Researchers at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland explained for the first time the neurophysiological link between breathing and attention. The study, published in the journal Psychophysiology, shows that breathing – a key element of meditation and mindfulness practices – directly affects the levels of a natural chemical messenger in the brain called noradrenaline.
This chemical messenger is released when we are challenged, curious, exercised, focused or emotionally aroused, and, if produced at the right levels, helps the brain grow new connections, like a brain fertiliser.
Yogis and Buddhist practitioners have long considered the breath an especially suitable object for meditation, according to Ian Robertson from Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity “It is believed that by observing the breath, and regulating it in precise ways – a practice is known as pranayama – changes in arousal, attention, and emotional control that can be of great benefit to the meditator are realised,” said Robertson.
“Our research finds that there is evidence to support the view that there is a strong connection between breath-centred practices and a steadiness of mind,” he said. The study found that participants who focused well while undertaking a task that demanded a lot of attention had greater synchronisation between their breathing patterns and their attention than those who had poor focus.
The researchers believe that it may be possible to use breath-control practices to stabilise attention and boost brain health. “Practitioners of yoga have claimed for some 2,500 years, that respiration influences the mind,” said Michael Melnychuk, a PhD candidate at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience.