An easy-to-use technique you can start doing immediately produces far-reaching and powerful brain benefits.
It’s not hard to learn and it has been shown to sharpen your intellectual capabilities and protect the brain as you age.
The method: breathing exercises and meditation that elicit measurable effects in brain cells. Keep reading to learn the benefits you can reap. . .
It’s well known that excessive stress is a factor in memory and cognitive loss. And likewise it’s pretty well-known that meditation and similar practices help reduce stress.
Now researchers in Ireland have found some new specifics on why these practices can enhance your ability to focus on mental tasks.1
They’ve identified what they say are the neuro-physical connections that link controlled breathing with boosted cognitive powers.
According to these scientists, when you modify your breathing in a disciplined fashion – as people do during mindfulness practice and meditation – you influence the release of noradrenaline in a very important part of your brain, a part of the brain called the locus coeruleus.
The hormone acts as a vital chemical messenger that focuses your attention when you embark on an ambitious mental challenge – when you learn new information, for instance. Under noradrenaline’s influence, the brain’s neurons form new interconnections.
“Practitioners of yoga have claimed for some 2,500 years that respiration influences the mind,” says researcher Michael Melnychuk, a Ph.D. candidate at Trinity College Dublin. “In our study we looked for a neuro-physiological link that could help explain these claims by measuring breathing, reaction time, and brain activity in a small area in the brainstem called the locus coeruleus, where noradrenaline is made.”
According to the researchers, noradrenaline is a crucial modifier of the brain’s activities. If you are overwhelmed by stress, noradrenaline is over-produced and puts you on edge, blurring your focus. When noradrenaline production lags, you feel lethargic, which likewise impairs your mental clarity.
Aim for “Just Right” Goldilocks Amount of Noradrenaline
The ideal, then, is to avoid either too much or too little noradrenaline. When you hit the “sweet spot” your memory becomes hi-def, your emotions stabilize and your intellectual agility goes into high gear.
“Our attention is influenced by our breath and it rises and falls with the cycle of respiration,” says Melnychuk. “It is possible that by focusing on and regulating your breathing you can optimize your attention level and likewise, by focusing on your attention level, your breathing becomes more synchronized (with your brain activity).”
The fact that doing controlled breathing and meditation improves the function of the locus coeruleus may also help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of memory-loss as you age.
Research at the University of Southern California suggests that this section of the brain may be “ground zero” for the development of Alzheimer’s disease.2
Important, but Vulnerable
Researcher Mara Mather notes that neurons from the locus coeruleus extend axons (branching extensions) out into large areas of the brain that help maintain a great deal of the brain’s blood supply. She says its high level of connectedness makes it a central player in cognition, but also makes it more vulnerable to being harmed by toxins and infections.
She points out that the locus coeruleus is the first brain area that falls victim to the accumulation of toxic protein tangles called tau that are considered an indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.
She also explains that noradrenaline restricts brain inflammation and moderates over-stimulation from other neurotransmitters that can kill neurons and accelerate the development of Alzheimer’s.
To be sure, there are a great many studies on the benefits of meditation. These recent ones add to our knowledge. These are the first studies I’ve personally noticed that flag the locus coeruleus and the effects of meditation on it. The brain has a great many compartments!
Try It, You’ll Like It
This type of research confirms my own experience – I have found that a few relaxed and focused breaths can often help me ease through stressful situations without losing my cool. And the long-term effects of giving it 20 minutes a day are life-changing. You should try it too and look for instruction on breathing techniques that are easy to find on the Internet. (For instance –https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Even aside from the immediate relaxing benefits, the long-term effects of controlled breathing should help keep your memory stronger.