It's always all about breathing, even when it comes to improving your concentration and cognitive performance. As emerges from a very recent scientific research, in fact, a type of slow breathing on the basis of some yoga pranayamas, or yoga breathing techniques, is able to improve reaction times, brain function and attention. The results of the study are available online in the journal Frontiers in Psychology thanks to the work of an Indian team (Deepeshwar et al, Front Psychol, 2022).
Stress and cognitive function
Attention, concentration, short-term memory, reasoning and information processing skills have a significant impact in everyday life, from work to school until the problems of everyday life. Excessive stress hinders the proper functioning of the brain. However, high levels of stress are also often closely linked to many of these actions, just think about work tests, exams at school, or important decisions. What can we do to control the effects of stress and improve cognitive function? As emerges from the research we are talking about today, immediate benefit can be obtained with some slow breathing techniques of yoga.
Pranayamas stimulate brain activity, the study
The researchers recruited 40 people, who were asked to take yoga classes to learn breathing techniques or pranayama. Then, all participants were asked to take a computer test with increasing levels of difficulty to assess cognitive function. The volunteers were then asked, on different days, to repeat this test by initially practicing, for 15 minutes, one of three pranayamas, which consisted of alternate nostril breathing, breathing from the right nostril and conscious breathing. All three pranayamas had the characteristic of requiring slow breathing, with 6 breaths per minute. Well, what emerged is that these breathing techniques have improved response times, reducing them on average by 7%, and the accuracy of the response, improving it by 5% on average. In general, therefore, slow breathing techniques have increased cognitive abilities, attention and processing speed. Based on the heart rate measurements during the tests, the scientists were able to conclude that this action is to be found in the ability of the pranayamas to favor the adaptation of the heart to external stressors, regulating the rhythm of the heartbeat, blood pressure and dilation of blood vessels.
Practicing pranayamas is therefore a way to keep under control the harmful effects that excessive stress can have on our brain. Slow breathing improves our ability to adapt, the cognitive function, concentration and attention, even in situations that cause fatigue and stress.
How to practice the pranayamas
The pranayamas used in this study are, as mentioned, alternate nostril breathing, right nostril breathing and conscious breathing. Alternate nostril breathing consists of plugging the right nostril with the thumb of the right hand and inhaling slowly from the left nostril. Then, after having freed the right nostril, close the left one with the other fingers and exhale, again slowly, from the right nostril. The next inhalation takes place through the right nostril. Then, the left nostril is released and the right one is plugged, exhaling and, subsequently, inhaling, and so on. Breathing with the right nostril is similar to that just seen but in this case the breathing takes place only through the right nostril while the left one is closed by the fingers of the hand. Conscious breathing is a type of breathing in which both nostrils are free and you breathe in and out with calm and awareness, following all the stages of breathing with your mind's eye.