We hear it all the time: “Take a deep breath.” It’s a tactic that’s been known to calm the mind – and body – in many contexts and cultures, but learning the science behind how breathing affects psychological well-being remains an open area for investigation.
In meditation, for instance, certain mindfulness practices encourage people to cultivate awareness of their own breath and other bodily sensations. Figuring out the biological consequences of this behavior served as the focus of Center Graduate Student Joseph Wielgosz in a recent paper published in Scientific Reports.
Wielgosz and colleagues found that people who’ve racked up extensive meditation experience – called “long-term meditators” – consistently showed a lower respiration rate when not meditating compared to a control group of people with no experience meditating. Respiration rate is the number of in and out breaths a person has per minute.
“We’ve suspected this for a long time, but what this helps confirm is the idea that extended mindfulness training is not just training one’s cognitive processes, but it also appears to be training and retraining the body as well in ways we’re just beginning to understand,” Wielgosz says.
He adds that previous studies have typically looked at respiration while participants were performing specific meditation practices. In contrast, the new analysis looked at respiration rates when the participants were simply sitting and relaxing in the laboratory, a situation more likely to reflect their breathing patterns in everyday life. The study also used data collected over multiple sessions to confirm that the relationship between practice experience and respiration rate holds up consistently over time.