Abdominal breathing is a type of yoga

Yoga and meditation: the slowing down of the breath

But the bridge between body and mind is not a one-way street. We not only smile when we are happy, but can also positively influence our mood by pulling up the corners of our mouth, regardless of whether we have reason to be happy, according to a study from the 1980s. Similarly, the breath can be used as a lever for our mood. If we breathe in and out slowly and deeply in stressful moments, we fool the body into a kind of sleep mode - a power nap while awake, so to speak. And the body follows suit: the vagus nerve, part of the parasympathetic nervous system that controls a number of organ functions, is stimulated and unfolds its calming effect. Heart rate and blood pressure drop, muscles loosen up, and a feeling of comfort spreads.

"The breath is our only way of consciously influencing the autonomic nervous system," says Thomas Loew, Professor of Psychosomatics and Psychiatry at the University Hospital in Regensburg. Conscious breathing is the common denominator and the essence of all relaxation techniques, from autogenic training to yoga. "Our research shows what works on it, is one thing above all: the slowing down of breathing."

“Most of them don't do the breathing long enough. A few breaths are usually not enough "
(Thomas Loew, Professor of Psychosomatics and Psychiatry at the University Hospital Regensburg)

Loew and his team have been working for many years on how to help patients and healthy stress-afflicted people with the right breathing technique. You have found a simple recipe: inhale for four seconds and exhale for six seconds. This is the rhythm at which they observed the strongest harmony between breathing and brain activity in the EEG. The influence of the breath on the heartbeat is also most evident at six breaths per minute.

The exercise is very simple. You don't need any special discipline, you don't have to practice meditating for weeks or months. Relaxation sets in the first time, even for beginners. But there is one thing you can do wrong: “Most of them don't do the breathing exercises long enough. A few breaths are usually not enough, ”explains psychiatrist and psychotherapist Thomas Loew. "You will achieve the best effects when you hold out for at least eleven minutes," be it during a meeting, when traveling by train or in the evening on the couch. Then the organism starts a kind of maintenance program: when switching to the parasympathetic nervous system, biological repair mechanisms set in, cell damage is repaired and energy reserves are made available. In mice, researchers led by biologist Kevin Yackle, who now works at the University of California, even discovered special nerve cells in the brain stem that both set the neural rhythm for breathing and control the balance between rest and tension - another indication of the tightness biological link between breathing and the feeling of stress.

Those who regularly halve their breathing rate from the usual twelve puffs per minute to six can alleviate other ailments as well. Studies in recent years have shown that slowed breathing reduces stress as well as high blood pressure and pain. This helps patients with insomnia rest more quickly and helps prevent further hot flashes in menopausal women. Breathing techniques do not replace established treatment methods, but they can complement them and give those affected the feeling of being able to do something.

The psychiatrist Thomas Loew, on the other hand, does not believe in long respite: "Holding your breath means stress." Such a technique, so-called holotropic breathing, was developed by the Czech psychiatrist Stanislav Grof in the 1970s - as an alternative to the LSD trip and as a possible remedy for mental disorders. Accompanied by ecstatic drum sounds, breathing should accelerate and deepen to hyperventilation in order to evoke a changed state of consciousness. But the effect is controversial. With holotropic breathing, the carbon dioxide content of the blood decreases and the vessels constrict, which paradoxically means that less oxygen is available to the body. After about 30 minutes, intense pleasant, but also unpleasant feelings appear. Because the pH of the blood rises at the same time, dizziness, cramps, fainting and other undesirable side effects can follow. Not everything that is natural works in a gentle way.