Deep breathing calms you down because brain cells spy on your breath

Sarah Knapton
Breathing deeply reverse engineers your mood by tricking your brain cells into thinking you are calm  - This content is subject to copyright.

Taking a deep breath really does calm you down by triggering neurons in your brain which tell the body it is time to relax, a new study has found.

Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of California have identified 175 brain cells which spy on the breath and alter state of mind accordingly.

For thousands of years yoga students have been taught that controlling their breathing can bring a sense of calm, while it is a well known truism that taking a few deep breaths can lower rage. But until now nobody knew why it worked.

The new study suggests that it is indeed possible to reverse engineer your mood simply by altering breathing.

“If something’s impairing or accelerating your breathing, you need to know right away,” said Dr Mark Krasnow, professor of biochemistry at the University of California.

“These 175 neurons, which tell the rest of the brain what’s going on, are absolutely critical.”

Neurons in the brain are constantly watching what your breath is doing 

The neurons which link breathing to to relaxation, attention, excitement and anxiety are located deep in the brainstem. They can pick up on the differences in sighing, yawning, gasping, sleeping, laughing and sobbing.

When scientists genetically engineered mice so that the neurons which pick up excited breathing were absent, the animals were far calmer.

The investigators concluded that rather than regulating breathing, the neurons were spying on it instead and reporting their finding to another structure in the brainstem.

The research was published in Science.

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