As you may know, my master thesis in cognitive science was a psychophysiological experiment on how breathing influences willpower, measured as attentional self-control. Yesterday, a new study was published on the effects of diaphragmatic breathing, which means to breath down deep into the belly so that the diaphragm contracts. Such breathing is slow: 15 seconds per breath cycle, 4 breaths per minute—fully in, fully out.
In the study by Ma et al. (2017), participants breathed like that for 20 sessions of 15 minutes each. The effects after 8 weeks of training were significant:
- decreased negative affect (less fear, anger, guilt, shame, distress, nervousness, etc.),
- enhanced focused attention (which I deem to be the prime measure of life quality), and
- lowered cortisol levels (cortisol release is associated with stress, depression, and anxiety; this is, by the way, one reason why I no longer drink coffee, which artificially elevates cortisol levels).
We know that meditation, martial arts, and Yoga radically improve our mental and physical health—our bodymind health. What this new study shows is that deep breathing, which is at the heart of all mindfulness practices, can by itself integrate body and mind in a way that optimizes all three bodymind dimensions: physiology (hormones), cognition (attention), and the mediator between body and mind (affect).
Ma, X., Yue, Z.-Q., Gong Z.-Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N.-Y., Shi, Y.-T., Wei, G.-X., Li, Y.-F. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in Psychology 8(874), doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874.
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- How to Increase Willpower Through Breathing
- Can You Do This 2-Minute Breathing Challenge?
- Why I No Longer Listen to Music While I Work Out
- All Awesome Activities Have This One Thing in Common
- To Control Your Emotions, Control Your Attention
- Non-Spiritual Mindfulness Training
- MBSR Mindfulness Challenge – Part 1 [Introduction]