increase the oxygen supply.
At rest, an adult breathes about 12 to 15 times a minute. As you move, the respiratory rate accelerates as the body needs more oxygen for endurance and muscle performance.
In addition, an adult at rest inhales about half a liter of air. However, a conscious deep breath can increase the volume to 2.5 liters. And there are other insights that you may not have known yet.
Facts about Breathing and the Brain
Nasal breathing promotes memory
It has also been scientifically proven that inhalation gives our brain power. Because US researchers have recently taken a closer look at the effects of breathing on our memory and our emotions.
It showed that the subjects inhale through the nose much better remember things. Also, they were able to recognize emotions in the faces of other people, such as the difference between fear and surprise.
It is interesting that this effect could actually only be detected by breathing through the nose. On the other hand, mouth breathing did not increase memory.
Nasal breathing thus activates neurons in areas of the brain that are responsible for memory and emotional processing.
Also exciting is the realization that the brain can remember things easier when inhaling than exhaling.
The saying “absorb knowledge” has its justification. The faster breathing in fear or stress situations can be justified by the fact that brain power is pushed to respond faster in case of danger.
Sighing is vital
Have you ever thought why sometimes you make a deep sigh? And have you ever noticed that you have to sigh not only during stress, disappointment or after a hard workout, but also in random situations?
For whether it is audible or almost noiseless: every person breathes in and out more deeply per hour than the normal breathing rhythm would require.
The reason for this has been discovered by researchers from the University of California and Stanford University: The one-time deep inhalation and exhalation reactivate the pulmonary alveoli in the lungs.
The small respiratory aid collapse during normal breathing and are brought back by the increased air supply while sighing.
In short, sighing is a vital reflex!
Take-home message # 2: Breathing through the nose enhances the memory and the processing of emotions. Sighing is also a vital reflex to activate the alveoli.
Breathing to boost your brain
In the morning after getting up you feel mentally fit. But during the day, your ability to concentrate wanes. That’s because your brain is not getting enough oxygen.
A short walk in the fresh air can already work wonders.
But if you want to increase your cognitive skills in the long term, you should incorporate targeted breathing exercises in your everyday life.
That can be five minutes in between for a quick memory kick, or longer sessions several times a week in which you consciously devote yourself to your breathing. Once you focus on optimizing your breathing, you will quickly see progress in your mental performance.
Breathing Exercises to Boost your Brain
These simple exercises increase your ability to concentrate and give you more energy:
5 Minutes Breathing
Even a short exercise of five minutes can sharpen your senses and give you the focus for the essentials. Whether at home, in the office or on the road, you can perform these breathing exercises at any time:
Breathing Exercise 1: In the abdomen, sitting upright or standing with closed eyes, breathe in and out of the abdomen three times as deep as possible, trying to fill the abdomen with more breath each breath. Then you shift your breathing into the chest for three deep breaths, feeling the chest expanding as you inhale. You can string this change between abdominal and chest breathing as often as you like until your mind calms down. Finally, breathe in and out three times as normal and you will feel your mind revived and ready for new challenges.
Breath Exercise 2: This breathing exercise is especially good for on the go: Try to intensify your breaths. For example, if you inhale, you count to four, during exhale as well. The next time you breathe, count to five, exhale as well, and so on. The exercise can be done very well as you go from one appointment to the next. You simply use your steps as a measure: inhale over four steps, exhale over four steps, and so on. Advanced users try to count longer on expiration than on inhalation.
Intensive Breathing Exercises
Of course, you can also intensify the above-mentioned quick exercises at home by taking more time for yourself or lying relaxed on the floor. You can also learn different meditation methods, do mindfulness exercises or practice yoga:
Meditation is definitely an excellent way to sharpen the mind and focus on the important things. Because meditation promotes brain performance and has a training effect, that has been scientifically proven years ago.
Psychologist Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison found out in a study that his subjects had increased brain capacity after three-month meditation practice.
They were then able to solve more complex puzzles than before. For starters, you can join a group and try different meditation techniques. If you have some sense for the relaxation method, you can also include regular 20-30 minute units in your weekly schedule.
Practice Mindfulness: Another way to sharpen your mental abilities is to practice mindfulness. In doing so, you develop a value-free awareness of the here and now. A simple exercise that anyone can practice daily is to consciously perceive the moment after waking. Before you prepare for the day, you stay in bed for a few minutes and feel inside yourself. Another mindfulness exercise can be directly connected to a breathing exercise by simply taking a moment to consciously perceive your breathing.
Yoga: Of course, regular yoga exercises are an excellent way to let the breath flow in your body and to gain new energy. Inhalation and exhalation is an integral part of asanas.
A likewise effective yoga exercise is fire breathing: In doing so, you breathe in and out of the nose several times, quickly and intermittently. Those who follow a few deep breaths on such a short power unit immediately feel the positive effect on the energy level. However, this breathing technique needs a little practice and should be done under guidance.
In addition to breathing training, you can boost your memory through ginseng and ginkgo biloba. The plants stimulate the circulation of the brain and provide your brain with additional oxygen.
Both have been used for thousands of years for mental performance enhancement and better concentration.
Take-home message # 3: Breathing exercises increase the brain’s performance permanently and can be practiced or intensified at any time in between.
Conclusion: Breathing and the Brain
To sum it up:
Breathing does influence the brain.
Some kinds of breathing exercises are beneficial to anybody. for the beginning, even the 5 minutes breathing exercises will give you results.
For a clear mind, correct breathing is essential.
Do you use any breathing techniques? Let us know in the comments!