How to use deep breathing for better health

I was a recent graduate in Manhattan eating breakfast on the roof of my house on September 11, 2001, when I watched planes destroy the Twin Towers. For the next several months, I trembled with anxiety every morning. Not wanting to take drugs, I tried everything else. Mindfulness meditation causes panic attacks. Hot yoga builds muscle but does nothing for my anxiety. I went to talk to Buddhist monks and Zen masters in hopes of achieving inner peace, but to no avail. Finally, I took a SKY Breath Meditation class, which consisted of a 20-minute breathing regimen in different poses and rhythms. Although I was skeptical, I calmed down. Two decades later, I don’t miss a single day of breathing practice, even when I give birth.

I have also spent part of my research career researching the benefits of breathing for mental health and well-being. Seven years after 9/11, I am working with returning war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Traditional treatments have failed many of them, so my colleagues and I conducted an experiment. randomized controlled trial to examine the effects of breathing SKY (which the nonprofit Art of Living Foundation teaches the public and Project Welcome Home Troops provides to veterans and the military). Compared with the control group, veterans who practiced SKY every day for a week saw their anxiety drop to levels typical of the general population. Although most did not continue the practice, they maintained benefits a year later. In fact, many of the veterans in our study were no longer eligible for PTSD. bigger learn at a veterans hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., found that SKY has the same benefits as cognitive processing therapy, the current gold standard treatment for PTSD. Veterans who did SKY also showed more physiological improvements than those new to the treatment. For those who do not want to review or discuss traumatic memories, or spend the necessary time and money in therapy, breathing exercises are a good alternative.

Emotions affect your breathing patterns, and Changing your breath can change your feelings. For example, anxiety and anger correspond to rapid, short, and irregular breathing. Adopt a slower and more regular pattern of breathing that corresponds to a sense of calm signal relaxation by activating the vagus nerve, which slows your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure, and keeps you steady. A simple exercise you can try is to close your eyes and exhale twice as long as you inhale. Do this for five minutes in the morning, before a stressful meeting or when you get home from work.

Breath hold compared to other reputable happiness practices. In a year 2020 randomized controlled trial, my colleagues at Yale and I assigned stressed undergraduates to a control group, a SKY breathing practice group, a mindfulness meditation group, or a group to learn skills to improve emotional intelligence. SKY showed more statistically significant benefits for mental health and well-being than other interventions. Perhaps that’s because breathing isn’t primarily a self-awareness exercise—it actively relaxes your physiological state.

Seppälä is a lecturer at the Yale School of Management and the author of Path to happiness

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