Breathe in slowly, deeply, and smoothly. Now, exhale slowly.
Did you feel a sense of calm?
Now breathe rapidly. Quickly in and out, in and out.
You probably felt a small surge of tension. Why?
Deep breathing has been used since ancient times to ease stress. But the question of why it works has never been answered by science…until recently.
Stanford University and University of California researchers analyzed what happens in the brain when different types of breathing occur.
Using lab mice and sophisticated genetic engineering, they discovered there are brain cells that monitor breathing as a matter of survival.
“If something’s impairing or accelerating your breathing, you need to know right away,” said Dr. Mark Krasnow. He’s a professor of biochemistry at the Stanford University School of Medicine and an author of the study.
Dr. Krasnow and his colleagues killed different neurons in different mice. Through a process of elimination, they were able to isolate the brain cells that monitor excited or rapid breathing. When they killed a particular set of neurons, they noted a remarkable change in the animals’ behavior… They were far calmer and peaceful. It was these neurons that monitor breathing and control stress.
When you breath slowly and deeply, they make you feel calm. When you breath fast and shallow, they make you feel anxious.
Breathing Controls Your Mood
Previously, researchers believed these neurons regulated breathing. But the new study shows that’s not true. In fact, the neurons monitor breathing and regulate the brain’s reaction to it. The neurons report their findings on breathing rate to an area in the brain called the locus coeruleus. 
If you are breathing fast, the locus coeruleus triggers anxiety and stress, putting you on high alert and sharpening your reflexes. This is a survival mechanism that helped primitive man survive.
Conversely, if you breathe slowly, the locus coeruleus tells the rest of your brain to relax.
The study shows that you can alter your mood simply by changing your breathing. The research was published in the journal Science.
Easy, Two-Step Deep Breathing Technique
Deep breathing techniques can lead to major health benefits. Previous research shows deep breathing, not only reduces stress, but also lowers blood pressure, promotes better blood flow, releases toxins from the body, and aids in sleep. Deep breathing can also be used to reduce pain.
Deep breathing exercises involve exhaling for a few seconds longer than you inhale. This slows your respiration and causes relaxation.
Here’s how to do it:
- Sit still and tall somewhere comfortable. Close your eyes and breathe through your nose.
- Inhale for a count of two… Hold the breath in for a count of one and exhale gently, counting silently to four. Finish by pausing for a count of one before your next inhale. Keep your breathing even and smooth.
If the two-four count feels too short, try increasing the breath lengths to four in and six out, or six in and eight out, and so on.
But if longer breaths seem to create any anxiety, reduce the count. The most important thing is not the total length of the breath, but that the exhale is longer than the inhale.
Try this exercise whenever you are stressed. Most people feel calmer within five minutes or less.
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