Breathwork and breathing techniques seem to be a hot topic in scientific research as of late.
Researchers at the University of Michigan recently found that mindful breathing, either in a traditional focusing on internal sensations or guided with 3D-virtual reality focusing on external stimuli, reduced the experience of pain.
Using two very different methods, both introspective and exteroceptive breathwork exercises the main area of the brain responsible for processing pain, which is currently attributed to the somatosensory cortex, could be modulated.
This may prove promising for addressing chronic pain experiences and reducing migraines.
What stood out in this study was how the individuals breathed.
Participants in the study were shown a fearful face and were able to recall the image more quickly if they encountered it while inhaling compared to exhaling. They were also able to remember the face better if they breathed through the nose versus the mouth.
The lead author Christina Zelano, assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, stated that:
“One of the major findings in this study is that there is a dramatic difference in brain activity in the amygdala and hippocampus during inhalation compared with exhalation. When you breathe in, we discovered you are stimulating neurons in the olfactory cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus, all across the limbic system.”
This implies that the way we breathe may enhance our ability to act and recall in high-stress or dangerous situations when we are in a more fearful state.
Zelano goes on to explain that your breathing rhythm increases when you are panicked.
“As a result, you’ll spend proportionally more time inhaling than when in a calm state,” she explains, “thus, our body’s innate response to fear with faster breathing could have a positive impact on brain function and result in faster response times to dangerous stimuli in the environment.”
Another recent study extends this concept even further. Feeling more at ease and in less pain from giving more attention to your breath can not only impact your own experience, but also the experience of others.
A recent study by researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder found that we have the power to influence other people’s physiology through our close contact with them.
They found that when an empathetic lover holds their partner’s hand, their body’s autonomic systems align. Both their heart rates and breathing rates synchronize and experiences of pain will lessen.
Lead author Pavel Goldstein reports that ”the more empathic the partner and the stronger the analgesic effect, the higher the synchronization between the two when they are touching.”
This type of physiological mirroring can have far-reaching benefits. The better you feel, and the more you are tuned to someone else, the better you can help them feel, just by being close to them.
The researchers concede that such ‘interpersonal synchronization’ could play a role in understanding more about how the power of touch can be used for analgesic and healing impacts.
So where do you start if you want to start to explore some of the benefits of breathwork for yourself, and those around you?
There are a lot of ways you can use breathwork to change your life right now.
If you would like to try a guided breathwork exercise to get your system feeling more alive and vibrant, I highly recommend watching this free breathwork video, created by Rudá Iandê.
The exercises in his invigorating video combine years of breathwork experience and ancient shamanic practices, designed to help you check in with your body and feel more energetic and uplifted.
It’s a spark to reconnect you with your feelings so that you can begin focusing on the most important relationship of all – the one you have with yourself.
It also helps you to tune in and override deep feelings of anxiety and stress, which we can all do with less of these days.