There are ancient practices like yoga, thai chi, and many different forms of meditation that have the core of their practice on breath. Why do these practices stick around for thousands of years?
And why do they focus their practices on awareness, breath, observation, movement and concentration?
The main reason most of these practices are so effective & timeless is they combine all the attributes of awareness, observation, movement, concentration & breath to take the body to its optimal level. These practices accomplish this by stimulating the brain and calming the nervous system.
A recent study in the Journal of Neurophysiology, (Breathing above the brain stem: volitional control and attentional modulation in humans | Journal of Neurophysiology) may support this, revealing that several brain regions linked to emotion, attention, and body awareness are activated when we pay attention to our breath. These findings represent a breakthrough because, for years, we’ve considered the brain stem to be responsible for the process of breathing. This study found that paced breathing also uses neural networks beyond the brain stem that are tied to emotion, attention, and body awareness. By tapping into these networks using the breath, we gain access to a powerful tool for regulating our responses to stress and control of our brain.
What they found was increased activity across a network of brain structures, including the amygdala, when participants breathed rapidly. Activity in the amygdala suggests that quick breathing rates may trigger feelings like anxiety, anger, or fear. Other studies have shown that we tend to be more attuned to fear when we’re breathing quickly. Conversely, it may be possible to reduce fear and anxiety by slowing down our breath. The results of this study support a link between types of breathing (rapid, intentional, and attentional) and activation in brain structures involved in thinking, feeling, and behavior. This raises the possibility that breathing strategies may be used as a tool to help people to manage their thoughts, moods, and experiences.