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Breath and the brain

What Focusing on the Breath Does to Your Brain

Researchers at Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience and the Global Brain Health Institute found that focused breathing affects levels of noradrenaline, a natural brain chemical messenger. Noradrenaline gets released into the bloodstream when you are curious, focused, or emotionally aroused. It enhances your attention to detail and improves overall brain health by promoting the growth of new neural connections.

When you’re stressed, you produce too much noradrenaline, making it difficult to focus. When you’re feeling lethargic, you produce too little of it, which also makes it hard to focus.

The researchers measured the study participants’ breathing patterns, their attention span, and activity in an area of the brainstem called the locus coeruleus — where noradrenaline is made. They found that those who focused well on a demanding task had better synchronization between their breathing patterns and attention, as opposed to those who had poor focus and inconsistent breathing patterns.

Managing stress: Is it all in the breath?

What they found was increased activity across a network of brain structures, including the amygdala, when participants breathed rapidly. Activity in the amygdala suggests that quick breathing rates may trigger feelings like anxiety, anger, or fear. Other studies have shown that we tend to be more attuned to fear when we’re breathing quickly. Conversely, it may be possible to reduce fear and anxiety by slowing down our breath.

The present study also identified a strong connection between participants’ intentional (that is, paced) breathing and activation in the insula. The insula regulates the autonomic nervous system and is linked to body awareness. Prior studies have linked intentional breathing to posterior insular activation, suggesting that paying particular attention to the breath may increase awareness of one’s bodily states—a key skill learned in practices as in martial arts.

Breathing exercises could help those with ADHD and traumatic brain injuries

The researchers suggest further research be done to help us better understand how breathwork can serve as an alternative to medication for people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and traumatic brain injuries, as well as slow down or prevent cognitive decline as we age.

“Brains typically lose mass as they age, but less so in the brains of long-term meditators,” says Melnychuk. “More ‘youthful’ brains have a reduced risk of dementia, and mindfulness meditation techniques actually strengthen brain networks. This study provides one more reason for everyone to boost the health of their brain using a whole range of activities ranging from aerobic exercise to mindfulness meditation.”

With a range of breathing techniquee coupled with warm up routines is sure to get the brain going and increasing neuroplasticity at Bryanston Karate.


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