First I want to tell you about how the respiratory system, AKA our breathing system, is connected to the brain. Breathing is unique in that it functions as both a conscious and subconscious act- meaning that we naturally breathe on our own, yet we can also deliberately change our breathing patterns. Contrastingly, digestion occurs subconsciously through our body and we cannot consciously impact it. We can take advantage of the fact that we can influence how we breathe.
Most of the time humans engage in subconscious breathing, but other times, controlling our breathing becomes necessary. As a kid, did you ever get so upset over something, cry, and listen to your parents tell you to slow down your breathing? Or what about when you’re super frustrated and let out a huge sigh- why do we change our breathing at these times? Let me tell you.
Changing breathing patterns can alter our brain’s capabilities by sending signals to our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. Slowing down your breathing enhances calmness and releasing a sigh is physiologically the quickest way to reduce stress (sighing triggers the leveling out of stress hormones). What about times when we don’t NEED to use breathing to calm us down? Can we already be calm, and still use breathing techniques to help ourselves? YES!
So let’s get to some breathing techniques. Andrew Huberman prompted a breathing study at Stanford University where three different breathing techniques were used: box breathing, cyclic sighing, and cyclic hyperventilation. Within the study, people were asked to engage with different breathing methods and track their mood, stress, and sleep using a WHOOP (https://www.whoop.com/). The Whoop is a wristband that has photodiode sensors used to analyze heart rate, blood oxygen levels, skin temperature, and more.
Using the subjects’ feedback, and the data from the Whoop, cyclic sighing was proven to be the most effective breathing technique. What is it? How can we use it?
Taking 5 minutes out of your day to engage in the cyclic sighing breathing technique can reintroduce calmness, good sleep, and a lighter mood. So taking time for cyclic signing can improve your life around the clock! I urge you to take 5 minutes, try it, and see how this scientifically proven breathing method works for you!