A new study has provided a detailed understanding of how the brain reacts to controlled slow breathing and could benefit people suffering from conditions such as high blood pressure or anxiety.
Researchers at the Clinical Imaging Sciences Centre (CISC) used state-of-the-art imaging techniques to monitor volunteers' brains and bodies as they breathed under a variety of conditions.
Led by Chair in Psychiatry Prof Hugo Critchley [ADD LINK], the study's collaborators included physician Dr Luciano Bernardi from the University of Pavia in Italy. Dr Bernardi has previously shown that controlled breathing can benefit cardiac patients, reducing the impact on blood pressure and the heart when there is a low oxygen supply.
The optimal rate of controlled slow breathing appears to be around six breaths per minute, a rate similar to that used in yoga practice.
In one of the most technically complex imaging studies conducted at CISC, researchers measured the neural, cardiovascular and respiratory activity of volunteers as they responded to different levels of oxygen concentration. The volunteers' breathing was paced at controlled and spontaneous rates as they inhaled a variety of oxygen levels, from normal air to the equivalent of air at high altitudes.
The researchers found that a low oxygen supply causes parts of the brain associated with emotion and stress to activate. However, when the volunteers controlled their breathing it had a positive impact, stimulating areas of the brain involved in control and reward.
The study provides a detailed understanding of the benefits of controlled breathing and could in the future help people suffering from physical and psychological disorders, such as high blood pressure or anxiety.
Prof Hugo Critchley said: "This study helps us understand the interplay between physical and psychological states. Knowledge about the mechanisms through which body, brain and mind interact can expand our approaches to manage both medical and psychological disorders. We are fortunate to benefit from CISC's world-leading reputation for experimental neuroimaging and the integration of different psychophysiological measures."
'Slow Breathing and Hypoxic Challenge: Cardiorespiratory Consequences and Their Central Neural Substrates' has been published on PLOS ONE.