4 benefits of a controlled breathing practice

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"Mindfulness" is not just a trendy buzzword. A mindfulness movement has taken hold as corporations and individuals increasingly seek ways to restore calmness amid stress and promote overall well-being. However, many people struggle with meditation, a major tenet of a mindfulness practice. For those people, there is one thing you already know how to do: breathe.  

"Breathing is massively practical," said Belisa Vranich, a psychologist and author of the soon-to-be published book Breathe, according to The New York Times. "It's meditation for people who can't meditate."

Controlled breathing can reduce stress, increase alertness and give your immune system a boost. Breath control has been central to yogis' practice for centuries as a means to improve concentration and vitality, and Buddha believed breath-meditation was a channel to reaching enlightenment, according to the report.

Scientific studies are beginning to produce evidence that reconfirms these ancient beliefs on the benefits of controlled breathing practices. Here are four benefits to know, according to The New York Times.

1. Controlled breathing can help reduce symptoms associated with various mental health conditions, including anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and attention deficit disorder.

2. Precisely how controlled breathing supports healing is still under study. One theory is that controlled breathing changes the way the autonomic nervous system responds to stress, according to Richard Brown, MD, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and coauthor of The Healing Power of the Breath.

3. Making a conscious effort to change the way you breathe appears to send a signal to the brain to activate a parasympathetic nervous system response, which slows heart rate and digestion and promotes a feeling of calm. Controlled breathing also seems to keep the sympathetic system in check, which controls the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol.

4. Taking slow, steady breaths sends a message to your brain that everything is OK, triggering the parasympathetic response, according to Dr. Brown. On the other hand, shallow, rapid breathing activates the sympathetic system, which triggers the release of stress hormones. So, when feeling overwhelmed by emotion or stress, practicing deep, steady breathing can help your brain send signals through your body to relax.

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