Mindful Breathing Can Help Maintain Health and Youthfulness of the Brain

relation between breathing brain and attention

Be it a Yogi or long-term practitioner of meditation, everyone agrees that focus can be improved with meditation. But, up till now, no studies have shown the correlation of breathing with attention power of the brain. However, recent research aims at understanding the effects of controlled breathing on neurophysiology.

A number of new researches have shown that yoga and mindful breathing are good for the brain as much as they are beneficial for the body.

A barely 25-minute yoga and mindfulness improves the function of the brain and enhance the energy levels. You develop resilience to stress with practice of yoga. Yoga and mindfulness reduce the genetic changes that cause stress.

Apart from the above-mentioned benefits, meditation can also help deal with age-related cognitive decline.


A latest study suggests that practice of yoga and mindfulness can keep our brains healthy and young over long term. However, findings were only observational and causality could not be explained by the study.

Nevertheless, new research could explain why and how meditation affects the brain. The study sheds light on the neurophysiological reactions that happen because of meditation practices that are focused on breathing. The study was led by Michael Melnychuk of Trinity College Institute, Ireland.

In their research, Michael and team showed how controlled breathing affects the amounts of neurotransmitter “noradrenaline” – a stress hormone, which causes faster heart beat and dilation of pupil, at times, when we are excited.

In appropriate amounts, noradrenaline forms new connections in the brain cells and the study focused on how the levels of neurotransmitter changed in the area of the brain, known as locus coeruleus. This is the site, where noradrenaline is produced and this area is related to both breathing and attention.

Relation Between Breathing, Brain and Attention

Michael Melnychuk explains that noradrenaline is a multipurpose action system in the brain. In times of stress, our brain produces a lot of noradrenaline and because of this, we aren’t able to focus. When there is a sweet spot of noradrenaline, we experience clear emotions, memory and thinking.

For examining the effect of breathing on attention, noradrenaline and brain’s locus coeruleus, neuroimaging techniques were used by the researchers that measured dilation of pupil of the participants that involved focus while performing cognitive tasks.

Researchers did monitoring of the reaction time, breathing and activity on locus coeruleus area of the brain. Michael and team noted that those, who were better able to focus on tasks, had better association between attention and respiration.

It was also found that the activity in the locus coeruleus area of the brain increased as participants breathed in and the activity decreased as the participants breathed out. Michael explains that this suggests that attention gets affected by breathing and it increases and decreases with each cycle of respiration.

mindful breathing can help maintain health and youthfulness of the brain

Thus, in a way, we can regulate our breathing and optimize our attention level and alternatively, by focusing on attention, the breathing becomes more coordinated.

So, these findings show that people, who meditate and practice breathing exercise, have better focus and healthier brains.

Ian Robertson, co-director of Global Brain Health, Trinity, says that breath has been considered as an appropriate object for meditation.


It is thought that in pranayama – a technique in which breath is observed and regulated in precise ways – there is realization of changes in attention, arousal and emotional control, which is of great benefit to people, who meditate.

Research gives evidence in favor of the fact there is a strong relation between breathing techniques and having a steady mind.

These findings are helpful in treating patients with attention deficit disorder as well as aging adults, who want to have a healthy brain even in their adulthood.

With age, the brain loses mass. But, this does not hold true in case of people, who have been meditating for a long time. When the brains are young, there are less chances of dementia and mindfulness meditation provides strength to the brain networks.

A possible explanation for this is breath can be used to control noradrenalin – a chemical messenger, whose right dose can help establish new connections between the brain cells.