A new study reveals that the rhythm of our breathing patterns has a detrimental impact on neural activity within the brain that improves our abilities of emotional reasoning and memory retention.

You see, breathing is not just important to provide oxygen to the body, but in fact, it is directly associated with neurological behavior and brain functioning. Experts from the Northwestern Medicine have made a groundbreaking first-time discovery that the breathing rhythm generates electrical activity within our brain, which improves our abilities to retain and recalling memories, along with establishing emotional understanding.

These critical brain patterns and behavioral influences are highly influenced by the amount of oxygen you inhale and exhale through the day, along with whether you use your nose or your mouth to breathe. During the course of the study, the participants succeeded in identifying a fear-stricken face much faster if they were shown the particular face while inhaling as compared to exhaling.

Effects of Deep Breathing on the Brain
Credit: MedMD

The participants were also more capable of remembering objects if they were shown while breathing in as compared to breathing out. More interestingly, when the participants used their mouth to breath, these effects vanished.

The most thought-provoking revelations made by this study is the discovery of a striking difference in the brain activity that occurs within the hippocampus and amygdala when we inhale as compared to exhaling. The results revealed that when the participants inhaled, the researchers identified stimulations within the neurons present in the hippocampus, amygdala, olfactory cortex and the entire limbic system.

The Northwestern researchers first identified these differences across brain activity while examining a group of seven patients suffering from epilepsy, and waiting to undergo a brain surgery. One week before the surgery was to take place, the surgeon tried to discover the cause of the seizures by implanting electrodes into the brain of the patient.

This aided the researchers in collecting highly accurate electro-physiological statistics from human brains. According to the electrical signals and data they acquired, there were variations in brain activity while breathing. And the brain activity always occurred in areas associated with the processing of smells, emotions and memories.

The groundbreaking results of this study triggered another inquiry that compelled researchers to discover whether the cognitive capabilities controlled by these brain areas, primarily memory retention and dealing with fear, can also be influenced by our breathing patterns.

Cognitive abilities of processing and understanding emotions is directly associated with amygdala, primarily emotions that stem from fear. During the study, the researchers told around 60 participants to make quick observations on various emotional expressions while sitting in a controlled lab setting where their breathing patterns were being recorded. The participants were shown various facial pictures that reveal expressions depicting surprise, amazement, fear and panic. In a matter of seconds, the participants had to describe the emotions that were being expressed in each picture.

When the participants were shown the pictures while inhaling, they identified the faces as fearful much faster than when they were shown the images while exhaling. However, this proved to be different when they were shown pictures that showed expressions of surprise.

Surprisingly, these effects disappeared when the participants were asked to identify the expression during breathing from their mouths. The researchers ruled out that the effect of stimulating or identifying fear occurs only while breathing from the nose.

The researchers conducted another experiment to examine the functions associated with memory, which are associated with the hippocampus. The same participants were introduced to a series of pictures featuring different objects through a computer screen, and they were asked to remember all the objects. After some time elapsed, the participants were told to recall all the objects, and the researchers noted that their memory recall was much more accurate when the images were shown while inhaling.

These results also imply that when an individual is in a challenging or threatening situation, rapid breathing can actually prove to be beneficial for the brain. When an individual goes into a state of panic, the rhythm of breathing tends to become much faster. This causes the person to end up inhaling much more than he/she would if the brain was calm and controlled.

This reveals that faster breathing rhythm is our body’s natural response triggered by fear, and it tends to have a positive effect on stimulating brain activity. Basically, it causes the brain to function and respond to dangerous situations within their environment much more quickly and effectively.

The study reveals another striking discovery about the underlying brain mechanisms that come into play when we perform focused breathing techniques or meditative rituals. You see, as we inhale, we are triggered the brain oscillations to be synchronized throughout the limbic system. This is primarily why breathing techniques and particularly nasal breathing is encouraged to fight off stress.


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