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The Influence of Breathing on Brain Activity

The Influence of Breathing on Brain Activity


Today, we're going to dive into the fascinating world of neuroscience and explore how our breathing patterns can actually influence our brain activity. So, buckle up and get ready to uncover the intricate relationship between something as natural as breathing and the complex workings of our brain.

Unveiling the Connection

Breathing, something we do without even thinking about it, has been found to have a significant impact on our neural activity. Recent studies have shed light on the fact that our neural state can differ between spontaneous and volitionally controlled breathing, and even across different phases of breathing, such as inspiration and expiration. This means that the way we breathe, whether it's a deep breath or a controlled square breathing technique, can actually modulate our brain's activity.

The Science Behind It

Now, you might be wondering how exactly our breathing affects our brain. Well, let's break it down. Our breathing is not just a simple bodily function; it's a rhythmic pattern involving active inspiration and passive expiration. While our autonomic breathing is mainly driven by our body's metabolic demands, we also have the ability to consciously control our breathing to adapt to various internal and external factors, like emotions or environmental demands.

Breathing Techniques and Brain Activity

Practices involving the voluntary regulation of breathing, such as controlling the rate, depth, and pattern of breathing, have been shown to induce changes in our behavior, psychology, autonomic functions, and even our neural activity. For instance, different breathing techniques, like deep and square breathing, have been found to impact our brain's oscillatory activity. This means that the way we breathe can actually lead to dynamically fluctuating neural states across the respiratory cycle.

Neural Modulation by Breathing

The interaction between our breathing and our central nervous system activity during the implementation of different breathing techniques has been a topic of interest. Understanding this modulation could provide insights into the behavioral and clinical implications of controlled breathing. There's initial evidence suggesting that this modulation could potentially facilitate optimal performance, learning, and even improve the treatment of psychiatric symptoms.

The Brain-Breathing Connection

The key neural elements responsible for generating our breathing patterns involve specific network structures in our brain. While certain fundamental structures are involved in generating our basic breathing patterns, voluntary control of breathing engages a more extensive network of subcortical and cortical structures. This means that when we consciously regulate our breathing, it's not just a simple process; it involves a complex interplay of various brain regions.

Breathing's Impact on Neural Oscillations

Studies in both animals and humans have shown that our brain's electrophysiological signaling is influenced by our respiratory rhythm. Our breathing has been found to entrain neural oscillations in various regions of the brain, highlighting the significant impact of our breathing on our brain's activity. Additionally, different breathing techniques, whether spontaneous or controlled, have been observed to influence cortical oscillatory activity, indicating that our breathing can modulate our brain's neural activity.

Phases of Breathing and Neural Activity

Within the cyclic rhythm of breathing, the phases of breathing, such as inspiration and expiration, have been found to modulate the dynamics of our brain's oscillatory activity. This means that the way we breathe can actually lead to changes in our brain's activity, reflecting different neural states during inspiration and expiration. These fluctuations in neural states have also been found to be behaviorally relevant, influencing perceptual sensitivity and cognitive functions.

Unraveling the Impact

So, what does all this mean? Well, it suggests that our breathing-induced modulations in neural synchrony underlie the observed effects on our perceptual and cognitive functions. There's evidence to indicate that our breathing can modulate perceptual sensitivity and even facilitate improved performance in cognitive tasks. This means that our neural states dynamically fluctuate depending on the phase of the respiratory cycle, and these fluctuations are behaviorally relevant.

The Study

In a recent study, researchers investigated how breathing modulates the functional state of the brain. The study aimed to understand how neural activity differs between spontaneous and volitionally controlled deep and square breathing. It also sought to explore whether and how neural activity is modulated across the phases of breathing. The findings demonstrated that neural activity is indeed modulated by breathing techniques and different phases of breathing, shedding light on the intricate relationship between our breathing and our brain's activity.

So, there you have it! Who would have thought that something as simple as our breathing could have such a profound impact on our brain activity? It's truly fascinating to uncover the intricate connection between our bodily rhythms and the complex workings of our brain. Next time you take a deep breath or practice a breathing technique, remember that you're not just influencing your body; you're also influencing your brain.

Keep breathing, and stay curious!

Citation: Suvi Karjalainen, Jan Kujala, and Tiina Parviainen, “Neural Activity Is Modulated by Spontaneous and Volitionally Controlled Breathing,” September 1, 2023,


  • Neural Activity: Neural activity involves the functioning of the brain and nervous system, including the transmission of signals between nerve cells and the processing of information.

  • Neuroscience: Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and networks of sensory nerve cells.

  • Oscillatory Activity: Oscillatory activity refers to the rhythmic and repetitive patterns of neural signals in the brain, which play a role in various brain functions.

  • Modulate: Modulate means to regulate or adjust, in this context, referring to the ability of breathing to regulate or adjust the brain's activity.

  • Entrain: Entrain means to synchronize or align with a rhythm, indicating how breathing can synchronize neural oscillations in the brain.

  • Perceptual Sensitivity: Perceptual sensitivity refers to the ability to detect and interpret sensory stimuli, such as sounds, sights, or touch, which can be influenced by breathing.

  • Cognitive Functions: Cognitive functions are mental processes such as thinking, learning, memory, and problem-solving, which can be affected by breathing-induced modulations in neural synchrony.