Take a deep breath, expanding your belly. Pause. Exhale slowly to the count of five. Repeat four times.
Congratulations. You’ve just calmed your nervous system.
Controlled breathing, like what you just practiced, has been shown to reduce stress, increase alertness and boost your immune system. For centuries yogis have used breath control, or pranayama, to promote concentration and improve vitality
Science is just beginning to provide evidence that the benefits of this ancient practice are real.
Studies have found, for example, that breathing practices can help reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and attention deficit disorder.
How controlled breathing may promote healing remains a source of scientific study.
One theory is that controlled breathing can change the response of the body’s autonomic nervous system, which controls unconscious processes such as heart rate and digestion as well as the body’s stress response, says Dr. Richard Brown, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry
Consciously changing the way you breathe appears to send a signal to the brain to adjust the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, which can slow heart rate and digestion and promote feelings of calm as well as the sympathetic system, which controls the release of stress hormones like cortisol.
When you take slow, steady breaths, your brain gets the message that all is well and activates the parasympathetic response, said Dr. Brown. When you take shallow rapid breaths or hold your breath, the sympathetic response is activated.
Controlled breathing may also affect the immune system.
The researchers found that the breathing exercise group’s saliva had significantly lower levels of three cytokines that are associated with inflammation and stress.
The findings were published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine in August.
Below are a couple more PubMed articles about how breathing affects our body:
The article explains the scientific reasons for the diaphragm muscle being an important crossroads for information involving the entire body.
The diaphragm muscle extends from the trigeminal system to the pelvic floor, passing from the thoracic diaphragm to the floor of the mouth.
Like many structures in the human body, the diaphragm muscle has more than one function, and has links throughout the body, and provides the network necessary for breathing.
To assess and treat this muscle effectively, it is necessary to be aware of its anatomic, fascial, and neurologic complexity in the control of breathing. The patient is never a symptom localized, but a system that adapts to a corporeal dysfunction.
Normal breathing mechanics play a key role in posture and spinal stabilization.
Breathing Pattern Disorders (BPD) have been shown to contribute to pain and motor control deficits, which can result in dysfunctional movement patterns.
The Functional Movement Screen™ (FMS™) has been shown to accurately predict injury in individuals who demonstrate poor movement patterns. The role BPD play on functional movement is not well established. Furthermore, there is currently no single test to clinically diagnose BPD. A variety of methods are used, but correlations between them are poor.
These results demonstrate the importance of diaphragmatic breathing on functional movement. Inefficient breathing could result in muscular imbalance, motor control alterations, and physiological adaptations that are capable of modifying movement. These findings provide evidence for improved breathing evaluations by clinicians.
Functional movement is defined as the ability to produce and maintain an adequate balance of mobility and stability along the kinetic chain while integrating fundamental movement patterns with accuracy and efficiency
Postural control deficits, poor balance, altered proprioception, and inefficient motor control have been shown to contribute to pain, disability, and interfere with normal movement
- poor posture,
- scapular dyskinesis,
- low back pain,
- neck pain and
- temporomandibular joint pain
exhibit signs of faulty breathing mechanics.
Thoracic breathing is produced by the accessory muscles of respiration (including sternocleidomastoid, upper trapezius, and scalene muscles), dominating over lower rib cage and abdominal motion.6
Over‐activity of these accessory muscles have been linked to neck pain, scapular dyskinesis, and trigger point formation. Vickery suggested that decreased abdominal motion, relative to upper thoracic motion, confirms poor diaphragm action.
The diaphragm is the key driver of the respiratory pump with attachments onto the lower six ribs, xiphoid process of the sternum, and the lumbar vertebral column (L1‐3) Hodges et al. stated that since the diaphragm performs both postural and breathing functions, disruption in one function could negatively affect the other.