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How breathing patterns could be used to treat anxiety and depression

Breathing has long been used to help calm the mind in yoga and meditation but the new findings shed light on how this is possible.

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Calm relieved dark skinned woman takes deep breath, keeps hands sideways in zen gessture, reaches nirvana and practices yoga, stands with closed eyes, stands stress free against brown background
(Cast of Thousands via Shutterstock)

By Gwyn Wright via SWNS

New treatments for anxiety and depression could be on the horizon after scientists found our breathing patterns are closely aligned to our brain rhythms.

Researchers say there is a “common mechanism” in the brain which links breathing and emotions.

Future treatments could be based on yet undiscovered ways of realigning the rhythms of the brain and body.

The new study claims breathing affects our emotions and attention span as well as how we process the outside world.

When we breathe in we are more sensitive to the outside world while our brains tune out when we breathe out.


Breathing has long been used to help calm the mind in yoga and meditation but the new findings shed light on how this is possible.

It suggests that there are three pathways in the brain that control how breathing and brain activity interact and that our pattern of breathing makes the brain more “excitable,” which means neurons are more likely to fire during certain times of breathing.

Study author Professor Micah Allen, of Aarhus University, Denmark, said: “Difficulty breathing is associated with a very large increase in the risk for mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.

“We know that respiration, respiratory illness, and psychiatric disorders are closely linked.

“Our study raises the possibility that the next treatments for these disorders might be found in the development of new ways to realign the rhythms of the brain and body, rather than treating either in isolation.”

For the study, the researchers analyzed the results of more than a dozen studies based on human, monkey and rodent brain imagining.

The imaging was used to develop a model which the team say explains how breathing influences the brain.

Allen added: “What we found is that, across many different types of tasks and animals, brain rhythms are closely tied to the rhythm of our breath.

“We are more sensitive to the outside world when we are breathing in, whereas the brain tunes out more when we breathe out.

“This also aligns with how some extreme sports use breathing, for example professional marksmen are trained to pull the trigger at the end of exhalation.

“It suggests that the brain and breathing are closely intertwined in a way that goes far beyond survival, to actually impact our emotions, our attention, and how we process the outside world.

“Our model suggests there is a common mechanism in the brain which links the rhythm of breathing to these events.”

The discovery has led the team to begin new projects including research on how emotional and visual perception are influenced by breathing in the brain and whether Long COVID disrupts brain-breath alignment.

Allen added: ”We will be using a combination of human and animal neuroimaging to better understand how breathing influences the brain, and also utilizing exploring how different drugs influence respiratory-brain interaction.

“We would also like to someday study how lifestyle factors like stress, sleep, and even things like winter swimming influence breath-brain interaction.

“We are very excited to continue this research.”

The findings were published in the journal Psychological Review.

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