A recent study published in Harvard Business Review highlights the unmistakable benefits gleaned from practicing simple breathing exercises on a daily basis. A study conducted at Yale gets into the specific science behind applied breathing exercises combining meditation, mindfulness, and tips on how to regulate emotional intelligence in stressful situations. The SKY Breath Meditation program has the power to alleviate all folks struggling with stress related to this pandemic, humanitarian crisis’, financial burdens, and those who are struggling to find balance in a work-from-home environment.
The case study
Let’s take a look at what one of the authors of this study had to say about the results in a recent write up in Harvard Business Review.
“Before and after the workshops, participants underwent a stress task that simulated a high-pressure performance situation, akin to presenting at a business meeting. In anticipation of the stressful performance, the group that had completed the cognitive workshop showed elevated breathing and heart rates, as expected. In contrast, the SKY Breathing group held steady in terms of breathing and heart rate, suggesting the program had instilled in them a buffer against the anxiety typically associated with anticipating a stressful situation. This meant that they were not only in a more positive emotional state but also that they were more able to think clearly and effectively perform the task at hand,” Emma Seppälä, Ph.D., Lecturer at the Yale School of Management and Faculty Director of the Yale School of Management’s Women’s Leadership Program says.
“Similarly, in a study with veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who struggled with trauma, we found that not only did SKY Breath Meditation normalize their anxiety levels after just one week, but they also continued to experience the mental health benefits a full year later.”
The science behind the effectiveness of SKY Breath Meditation
Eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction was found to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus which governs learning and memory.
Additionally, it decreases the brain cell volume in the amygdala which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress.
“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” says study senior author Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology.
“This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”
Not only does MBSR reduce the anxiety and stress of current affairs but it also boosts memory, focus, and attention — which is helpful in reaching those deadlines.
Moreover, a study conducted by Matthew A. Killingsworth from Yale University determined that meditation decreases activity in the default mode network, the brain network responsible for mind-wandering, and self-referential thoughts.
He states, “Meditation’s goal is for people to dial intrusive, racing thoughts down since ruminations on the past and future can distract you from the task at hand.”
How you can apply this method in your day to day life from home
Luckily for us, there is a bounty of free guided meditation programs on YouTube and your iPhone’s App Store. Incorporating ten minutes of mindfulness-based meditation every day has overreaching benefits that last throughout your life.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the moment experts recommend inhaling for 4 seconds and exhaling for 8 seconds. Exhalation stimulates the vagus nerve which is part of our body’s parasympathetic response. Our parasympathetic response, the “rest and digest” part of our nervous system, keeps us calm in times of extreme duress. This is extremely helpful for those people who struggle with racing thoughts before bed.
Emma Seppälä, a seasoned researcher and lecturer at Yale, backs up this argument with the following scientific facts.
“When we are in a highly stressed state, our prefrontal cortex — the part of our brain responsible for rational thinking — is impaired, so logic seldom helps to regain control. This can make it hard to think straight or be emotionally intelligent with your team. But with breathing techniques, it is possible to gain some mastery over your mind.”
The author of this study explains this fascinating ‘fake it till’ you make it’ through a tough situation phenomenon by adding,
“Research shows that different emotions are associated with different forms of breathing, and so changing how we breathe can change how we feel. For example, when you feel joy, your breathing will be regular, deep and slow. If you feel anxious or angry, your breathing will be irregular, short, fast, and shallow. When you follow breathing patterns associated with different emotions, you’ll actually begin to feel those corresponding emotions.”
Using something as simple as breathing exercises to regulate emotions and maneuver around stressful situations to focus on the task at hand is an extremely beneficial and cost-effective way to navigate the events of this year. Take a deep breath, your mental health, cardiovascular response, and productivity rates will thank you in the long run.