Short breathing exercise lifts mood more than mindfulness meditation – New Scientist
In a small study, cyclic sighing – inhaling slowly and then taking another short breath in to fully inflate the lungs, before breathing out for as long as possible – was particularly effective at lifting people’s moods
10 January 2023
Practising a simple breathing exercise for just 5 minutes a day for one month could boost your mood.
Melis Yilmaz Balban at Stanford University in California and her colleagues randomly assigned 114 people, average age 27, across the US to practise one of three breathing exercises or mindfulness meditation for 5 minutes per day at home, at any time that suited them.
One breathing exercise was cyclic sighing, which involves inhaling slowly and then taking another short breath in to fully inflate the lungs, before breathing out for as long as possible.
Another exercise was box breathing: inhaling, holding the breath, exhaling and holding the exhaled breath again. The last was cyclic hyperventilation. This involves taking longer inhales and shorter exhales 30 times before exhaling fully.
The participants who were assigned to mindfulness meditation didn’t practise any breath control, but passively observed their breathing to help focus their awareness on the present moment.
All four groups showed improvements in mood and reductions in anxiety after one month, according to daily questionnaires. However, this was more pronounced among those doing the breathing exercises, particularly cyclic sighing, compared with meditation.
“We hypothesised that control over your own breathing as opposed to passive observation gives people a more positive feeling about themselves,” says Yilmaz Balban.
Cyclic sighing may be the most effective technique for improving mood because it involves longer exhales, which are known to be more calming than inhales, she says.
Her team is planning a larger trial involving about 500 people that will compare cyclic sighing with hypnosis for enhancing mood and relieving anxiety.
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