There are different techniques that one can take to try to improve their overall health and life. It has long been thought by Yogis and Buddhists that meditation and breathing exercises strengthen our ability to focus. Other benefits include decreased mind wandering, more positive emotions, and decreased emotional reactivity. Now research has shown that a key element of mediation and mindfulness affects the level of a natural chemical messenger in the brain called noradrenaline. This noradrenaline is released when we are focused or challenged and if produced at the correct levels can help the brain grow new connections.
The study was carried out by researchers at Trinity College and led the researchers to believe that it is possible to stabilize attention and boost brain health through breath control practices. When people are stressed too much noradrenaline is produced and people can’t focus. When people are sluggish too little noradrenaline is produced and people can’t focus. However, there is a sweet spot of noradrenaline in which thinking, emotions, and memory have some clarity. Therefore, by focusing on and regulating breathing it is possible to optimize attention and allow for more synchronized breathing.
This research could lead to the development of new non-pharmacological therapies for people with conditions like ADHD and traumatic brain injury. The researchers also feel that the study has implications for brain aging. This is because brains typically lose mass as they age and by using breathing it may be possible to reduce dementia risk and instead strengthen brain networks. Even so, this study has important implications for everyone. It seems it is possible to improve brain health by doing anything that may improve breathing such as aerobic exercise or mindfulness meditation.
Another topic very related to this study is that of biofeedback. In biofeedback, one works on gaining more awareness of physiological functions using instruments that provide information with the goal of being able to alter and change these physiological functions as one desires. Deep breathing and mindfulness meditation are several relaxation exercises that are part of biofeedback therapy along with muscle relaxation. The author of this website has some experience using biofeedback to control different body functions to try to minimize headache intensity. As a result of this study from Trinity College, it appears that pretty much everyone could benefit from learning biofeedback to help control their breathing. While traditionally biofeedback has been used to help with things like chronic pain, headaches, anxiety, urinary incontinence, high blood pressure, ADHD, and asthma it seems that there are many wide ranging applications.
While one may be able to learn how to practice mindfulness mediation on their own, such as reading more at https://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-how-to-do-it/, there are of course many benefits from seeking an expert to provide training. For biofeedback one may also want to see someone who is licensed and has specialized training. As such it may be important to read more about some of the differences between a therapist and a psychologist to get a better sense of what one might be comfortable with, see https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/psychologists/what-is-the-difference-between-a-therapist-and-a-psychologist/. Ultimately, while some people with specific health conditions may benefit more from practicing breathing exercises than others, it appears that if everyone can control their noradrenaline it can help improve overall brain health and led to a better functioning society.
Source: M. C. Melnychuk, P. M. Dockree, R. G. O’Connell, P. R. Murphy, J. H. Balsters, and I. H. Robertson. Coupling of respiration and attention via the locus coeruleus: Effects of meditation and pranayama. Psychophysiology, 2018.