The Profound Power of Breathing. Deep, controlled breathing — an easy technique you can do anytime — can vastly improve your health and well-being.
The physiological effects of slow breathing in the healthy human. The aim of this article is to provide a comprehensive overview of normal respiratory physiology and the documented physiological effects of slow breathing techniques according to research in healthy humans. The review focuses on the physiological implications to the respiratory, cardiovascular, cardiorespiratory and autonomic nervous systems, with particular focus on diaphragm activity, ventilation efficiency, haemodynamics, heart rate variability, cardiorespiratory coupling, respiratory sinus arrhythmia and sympathovagal balance. [PMCID: PMC5709795]
Breathe through the nose! Modern research confirms the wisdom of the yoga tradition
Ageing of the Diaphragm Muscle. The article reviews the adaptations of the diaphragm muscle with respect to ageing, and it brings to light the importance of respiratory function to healthy ageing. Altered contractile function of the diaphragm can lead to accidental trauma, such as falls, and contributes to many diseases and conditions such as depression, fear of falling, anxiety, emotional alterations, memory issues, motor incoordination, and cognitive disorders. Ageing also affects posture, which in turn affects the diaphragm. This research makes clear how the practice of Qigong with it's emphasis on proper posture and exercising the diaphragm through purposeful, controlled diaphragmatic breathing contributes to health and active aging [PMCID: PMC7011578].
Respiratory Regulation & Interactions With Neuro-Cognitive Circuitry. Active control of breathing entrains respiration and brain activity which affects both mood and cognition [PMID: 32027875].
Understanding Mind-Body Disciplines: A Pilot Study of Breathing and Dynamic Muscle Contraction on Autonomic Nervous System Reactivity. Breathing combined with rhythmic muscle contraction led to greater activation of the parasympathetic response than either alternating contractions or breathing alone, which may help explain the stress reducing benefits of mind-body disciplines [PMID: 31347763].
Impact of diaphragm function parameters on balance maintenance. Deterioration of diaphragm function was closely related with deterioration of balance maintenance. Impairment of diaphragm function manifested by decrease of muscle thickness and movement restriction is strongly associated with balance disorders in a clinical sample and among healthy subjects. Diaphragmatic breathing is one way that Qigong and Tai Chi aid balance and mobility [PMCID: PMC6310257].
How breathing can help you make better decisions: Two studies on the effects of breathing patterns on heart rate variability and decision-making in business cases. Deep slow breathing (e.g. during the practice of Qigong) can increase vagal nerve activity, indexed by heart rate variability (HRV). These studies show that brief vagal breathing patterns reliably increase HRV and improve decision-making [PMID: 30826382].
The Influence of Breathing on the Central Nervous System. The functions of the diaphragm do not stop locally in its anatomy but affect the whole body system. The respiratory rhythm, directly and indirectly, affects the central nervous system (CNS). This article describes and reviews these influences, containing, for the first time, information on this subject in a single text [PMCID: PMC6070065].
The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. The present study illustrates the potential for diaphragmatic breathing practice to improve cognitive performance and reduce negative subjective and physiological consequences of stress in healthy adults [PMCID: PMC5455070].
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. The research shows for the first time that breathing - a key element of meditation and mindfulness practices - directly affects the levels of a natural chemical messenger in the brain called noradrenaline. This chemical messenger is released when we are challenged, curious, exercised, focused or emotionally aroused, and, if produced at the right levels, helps the brain grow new connections, like a brain fertiliser. The way we breathe, in other words, directly affects the chemistry of our brains in a way that can enhance our attention and improve our brain health. The full paper 'Coupling of respiration and attention via the locus coeruleus: Effects of meditation and pranayama' is available here: doi/10.1111/psyp.13091.
Breathing pattern disorders, motor control, and low back pain. There is evidence that the effects of breathing pattern disorders, such as hyperventilation, result in a variety of negative psychological, biochemical, neurological and biomechanical influences and interferences, capable of modifying each of these three subsystems. Diaphragmatic and transversus abdominis tone are key features in provision of core stability. Following just one minute of dysfunctional breathing, where carbon dioxide levels in the blood rise above normal, key core muscles either become weaker or stop working all together. This equals a recipe for chronic back pain.
Motivational Non-directive Resonance Breathing as a Treatment for Chronic Widespread Pain.This paper provides excellent background on the physiology and neurobiology of the combined effect of meditation, interoception, and intentful diaphragmatic breathing (in other words, Qigong) upon chronic pain. Based upon preliminary findings within the fields of motivational psychology, integrative neuroscience, diaphragmatic breathing, and vagal nerve stimulation, the authors propose a new treatment intervention for chronic widespread pain which includes key fundamentals of Qigong practice [PMCID: PMC6579813].
The benefits of conscious breathing as in Qigong: We inhale and exhale approximately 20,000 times per day. With up to ten muscles that can be utilised for inhalation and eight for forced exhalation, the breath has powerful effects on the physical, emotional and mental processes and function. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali says when you control your breath, you can control your mind and emotions. A recent study conducted by Stanford Scientists confirms this link between the breath and states of being. There is a group of neurons in the brain responsible for the respiratory system which connect breathing to states of mind and cognitive processing. This small neuronal subpopulation works as a breathing rhythm generator sending signals directly to the centre of the brain, and subsequently playing a key role in stress, attention and alertness. More...
Researchers pinpoint origin of sighing reflex in the brain. An unconscious sigh is a life-sustaining reflex that helps preserve lung function.
Breathing is like solar energy for powering relaxation: it’s a way to regulate emotions that is free, always accessible, inexhaustible and easy to use. Stress reduction, insomnia prevention, emotion control, improved attention—certain breathing techniques can make life better. Breathing practices are fundamental to Qigong. Scientific American. January 15, 2019. Read article.
"Since starting qigong 10 years ago, I haven't had to take antibiotics and have never felt healthier, worked harder, or been happier. I’ve also just gotten the results of a sleep study showing my obstructive sleep apnea has improved by 75 percent—my AHI sleep score, the number of breathing interruptions per hour of sleep, went from 80 to 20. And despite aging 10 years, my weight has not fluctuated by a single pound." More.
Slow paced breathing (e.g. during Qigong and Tai Chi) results in vagal nerve activation, which has a variety of beneficial effects including reducing inflammation, lowering stress, and increasing resilience. Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a common metric and biomarker for autonomic nervous system and vagal verve activity.
Heart rate variability (HRV) is the complex modification of the heart rate over time. HRV is a popular tool to non-invasively index autonomic control of the heart, as lower HRV is an accurate index of reduced parasympathetic activity. More recently, there has been a particular interest in linking HRV with both state and trait behaviours. For instance, several psychiatric illnesses have been associated with reduced HRV, suggesting that cardiac autonomic dysfunction contributes to the pathophysiology of these disorders. Moreover, various cognitive processes (e.g., theory of mind, cognitive flexibility) have also been shown to be related to HRV. While HRV data is relatively easy to collect, there are a number of crucial considerations when making inferences from HRV data. The purpose of this talk is to provide a brief primer on HRV, provide guidance on what to consider when planning a HRV study, outline various methods for the collection of HRV data, and to describe how to calculate HRV data.
There is little awareness and understanding within the medical profession of the adverse health implications of chronic mouth breathing. A conscious effort to ensure that people predominately nose breathe would likely result in a healthier population and a resultant decrease in healthcare expenses. Read article.
Immune Protective Effects of Nasal Breathing and Nitric Oxide in the time of COVID-19. Viruses and bacteria are spread through contact with contaminated surfaces and also through the air. Our nose is one of our primary lines of defence against airborne pathogens. It has a very sophisticated system for protecting the whole airway from infection and one of the key mechanisms involves the production of a chemical called nitric oxide.
In 1992, nitric oxide was proclaimed molecule of the year by the journal Science and was described as a startlingly simple molecule which unites neuroscience, physiology, and immunology, and revises scientists' understanding of how cells communicate and defend themselves. In 1998, Robert F Furchgott, Louis J Ignarro and Ferid Murad were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery that the gas nitric oxide is an important signalling molecule in the cardiovascular system.
How to breathe. Psyche Newsletter.
Practical 40 minute free breathing session with Patrick McKeown to improve respiratory health.
NY TIMES. It has been long recognized that deep, controlled breathing can calm someone having an anxiety attack or help anyone in need of a little more stress-relief and mental clarity. A study published last March in Science showed a direct anatomical link between the parts of the brain that control voluntary breathing and the parts that control emotionality. Breathing through the nose activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps people remain calm and alert, improves their peripheral vision and encourages them to maintain better posture and mechanics, which results in fewer injuries. More...
Typically, doctors prescribe medications to combat inflammation. However, there's growing evidence that another way to combat inflammation is by engaging the vagus nerve and improving “vagal tone" with mind-body practices such as Qigong. The article emphasizes that deep diaphragmatic breathing (fundamental to Qigong practice) —with a long, slow exhale—is key to stimulating the vagus nerve and slowing heart rate and lowering blood pressure. More...
If There Was Ever a Time to Activate Your Vagus Nerve, It Is Now. Four simple steps to return to a ‘rest and digest’ state.
ALSO see: Hacking the nervous system. One nerve connects your vital organs, sensing and shaping your health. If we learn to control it, the future of medicine will be electric.
Analogy between classical Yoga/Zen breathing and modern clinical respiratory therapy. In the present review, we examine the effect of classical breathing methods and find an analogy between typical Yoga/Zen breathing and modern clinical respiratory therapy. Evidence is increasing about historical breathing and related meditation techniques that may be effective in modern clinical practice, especially in the field of anesthesiology, such as in improving respiratory function and reducing chronic pain. [PMC7429199].
What Deep Breathing Does to Your Body. “A much more effective and quicker way of interrupting that stress response is to turn on the vagus nerve, which in turn powers up the parasympathetic nervous system,” she told the Cut. “Deep-breathing turns on the vagus nerve enough that it acts as a brake on the stress response.”
"One incredibly useful practice that may prove therapeutic for recovering Covid-19 patients is Qigong... Like yoga or tai chi, it is a practice of synchronizing breath with movement. Qigong translates to “life energy mastery” and includes exercise, movement of qi ( energy), and improved blood and lymphatic flow. Research suggests that Qigong improves health by decreasing stress, reducing inflammation, strengthening respiratory muscles, increasing lung capacity, and improving immune function. Each of these mechanisms can help restore lung function after Covid-19 infection." [Full Article]
A major reason why Qigong practice is so powerful is due to its combination of mindfulness with breathing and consequent toning of the vagus nerve. Although the article cautions that "Exactly why slow deep breathing brings about all these changes is still unclear", it essentially describes how it is done through the vagus nerve and diaphragmatic breathing which has been confirmed by a lot of recent research:
"Mindfulness, however, tends to involve passive observation – “watching the breath” – whereas breathwork [e.g. during Qigong] requires you to actively change the way you breathe. This includes ensuring that you breathe with your diaphragm (rather than the movement of your chest) so that you can fill your lungs with more air, while consciously slowing the pace of your breathing from your resting average.
By repeatedly stimulating the vagus nerve during those long exhalations, slow breathing may shift the nervous system towards that more restful state, resulting in positive changes like a lower heart rate and lower blood pressure." Read article.
Breathing is affected by and can counteract stress. Taking a deep breathe contributes to the belief that bigger breaths will deliver more oxygen to the cells. But the preseence of carbon dioxide is required for the transfer of oxygen from the blood to the tissues. Breathing too hard reduces CO2 concentration thus reducing oxygen delivery, which is called the oxygen dissociation curve. light breathing through the nose creates a higher concentration of nitric oxide which enhances oxygen uptake in the blood. breathing through the nose activates the diaphragm and massages the internal organs, facilitating the circulation of lymph. diaphragmatic breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
Mindful breathing can reduce stress, increase feelings of good will and keep us present in the moment. Both meditation and deep, slow abdominal breathing are linked to increased vagal tone. The Vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body, and supports everything from your health and well being to friendships and happiness. It travels all the way from the brain to the digestive system. This nerve works through the parasympathetic nervous system. The strength of your vagus response is known as your vagal tone. High vagal tone improves the function of many bodily systems. Benefits include, better blood sugar regulation, reduced risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, and improved digestion through optimal production of digestive enzymes. Breathing from your diaphragm (as during Qigong practice), rather than shallowly from the top of the lungs stimulates and tones the vagus nerve. More...
Various contemplative activities have in common that breathing is regulated or attentively guided. This respiratory discipline in turn could parsimoniously explain the physical and mental benefits of contemplative activities through changes in autonomic balance. We propose a neurophysiological model that explains how these specific respiration styles could operate, by phasically and tonically stimulating the vagal nerve: respiratory vagal nerve stimulation (rVNS). The vagal nerve, as a proponent of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), is the prime candidate in explaining the effects of contemplative practices on health, mental health and cognition. "Contemplative activity" is another phrase for Qigong. Read article.
There are many very good instructional videos primarily aimed at nursing students by Professor Fink and Dr. Campbell on YouTube. The following are a couple of good ones to start with.