For generations, mothers have encouraged children to take long, slow breaths to fight anxiety. A long tradition of meditation likewise uses controlled breathing to induce tranquillity.
Now scientists at Stanford University may have uncovered for the first time why taking deep breaths can be so calming. The research, on a tiny group of neurons deep within the brains of mice, also underscores just how intricate and pervasive the links are within our body between breathing, thinking, behaving and feeling.
Breathing is one of the body’s most essential and elastic processes. Our breaths occur constantly and rhythmically, much like our hearts’ steady beating. But while we generally cannot change our hearts’ rhythm by choice, we can alter how we breathe, in some cases consciously, as in holding our breath, or with little volition, such as sighing, gasping or yawning.
But how the mind and body regulate breathing and vice versa at the cellular level has remained largely mysterious. More than 25 years ago, researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles first discovered a small bundle of about 3,000 interlinked neurons inside the brainstems of animals, including ...