Most experts agree that a steady diet of mental activities such as reading, crossword puzzles and Sudoku can help us stay sharp as we age. But if you stop there, you could be missing out on some other major brain boosting benefits.
Because the fact is, cognitive decline is just as much physical as it is mental.
Which is why researchers say practicing this one “mind-body” breathing trick could give you back your teenage brain.
Modern evidence backs up ancient wisdom
Yogis have known for centuries what we’re just starting to understand. And that is certain meditative breathing techniques—called pranayama—can increase our focus, attention and emotional control.
But one recent study offered the first neurophysiological explanation for this “mystical” link. And it turns out it’s not so mystical at all. It’s just good old fashioned science.
Researchers at Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience and the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity joined forces for this investigation. And they found that volunteers who were able to focus well on demanding tasks had breathing patterns that were in greater sync with the job at hand than those folks who were less attentive.
The center of all the action was an area of the brain stem called the locus coeruleus. This also happens to be where a chemical messenger called noradrenaline is made.
Noradrenaline has direct effects on your brain activity—and hitting the right note is a balancing act. When you’re under stress, you’re brain produces too much, which in turn lowers your attention and focus. When you’re not producing enough, you’re thinking becomes sluggish, and you become unfocused.
To recapture the single-mindedness and swift thinking of your youth your aim is to stay in the “Goldilocks zone.” This is a state of calm alertness, where thinking is clear and your brain has just enough noradrenaline to nurture new connections. Essentially a “teenage brain.”
And, it appears meditative belly breathing can get you there.
The new study revealed that activity in the locus coeruleus area of the brain increases and decreases depending on our breathing patterns. In other words, by regulating your breathing, you can sharpen your attention.
Achieve “calm alertness” from your desk, couch, or car
There are two main types of traditional meditative breathing practices. And you don’t necessarily have to hit the yoga mat to reap the benefits of either. (But go ahead and do it if you like.)
Mindfulness is exactly what the name implies. You’re simply concentrating on the sensation of breathing, without trying to control it. You may recall I talked about this a bit last week when I talked about meditation and stress.
Belly breathing, or pranayama, is exactly the kind of exercise that can conquer anxiety, relax your body’s stress response, and bring you back to a state of calm alertness.
Belly breathing trick for a better brain
Here is a quick, stress-busting belly breathing technique that you can perform anytime, anywhere:
- Breathe in through your nose, deeply and slowly, for about five seconds. (Your belly, not your chest, should be rising.)
- Hold for a few seconds. Then breathe out slowly, this time through your mouth, for closer to ten seconds.
- Repeat ten times.
Yes, that really is all there is too it. The bottom line? Next time you’re stuck in gridlock traffic don’t get mad—get to belly breathing. And make time to keep doing it, every single day. Your brain will thank you for it with faster more focused thinking.
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