Our brainstem-the part of the brain controlling life-sustaining functions such as heartbeat and sleeping patterns also automatically process breathing. Discoveries, however, found out that breathing can also change the brain.
We are all aware that we can breathe at different paces or even control breathing. Changing your breathing patterns engages activities in the different parts of the brain.
Our body is but a complex combination of capabilities. Humans can control their brain– controlling thoughts, suppressing emotions and staying awake for more extended hours are just a few to mention. Unlike animals, humans can alter breathing patterns despite being in a resting state. This capacity has been baffling scientists as to how are humans capable of voluntarily regulating their breathing and gain access to those not under our conscious control. Is this capacity to control certain inaccessible parts of the brain beneficial? Does this have any profound effect on human behaviour?
A recent study showed that mindful control of our respiratory system, say breathing, reinforces harmony between brain areas.
This recent study conducted by Dr Jose Herrero in collaboration with Dr Ashesh Mehta, a renowned neurosurgeon at NorthShore University Hospital in Long Island observed brain activity where patients are breathing normally. A simple task was given, that is, to click a button when circles appeared on the computer. Patients were then told to increase their breathing pace and even count their breaths consciously. Differences between normal unconscious breathing and breathing in a counted pace yielded different activities in the brain. This manipulation activated particular parts during automatic and intentional breathing.
This discovery provided neural support in times of heightened concentration of stress. It has long practised that utilising breathing, for example, with athletes, can help improve their focus, agility and performance.
This research also went beyond the study of the ability of humans to control and regulate neural activity. It used a unique neural research method in which brains of awake and conscious humans are directly looked. MRI or EEG are typical neuroscience study techniques, but the ones involving electrodes implanted in brains are rare. This allowed the study of thinking, deciding and even imagining by directly observing brain activities. Subjects in the study conducted were patients experiencing seizures that cannot be controlled by medication. Electrodes being implanted is part of the clinical process in the treatment of epilepsy.
The expression “take a deep breath” is no longer a cliche as this has been backed up with scientific findings. This discovery allowed future researchers to go for an in-depth investigation on what other parts of our entity usually hidden can be revealed.