Stress comes in many forms and there are many ways people choose to cope with that stress. Meditation is a great way to alleviate the pressure of stress but new research from Stanford University shows that breathing exercises are even more effective than mindfulness medication.
Stress can be beneficial in that it can spur you to action and save your life in a dangerous situation. It can also cause lead to long-term harm in situations where the daily pressures of life are not managed properly and lead to health problems such as high blood pressure. Therefore, managing stress through natural means is a popular pursuit for people wanting to avoid prescriptions or self-medicating through unhealthy substances.
The recent pandemic was an added source of stress for many so researchers at Stanford used it as an opportunity to gauge the effectiveness of different techniques for stress relief. They measured mindfulness meditation against three types of breathing.
Researchers described mindfulness meditation as a conscious effort to relax by placing yourself in a nonjudgmental state. This is usually done for a short period of time with your eyes closed and your mind focused on calming yourself.
The three different breathing techniques included two cyclical breaths and a box breath. Box breath is when you breathe in and out at the same pace and hold your breath for that same amount of time. For example, breathing in for a count of four, holding for a four-count and then exhaling while at the same pace is considered a box breath.
Cyclic breathing for the purpose of this study was done in two different manners. The first was cyclic sighing, which included a normal breath in followed by an exaggerated exhale. The other was cyclic hyperventilation, which involved an exaggerated inhale followed by a regular exhale.
A group of 114 volunteers took part in the remote, randomized controlled study. They each used one form of stress relief for a period of five minutes per day over the span of 30 days. They then rotated to a different form and chronicled their results.
The entire exercise was considered a success as the vast majority of participants found it to be a good experience with 90% reporting positive feelings.
On the whole, the three breathing types were found by the volunteers to be more effective at relieving stress than the mindfulness meditation. The cyclic sighing, which involved an elongated exhale, was found to be the most effective of all four practices.