We know that breathing changes in response to emotion and that emotion changes in response to breathing. Someone who is anxious will take in quick and shallow breaths. To calm that individual, we’ll encourage him/her to focus on their breath and try to breathe more deeply and slowly. Could a more regular and continuous focus on breath change our emotional state for the better?
The research indicates that the answer is, yes.
Yoga Journal reports:
Despite the inherently automatic nature of breathing, most people have a lot to learn and improve upon when it comes to the most basic of our physiological functions. We tend to huff at a fairly quick clip most of the time—anywhere from 14 to 20 breaths per minute is the standard, which is about three times faster than the 5 or 6 breaths per minute proven to help you feel your best, says Patricia Gerbarg, MD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College and co-author of The Healing Power of the Breath.
The article continues with Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, PhD, of Harvard Medical School.
“We’ve long known that breath changes in response to emotion: When people get panicky and anxious, their breath becomes shallow and rapid,” says Khalsa. “But we now know from a number of really good studies that actively changing the breath rate can actually change autonomic function and mood state.
This process takes place by the way the breath rate sends signals to the vagus nerve. As we breathe, receptors in the respiratory system, millions of them, send signals to the brainstem through the vagus nerve. A fast respiratory rate gives the message to the sympathetic nervous system to send out stress hormones, and increase heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension result for a potential flight scenario. Slowing the rate of respiration signals the brain to relax and improves mental clarity.
You can have a direct and almost immediate impact on how you feel by learning to control your respiration. One of the best and least expensive ways of doing so is through a gentle yoga practice. Yoga focuses specifically on controlling the breath. If you suffer from anxiety, check out the various gentle or restorative yoga classes near you until you find a teacher you enjoy.