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Study: You’re breathing wrong

The many benefits of meditation might be well documented, but the breathing exercises associated with mediation might be what’s actually doing all the good work to your body and your mind.

Ever wondered why you can focus better when you meditate, or why people who meditate frequently seem so relaxed? In a recent study from the Institute of Neuroscience at Trinity College Dublin in Dublin, Ireland, it was found that instead of mantras and calming music, it was the deep breaths one performs during meditation that are the actual key to achieving “focus” and clarity. Repeating a mantra can help, but mostly only to stop your mind from wandering.

How you breathe has a direct effect on your heart rate, which in turn can influence every major system in your body in a sort-of sad chain reaction. When people have or experience anxiety or stress, they tend to inhale sharply and then hold their breath (this explains a “gasp!” reflex when you have a minor accident). If repeated, this can cause stress on your heart, your body, and your mind. Rapid breathing isn’t good for your body unless you have good reason to, like for exercise, so all your doing is purposefully overloading your system. What’s even worse is that you can loop this behavior very easily, because most of us don’t know how to check ourselves when we’re freaking out.

So, how do you breathe right?

Simply breathing at a 1:2 ratio of inhale time to exhale time can substantially change your heart rate, and thus your mood. Try exhaling for twice as long as you inhale, and now concentrate on repeating that length of exhale for, say, fifteen to thirty seconds. You’ll notice your heart rate slow immediately.

Unscientifically speaking for a second: this is perfect if the yoga-pants-and-incense vibes of meditation have put you off trying to meditate. Just put a 20 minute timer on your phone and try the 1:2 breathing exercise. If you need a mantra to repeat to stay in the zone, try a phrase with four or five syllables; your correspondent here can attest that “pepperoni” works, although you’re likely going to get hungry. What you’re doing isn’t that different than Transcendental Meditation, which can often cost $1,400 just to learn, and their mantras aren’t a whole lot different than “pepperoni”.

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