In yoga and meditation, our breathing unifies mind, body, and spirit as we flow through each pose or sit/stand still through our practice. It’s the breath work — better known as “pranayama” in traditional yoga — that allows us to focus on the present moment, move or hold our bodies in uncomfortable positions, and stay calm the entire time.
We don’t necessarily need scientific evidence to prove that deep breathing has its benefits. After all, anyone can try it immediately and observe the effects on their own body for themselves. Despite this, it never hurts to have the science to back it all up — especially for beginners and even skeptics of yoga and meditation.
Deep breathing is perhaps best known for relieving stress and anxiety. In one particular study, the effects of both slow and fast pranayama were examined in 90 healthcare students and their perceived stress levels. After students completed 12 weeks of breathing exercises for 30 minutes three times a week with a yoga teacher, results showed that both the slow and fast pranayama experiments were linked to a significant decrease in in perceived stress.
Less stress and anxiety leads to better psychological health. In a 2005 German study, a group of women who described themselves as “emotionally distressed” completed a 90-minute yoga class every week for a period of three months. By the end of the three-month period, depression had improved by 50 percent, anxiety improved by 30 percent, and overall wellbeing was up by 65 percent.
Improved Cardiovascular Function
By working on your breathing, you’ll eventually be able to breathe better through your practice and avoid getting winded so easily. In a study that sought to determine the effects of short-term pranayama and meditation on cardiovascular function, 50 participants engaged in two hours of daily yoga led by a certified yoga teacher for 15 days. By the end of the 15 days, results showed a significant decrease in resting pulse rate and blood pressure.
Most people wouldn’t think that their breathing has anything to do with their digestive issues, but it certainly does. Stress can lead to shallow breathing, meaning that the breath never reaches their lower abdomen, which can may contribute to digestive issues like constipation. More research is needed to study the effects of yoga and breathing techniques on certain medical conditions – especially digestive issues — but some evidence exists that it helps. In a study on yoga practice and its effects in gastroesophageal reflux disease, researchers concluded that practicing yoga in conjunction with medication can help control or alleviate some digestive disease symptoms.
According to the CDC, 1 in 13 Americans have asthma — a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the airway, which can cause mild to severe symptoms like coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest. Most treatments involve medication (like an inhaler) and lifestyle changes to avoid triggers like dust, pollen, air pollution, vigorous exercise, and more. Interestingly, a 2009 study showed that pranayama breathing exercises — specifically expiratory — improved lung function in 50 participants with mild to moderate asthma over a period of 12 weeks.
If you’re not sure whether you’re breathing properly in your practice, seek guidance from a yoga or meditation teacher who can work with you one-on-one. They’ll be able to show you what you’re doing right and what you could improve on so that you can maximize the benefits of deep breathing mentioned above.
Image via Nikolai Kashirin