How to Increase Brain Power through Deep Breathing
If you’re like many people, the barrage of media, distractions and gadgets in your life is cluttering your mind and causing you stress.
If so, the latest research on brain function and stress should be concerning to you—over time, stress will damage your brain.
Long-term exposure to stress harms the brain by shrinking brain cells and destroying neuronal pathways. Excessive amounts of cortisol, a hormone caused by stress, can do harm to your brain. Over time cortisol damages cells in the hippocampus, the region of the brain where new memories are formed. As a result, stress is a contributing factor in dementia and atrophy of the brain.
When we experience a stressful situation, our body goes into a “fight-or-flight” mode, which sets off a cascade of physical reactions: the heart rate increases, muscles tighten, and hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released. While this reaction, in limited situations, is necessary for survival, in most cases when it’s persistent, long-term, and uncontrolled, it is destructive.
Train Your Brain Naturally
The good news is that our brains have the remarkable capacity to regenerate, even after years of stress.
The brain is pliable and can actually be molded and conditioned by regulating stress levels and controlling our patterns of thought. Research shows that, throughout our lives, the brain is constantly being reshaped, for better or worse, a concept known as neuroplasticity.
Controlling stress levels, exercising, practicing breathing and mindful meditation allow us to change our brains in positive ways by forming new neural connections. The result is increased thickness and durability in the region of our brain that experiences stress, discomfort, and pain.
Our brain actually creates new cells and pathways—a process called neurogenesis.
The practice of intentional breathing [link to our article] is one of the easiest ways to reduce stress and rebuild positive neural pathways in the brain. In intentional breathing, we consciously observe the rise and fall of our breath, allowing other thoughts to recede.
In a remarkably short period of time, we can elicit a “relaxation response” in our nervous systems, setting off a chain of positive physiological responses. Our parasympathetic nervous system kicks into gear. Breath and heart rates slow. Muscles relax, blood pressure drops, and stress hormones decrease.
The result is not only physical relaxation, but mental clarity. In this relaxed state our brains heal, and we experience better concentration and a sense of mental spaciousness that allows us to think deeply and unleash creativity, cultivate patience, regulate our emotions, elevate our moods and feelings of wellbeing, and increase mental stamina. In essence, regularly eliciting the relaxation response increases brain power.
Exercises for Brain Health
Breathing training is the quickest and easiest way to elicit the relaxation response. Here are two powerful breathing exercises that, if regularly practiced, have the capacity to reshape and strengthen your brain.
The box breath is well-designed for increasing brain power by what it can do for personal concentration and mental resilience. By holding your breathing, after inhale and after exhale, you are using those moments to increase awareness and allow for deeper levels of attentional focus.
1. Sit with comfortable posture, back straight and hands on knees. You will breathe only through the nose.
2. Shoulders back, neck extended, create enough space in the abdominal area for your belly to expand and contract.
3. Now, try to push any remaining air out through your nose as you contract your belly.
4. The pattern: 4-inhale, 4-hold, 4-exhale, 4-hold.
5. Repeat several times breathing slowly and quietly.
Training to be more self-sufficient and resilient is about education, skill-building and practice. It’s just like learning a new sport or hobby – the more you practice, the better you get, and the more results you’ll see.
Those who train find that positive habits and techniques for managing health quickly become a natural part of who they are, and how their brain works.