I’m about to tell you about "brain breathing" and how doing it right is going to change your life. Now, before you dismiss what I’m saying – after all, you’ve been breathing just fine your whole life – consider that “brain breathing” (also known as “controlled breathing”) is quickly becoming one of the hottest trends in health this year.
That’s because breathing the right way, as silly as that may sound, has been shown to be effective against anxiety, depression, and even PTSD.1 And the surprising fact is, many of us simply don’t breathe properly. According to Alan Dolan, a transformational breath coach in the UK, “Most people use only 30 percent of their respiratory system and just breath into the upper chest.”2
But before we get into how to breathe properly, let’s get on the same page about the science behind proper breathing.
The Science Behind Brain Breathing
Consider an example that most of us are all too familiar with – losing your temper. When we get angry, our bodies subconsciously direct our breathing to become short and shallow through our evolutionarily ingrained “flight or fight” response. As it turns out, taking slower and deeper breaths can trigger the opposite response, known as “rest and digest.”3
If you’re anything like most of us, your brain probably needs to spend more time in “rest” mode and less time in “fight” mode. By moving from sub-Saharan African plains into suburban American plots we’ve outgrown our need to be constantly on the ready to fight or flight. Not only does fight mode feel unpleasant, but spending too much time mentally prepared to fight off a saber tooth tiger is damaging to your body and mind.
That’s due to the release of cortisol, a hormone in your adrenal glands, that causes you to feel “stress.” When you’re constantly swimming in cortisol, you make yourself vulnerable to a myriad of health problems including anxiety, depression, and impaired cognitive function.4 If you want to blast away the mental clouds fogging your brain, deep breathing might be your best bet.
That’s because deep breathing engages your parasympathetic nervous system, which tells your body to chill out. Emma Seppälä, a psychologist who has researched the effect controlled breathing can have, explains, “If you deepen your breath…and in particular lengthen your exhales, your heart rate decreases, your blood pressure decreases, and you’re tapping into your parasympathetic nervous system.”5
Do This Daily To Boost Your Brain Health
Brain breathing often feels unnatural to new practitioners. Most of us have a natural tendency to breathe shallowly. When we inhale, we only partially inflate our lungs. An easy way to check whether you’re breathing deeply or not is to look down at your abdomen as you breathe. If you’re using your diaphragm’s full range of motion, your lower belly should rise when your lungs are full. If you see a rise in your chest instead, it’s a sign of shallow breathing.
This simple breathing exercise clears mental fog instantly:
- Sit or recline in a quiet and relaxed space.
- Close your eyes and take a moment to relax your mind and lower your heart rate.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose, ensuring that your lower belly inflates as you inhale.
- Breathe out slowly through your nose or mouth.
- Consciously repeat this cycle for five to fifteen minutes.
One excellent way to re-enforce this habit is by setting aside a time each day to practice brain breathing. Once it becomes part of your routine, your body and mind will fully reap the benefits of de-stressing. It’s too easy to get started. Just breathe.