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This is how meditation sharpens attention and boosts brain health


side veiw of a woman meditating oudoors

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Meditation and yogic breathing practices are known to bring many cognitive benefits to us such as increased ability to focus on tasks among others.

But so far, no direct neurophysiological link between breathing and attention has been known.

Researchers from the Trinity College Dublin have now found this link for the first time.

Their research shows that breathing affects levels of a natural chemical messenger in the brain called the noradrenaline.

The study showed that when we breathe in, there is a slight increase in activity in the locus coeruleus and when we breathe out this activity decreases. This suggests that breathing influences our attention.

This chemical is released when we are focussed, challenged, emotionally aroused, curious or exercised. If this chemical is released at the right levels it will help the brain grow new connections.

This means that the way we breath affects the level of this chemical and leads to new connections in the brain resulting in better cognition and brain health.

Meditation and mindfulness practices both focus on breathing and it may be possible to use these interventions to strengthen our attention and improve brain health.

In this study, the researchers found that participants who focused well while undertaking tasks that demanded a lot of attention, had greater synchronisation between breathing patterns and their attention that those participants with poor focus.

To understand this, researchers monitored activity in a small area of the brain called locus coeruleus, where noradrenaline is made. They also measured breathing and reaction time.

Noradrenaline must be produced at the right level at which our emotions, thinking and memory is clear.

When we are stressed, we produced too much of the chemical and can’t focus while when we are sluggish we produce too little of it and again we can’t focus.

The study showed that when we breathe in, there is a slight increase in activity in the locus coeruleus and when we breathe out this activity decreases. This suggests that breathing influences our attention.

By being able to regulate your breathing, you are able to optimise attention and likewise by focussing your attention level you can synchronise your breathing.

The findings of this study are particularly important for research on brain ageing.

As a brain ages, it loses mass but not so much in brains of long-term meditators.

It is known that mindfulness meditation strengthened brain networks and reduces the risk of dementia.

This research offers a possible reason why this happens – by breathing correctly we can control the brain’s natural messengers, which at the right level helps the brain grow new connections.

This is another reason why we should adopt a wide range of activities from exercise to meditation to boost brain health.

Meditation typically encourages us to focus on our breathing which helps us regulate it. As shown by this study, this leads to focussed attention, better cognition and stronger neural networks.

So why not take up meditation everyday if it enhances the health of your brain?

Source: Psychophysiology



 

Meena Azzollini

Meena is passionate about holistic wellbeing, alternative healing, health and personal power and uses words to craft engaging feature articles to convey her knowledge and passion. She is a freelance writer and content creator from Adelaide, Australia, who draws inspiration from family, travel and her love for books and reading.

A yoga practitioner and a strong believer in positive thinking, Meena is also a mum to a very active young boy. In her spare time, she loves to read and whip up delicious meals. She also loves the smell of freshly made coffee and can’t ever resist a cheesecake. And she gets tickled pink by anything funny!