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Scientists Explain How Deep Breaths Calm The Mind

Any form of meditation helps ease one's mind and brings with it a calming stillness. Deep breathing is advocated by holistic healers and scientists now explain how it can help calm the mind.

While deep breathing is said to bring about tranquility, faster and shorter breaths could be a result of panic attacks or anxiety.

Deep breathing is believed to calm one's nerves and helps fight depression, panic attacks, and anxiety. However, how deep breathing works toward impacting our mind has remained shrouded in mystery, until now.

Scientists reveal that they have discovered the link between deep breathing and how it calms the mind. They have been able to decode the effects of controlled breathing and its impact on the brain using mice subjects.

Like humans, most animals follow the same pattern of breathing — by inhaling oxygen for creating energy in their body and exhaling carbon dioxide as a by-product.

Connect Between Deep Breathing And Brain Activity

The researchers conducted an experiment on mice and discovered the presence of a neuron circuit that monitors the link between breathing and brain activity and determines the behavior of mice.

The scientists reveal that mice have 175 neurons located in a section of the brain called a "breathing pacemaker," which is essentially is a cluster of 3,000 neurons. These neurons are located in the brainstem and regulate the body's autonomic breathing. The researchers discovered that these 175 neurons are the pathway for communication between the breathing pacemaker and part of the brain which dictates arousal, attention, and panic. Therefore, the rate at which breathing occurs may directly result in whether one feels anxious or calm.

To test their hypothesis, the researchers removed the 175 neurons to observe the impact on mice. They put the mice in a pressurized chamber to measure the frequency and size of any breath.

To their surprise, the researchers discovered that the mice continued to breathe normally. However, they noticed that the mice remained unusually calm.

"We expected that [inactivating the neurons] might completely eliminate or dramatically alter the breathing pattern of the mice," said Mark Krasnow, one of the authors of the study and a professor of biochemistry at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Findings Of The Study

Initially, the scientists thought the finding was flawed and the experiment was a failure. They retested the mice under different conditions — when they were asleep, had higher carbon dioxide levels, etc.

This established that the animals showed a change and had become mellower. Prior to the loss of 175 neurons, the mice had essentially done what they "love to do" — sniff and explore. However, post the removal of the neurons, the mice were observed to be spending more time grooming and relaxing. Further examination revealed that they were breathing slowly.

"We found a neuronal subpopulation in the mouse preBötzinger complex (preBötC), the primary breathing rhythm generator, which regulates the balance between calm and arousal behaviors. Conditional, bilateral genetic ablation of the ~175 Cdh9/Dbx1 double-positive preBötC neurons in adult mice left breathing intact but increased calm behaviors and decreased time in aroused states," noted the researchers.

The scientists said that discovering human neurons, which regulate arousal centers while breathing, is a future area of their research.

The research has been published in the journal Science on March 30.

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