by Kalee Brown
For centuries, yogis have been expressing the incredible benefits meditation can provide. More recently, meditation has become a more mainstream means of treating anxiety and stress, as deep breathing has been proven to calm the nervous system and reduce our heart rate. Avid meditators or individuals who practice breathing techniques typically report that such practices have the ability to silence or slow down the mind. This begs the question: How exactly does meditation and controlled breathing affect our brain?
We’ve all heard the saying “take a deep breath,” and there’s actually some merit to that. A new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that there’s a direct link between nasal breathing and our cognitive function.
The Link Between Our Breath and Our Brain
While practicing yoga, you typically breathe through your nose, but why is that? I find breathing through the nose to be less strenuous and more peaceful, especially while practicing yoga. Well, Northwestern Medicine scientists may have just found an explanation for that.
The scientists began by testing the electrical brain signals of seven epilepsy patients with electrodes in their brains. Their findings showed that the rhythms of the participants’ natural breathing matched the slow electrical rhythms in their brain regions associated with their sense of smell.
The scientists also noted that during nasal inhalation, the fast electrical rhythms in the amygdala, responsible for our ability to process emotions, and the hippocampus, associated with memories and emotions, became stronger.
To gain a better understanding of their research, the scientists then examined an additional 60 healthy participants to discover the effects nasal breathing has on memory and emotional behaviour. The participants were shown both scared and surprised faces, and then they had to immediately determine the emotional expression of the face they just saw. As it turned out, the participants were able to identify the scared faces much faster when they were inhaling through the nose than when they were shown the images when exhaling or when breathing through the mouth.
The scientists also tested the participants by showing them images and then asking them to recall them later. The participants were much better at recalling the original images if they were shown them on an inhale breath through the nose.
The study’s findings suggest that the act of nasal breathing plays an integral role in coordinationg electrical brain signals in the olfactory “smell” cortex, the brain regions that receive input from our nose. It’s clear that the act of breathing through the nose, even when we don’t smell anything, can still affect our emotions and memory.