April 20, 2024

Can ‘clean breathing’ *really* help us improve cognitive function, or is it a load of hot air?

Sound good? Great. Helpfully, breathwork has had a luxe makeover. From breathing workshops with professional free-divers in Indonesia, to oxygen bar sessions in Spain, clean breathing has truly gone global.

They say the best things in life are free, but breathing might not be one of them, if a new wave of wellness gurus are to be believed. ‘Clean breathing’ is the new buzz phrase sweeping wellness circles.

This isn’t to do with pollution (although there is a Clean Breathing Institute of academics working on that – many thanks). Nope, this is about controlled breath movements – mindful breathing, if you will. When done properly, it can have a positive effect on heart rate, stress levels, cognitive function and anxiety, supposedly.

Guests at the five star Nihi Sumba resort in south-east Asia have the opportunity to learn breath awareness and control techniques through guided breathing workshops put together by professional surfers and free divers. The intention is to “help participants overcome stressful and challenging situations through the development of self-awareness and self-control. ”

If you’re wondering what this actually means in practice, it involves “theory as well as simple drills, drawing on diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, deep belly breathing, conscious breathing and yogic breathing (otherwise known as Pranayama). ” Likewise at The Farm in San Benito, participants have the opportunity to learn Pranayama breathing (read our ultimate guide here) alongside daily massages to help improve blood circulation, relaxation and the anxiety.

I think we can all agree, we’d much rather practice deep inhalations while on a beach in Indonesia – where I suspect the air is infinitely cleaner (I am talking about pollution here) – than the Big Smoke. The question is, can “clean breathing” actually do any of the things it says it will?

Hold your eye roll, because science says it can. A 2017 study which looked at the effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention (i. e. cognitive function), negative affect (i. e emotions like guilt, anger and nervousness) and stress (we all know what that is), found that “diaphragmatic breathing could improve sustained attention, affect and cortisol levels. ” While another, conducted in 2018, found that slow and considered breathing can improve “emotional control and psychological well-being in healthy subjects. ” There are countless others with similar conclusions.

This is nothing new, of course. Though we may not know precisely how or why concentrated breathing can improve our mental clarity and calm nerves, we’ve understood for generations that slowing our breathing and avoiding short, shallow breaths, can help. Do we need to pay £5,000 for the pleasure? Probably not. Although, that mindful massage does sound good…

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