Deep Breathing Might Have Benefits We’re Only Beginning to Understand

Author Article

Sundar Balasubramanian.
Balaji Parthasarathy

As a cell biologist, Sundar Balasubramanian never forgot his rural southern Indian roots, or the traditional practices his uncle, the village healer, exposed him to. Today, as a researcher and assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, Balasubramanian has turned his focus back to those roots — specifically, to pranayama, a deep-breathing relaxation technique. He’s showing that this ancient yoga practice is about more than relaxing — it can change us at the cellular level.

Q: What made you examine this technique through a cellular biology lens?

A: In 2005, I noticed while I was practicing pranayama, I was producing so much saliva that I was almost drooling. I wondered why and what the overall impact of that was. This led me and my team to study whether increased saliva production was a common response to the practice, and we found that it was.

Q: Most people wouldn’t think much of getting spitty when they focus on breathing and relaxing. But your 2016 study in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine showed this bump in salivation seems to matter. Why?

A: Saliva has numerous antibodies and proteins that do everything from suppressing tumors to regenerating the liver. For example, it contains immunoglobulin, which are antibodies that bind to germs, as well as DMBT1, a tumor suppressor that blocks the conversion of normal cells to cancer cells.

Q: Your 2015 study in International Psychogeriatrics showed that pranayama does more than just increase salivation. Can you elaborate?

A: Yes, it changes the makeup of saliva by increasing the amount of nerve growth factor (NGF). When NGF is produced, it’s transported to the brain, where it signals nerve cells to grow or survive longer. Increased NGF could have a major impact on aging, and specifically on some of the degenerative diseases of the day like Alzheimer’s and cancer.

Q: Do you have any upcoming or ongoing research projects on pranayama?

A: We’re about to start a study on patients with scleroderma, a chronic disorder that causes the body’s connective tissue to swell and harden. We’ll look at how these breathing techniques impact inflammation and how this relates to disease symptoms. We’re also in the beginning phases of a study that will look at whether deep breathing can reduce pain, improve appetite and improve mood in cancer patients.

How to Beat Anxiety in 1, 5, or 10 Minutes

Author Article

Beat anxiety in 1 minute

  1. Practice belly breathing
  2. Picture your favorite spot in the world
  3. Peek at a positive photo

Have you been running from meeting to meeting at work and now you feel anxiety creeping up on you? These coping mechanisms are for times like that in which it feels like you don’t have a second to breathe. Head to the bathroom if it’s the only way you can get privacy and allow yourself a minute to recoup. You’ll be surprised at what a difference 60 seconds can make.

Practice belly breathing

Take breaths that fill you up. “Belly breathing or diaphragm breathing [is what] settles our system and slows our minds, not the shallow breathing filling our lungs. We actually breath shallow and quick when we get anxious. Slow that down and, if you don’t know what belly breathing is, watch a video and practice before you need it,” Kevin Gilliland, a clinical psychologist and executive director of Innovation 360 tells Healthline.

How to do one cycle of belly breathing

  1. Sit down on a comfortable, flat surface.
  2. Release your shoulders into a relaxed position.
  3. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
  4. Breathe in through your nose for two seconds, feeling the air push your stomach outwards. Your chest should remain still while your stomach expands.
  5. Purse your lips while pressing lightly on your stomach. Then, exhale for two seconds.

Picture your favorite spot in the world

Going to your happy place really does work. Gilliland suggests you “picture it in as great of detail as you can, and imagine the last time you were there.” Directing your mind to focus on a pleasant memory can reduce the anxiety it’s creating.

Peek at a positive photo

Quickly scanning a photo you enjoy can make a real difference when it comes to anxiety, according toGeorgia Foster and Virginia Alexandra, co-authors of “The 3 Minute Anxiety Fix.” Whether it showcases a great memory with your friends or is a screenshot of an inspirational quote, finding pictures that quell anxiety allow you to quickly counteract it.

How to beat anxiety in 5 minutes

Beat anxiety in 5 minutes

  1. Try a relaxation app
  2. Listen to a song
  3. Get your body moving

So, you’re anxious while your meal is cooking or a few minutes before you need to leave. With five minutes, there are more ways to beat your anxiety.

Try a relaxation app

You know those mindfulness apps you keep getting ads for? They actually can help you. From Headspaceto Calm, there are plenty to try out. While there are longer exercises to explore, many apps feature meditations lasting from just one to five minutes.

While you may wonder how much can be accomplished in such a short time, Gilliland assures us that a few minutes can be all it takes. If you’re unsure about using a relaxation app, test a few out with a free trial.

Listen to a song

Everyone has that great song that makes them feel on top of the world. Try creating a playlist filled with ones that ignite joy inside of you. This way, the next time anxiety rears its ugly head, you’ll be armed. Music really is as powerful as you think: According to Gilliland, it can help slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure.

Get your body moving

A 2017 study found that 77 percent of participants were inactive for about 12 hours per day. While being sedentary most of the day is physically unhealthy for a lot of reasons, it can also impact your mental health.

If you become anxious, think about how much you’ve moved around that day. Take five minutes to get your heart rate up. “Any form of rigorous exercise works to lower anxiety by burning off excess mental energy used for worrying”, psychologist Gregory Kushnick tells Healthline.

Even a 5-minute release can restart your body.

How to beat anxiety in 10 minutes

Beat anxiety in 10 minutes

  1. Call someone who understands you
  2. Write down how you’re feeling
  3. Turn off your phone for at least 10 minutes

If you can step away and take 10 minutes to work through your feelings, it’s definitely worth trying one of these coping mechanisms.

Call someone who understands you

Take a walk and call your best friend, your mom, your partner, or whoever you feel most comfortable talking to.

“Call someone who you feel really knows you and you can count on for honest input. Tell them what you are worried about and why, and see what they say,” Gilliland says. “Or, when you call them, talk about something completely unrelated to your fears. Get caught up in another conversation and you will worry less because you are caught up in something else. Distraction works wonders.”

You’re looking for the person who will help you sort through your anxious thoughts, not the person who is going to tell you to calm down.

Write down how you’re feeling

“Jot a few notes to yourself… about the things that you have done, not the things you worry about or where you have struggled,” Gilliland suggests. Remembering those things help to counter what worry says, which is always negative and catastrophic. We have to balance the conversation so start talking back to anxiety as if it was a person. You have to represent the things you are good at, the things you have done. We need to remember that at times when we are anxious.”

Remembering the good is a great way to combat anxiety, as is writing down what you’re experiencing.

Dr. Kushnick’s suggestions on what to track during anxiety episodes:

  • the triggering event
  • the physical symptoms of anxiety
  • the troubling thoughts you had
  • how you handled the moment
  • a label associated with the distorted thoughts

Turn off your phone for at least 10 minutes

You may be thinking, it’s just 10 minutes, right? Try keeping track of how many times you check your phone in a 10-minute period and then you’ll see why turning it off can do you so much good.

Try even longer if you can. As Kushnick says, “The simplest possible technique for anxiety is to turn your phone off for 20 minutes and sit with your own thoughts, without any other form of stimulation. Whether you admit it or not, your phone is worsening your anxiety.”

Practice these techniques before use

The old adage “practice makes perfect” made be a cliché, but it’s true. The first time you try some of these techniques, it may seem awkward or pointless. Implementing them regularly is the key to fighting back against your anxiety.

Don’t wait until you’re anxious to try them out. “Let me state the obvious – You have to master techniques before you need them. When we are anxious, we don’t learn. We actually use what we have learned and practiced. You need a plan and you need to have practiced it,” Gilliland says. “One of the best quotes about what this looks like in life is from Mike Tyson, ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.’ Anxiety will punch you in the face. Punch back with some techniques.”

Getting to the root of what is causing your anxiety is so important when working to manage it. If these coping mechanisms aren’t doing the trick, try speaking to a professional about other options you can explore.