Guided breathing is a mindfulness exercise, similar to, but different from mindfulness meditation. Because the DiveThru method using both mindfulness and journaling, we use guided breathing as a way of opening consciousness to pay attention to the self in a non-judgemental way, in order to compliment the journaling process. But what are the benefits of these kinds of mindfulness techniques? How do you know they’ll work for you?
Luckily there are several decades of scientific study on mindfulness and meditation that shows the profound and fundamental benefits it can bring from simply remaining still and closing your eyes and focusing on your breath. I bet you can’t say the same for 20 minutes on social media, huh?
The Science Behind Guided and Mindful Breathing
Even though the practice of mediation has been around for thousands of years, Scientific interest in mindfulness techniques has soared along with its popularity within our culture. The Harvard Gazette cites a study that summarized its growing popularity, writing, “The number of randomized controlled trials — the gold standard for clinical study — involving mindfulness has jumped from one in the period from 1995‒1997 to 11 from 2004‒2006, to a whopping 216 from 2013‒2015.”
They note that along with familiar benefits to mental health, like treating depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress, there are even studies showing benefits for physical ailments like irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, psoriasis, and chronic pain pointing to similar outcomes to current treatment regimes. All drug free! It’s the very definition of mind over matter.
Scientists typically use a definition for mindfulness: Paying attention on purpose, to something in the present, non-judgmentally. And that’s what DiveThru’s guided breathing does. If you’re looking for more on what mindfulness is, check out our post What is Mindfulness Anyway?
New technology in the fMRI machine, or functional magnetic resonance machine, allows researchers to not only take pictures of the brains activity, but to record it in real time. It’s like the difference between an image and video, but with highly detailed measurements of the electrical signals coursing through the very structure of your grey matter.
According to research Gaëlle Desbordes, a neuroscientist at MGH’s Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, subjects who learned how to meditate showed real changes in the brain’s activity, even when the subjects were not meditating.
Let’s unpack that a bit. These changes were prominent in the amygdala, an area close to the base of brain, common to almost all vertebrates, meaning it’s ancient, from an evolutionary perspective. It’s responsible for processing memory, decision making and emotion, like anxiety, fear and aggression. In other words the same part of the brain an angry crocodile is thinking with is the same part of the brain an angry you is thinking with! Yet mindfulness techniques were able to calm the area in its human test subjects, leading to better emotional stability and overall sense of wellbeing.
Another study, this one by Sara Lazar, who does research into the neurological benefits of yoga and meditation at Harvard, used an fMRI to show that the brain can actually thickened with subjects who took an eight week meditation course.
It used to be the standard assumption that the brain was static, solid and unchanging. But new research shows that mindfulness techniques like guided breathing have bolstered the new paradigm in brain research called “neuroplasticity,” the stunning revelation that the brain can change itself.
“Ultimately mindfulness is about creating this deeper relationship with who we are as a person and developing greater self-awareness,” said Ohio State University psychologist Ruchika Prakash in an interview.
While much research has been done to show positive outcomes for mindfulness, much more needs to be done to give a full deeper picture of the power of our conscious mind to change the very structure of its home in the brain through self-awareness.