A new study out of Dublin’s Trinity College adds to the growing body of evidence on the positive correlation between breath meditation and brain health. Study authors are hopeful this data will lead to exciting new therapies for people suffering from attention-related disorders.
In this study, researchers had a group of people engage in a task that required a great deal of attention. While the patients dealt with their task, scientists examined each person’s breathing rate.
According to their data, the patients who had a steadier breathing pattern were more successful at completing their task than those whose breathing was more erratic. This finding suggests that when the mind is focused it forms a kind of synchronicity with the breath.
When they looked into the brains of meditators versus non-meditators, researchers noticed that mindful breathing correlated with healthy noradrenaline levels. Noradrenaline is a chemical in the brain that plays a key role in forming new neural pathways.
For noradrenaline to work optimally, it needs to be at a moderate level. When there’s too much noradrenaline, we get agitated; when there’s not enough noradrenaline, we feel tired. Scientists believe focusing one’s attention on the breath is an easy way to bring noradrenaline levels into balance, thus achieving optimal focus.
As far as researchers could tell, mindfulness-based meditation and pranayama breathing exercises could both be used therapeutically. Study authors believe simply focusing on the breath without interference might be best for people who are over-stimulated. On the other hand, people who feel overwhelmed by stress or fatigue might get more benefit from consciously manipulating the breath in pranayama exercises.
While more research needs to be done, scientists believe breath meditation could be used to help people with conditions like ADD or brain injuries. They also believe these noradrenaline pathways could explain why meditators suffer less from neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Ian Robertson, who teaches psychology at Trinity College’s Institute of Neuroscience, was the lead author on this paper. A few other key researchers include Michael Christopher Melnychuk, Paul M. Dockree, and Redmond G. O’Connell.
Anyone interested in this research should pick up a copy of the recent edition of Psychophysiology. This study was listed under the title, “Coupling of respiration and attention via the locus coeruleus: Effects of meditation and pranayama.”