Description: If you had a section in one of her introductory psychology courses about consciousness you probably heard about some of the research that is indicating positive benefits of meditation. The article linked below discusses more recent research that simply looks at the potential positive benefits of a number of breathing control techniques on people’s levels of stress and anxiety. Before you read the article linked below think for a minute about what reasonably well known brain-based mechanisms involved in stress and anxiety might be open to influence through something as simple as controlled breathing. Once you have formed a hypothesis or two read the article and see what the researchers working in this area have been finding.
Source: Breathe. Exhale, Repeat: The Benefits of Controlled Breathing, Lesley Alderman, Well, Mind, New York Times.
Date: November 7, 2016
Photo Credit: Andrew Rae, New York Times
So how did your hypotheses about possible relationships between brain-based regulatory mechanisms and controlled breathing stack up against the ones discussed in the article linked above? What the researchers are suggesting is that controlled breathing may provide a means for influencing the functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system. If you remember from any discussions you may have heard about the fight-flight system, the parasympathetic system is the half of the autonomic nervous system that slows things down and which counteracts the “jazzing up” effects of the sympathetic nervous system. People who are anxious or stressed could be viewed as having to deal with a synthetic nervous system is functioning above a comfortable baseline level. Doing something (and especially something that does not involve drugs or alcohol) that augments the functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system could quite simply reduce the level of stress or anxiety currently being experienced. According to one of the psychologists who have written extensively about this topic one might think of breathing control is a form of meditation for people who can’t or won’t meditate. You can try this for yourself using 1, 2 or all 3 three of the breathing control techniques described in the linked article. If you’re interested to see how well this would work, especially if you’re in the middle of midterms are approaching final exams, then perhaps think of using a couple of rating scales to assess your current levels of stress and anxiety at several points over the course of the day before and after you engage in the breathing techniques described in the article. After using the breathing techniques for a few days you can look at your data to see if your ratings of your levels of stress and anxiety over the course of each day have been reduced.
Questions for Discussion:
- What might the link be between controlled breathing and the reduction of stress and anxiety?
- What might some of the potential links be between controlled breathing and other techniques or substances that seem to successfully reduce stress and anxiety?
- If breathing control produces results very similar to the practice of meditation and the reduction of stress and anxiety what additional effects might be gained through the practice of meditation beyond those that might be attributable to breathing control?
References (Read Further):
Twal, W. O., Wahlquist, A. E., & Balasubramanian, S. (2016). Yogic breathing when compared to attention control reduces the levels of pro-inflammatory biomarkers in saliva: a pilot randomized controlled trial. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 16(1), 294. https://bmccomplementalternmed.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12906-016-1286-7
Hanson, R. (2009). Buddha’s brain: The practical neuroscience of happiness, love, and wisdom. New Harbinger Publications.
Brown, R. P., & Gerbarg, P. (2012). The healing power of the breath. Boston, MA: Shambhala.
van der Zwan, J. E., de Vente, W., Huizink, A. C., Bögels, S. M., & de Bruin, E. I. (2015). Physical activity, mindfulness meditation, or heart rate variability biofeedback for stress reduction: a randomized controlled trial. Applied psychophysiology and biofeedback, 40(4), 257-268. http://www.kirkwarrenbrown.vcu.edu/wp-content/pubs/Arch%20et%20al%20SCT%20TSST%20biopsy%20moderators%20PNEC%202016.pdf