woman meditating at sea woman meditating at sea Science shows that the simple act of focusing on your breath actually changes the way your brain works. (Photo: Iriska_Ira/Shutterstock)

Science just discovered exactly what meditative breathing does to your brain

We all know stress does a number on your well-being. A new study shows that conscious breathing really does change how your brain works.

Between buying last-minute gifts, preparing for out-of-town guests, cooking for way more people than you're used to and fighting gridlock traffic, we just have one question: Who's ready for an end to the madness?

Yes, the holidays can make it hard to find calm. They arrive every year and yet we still fall into the trap of letting stress get the better of us. We're human! But here's the thing: it doesn't have to be this way, and we have the tools already within us to control it. How do we know this? Science, of course!

A new study conducted by researchers from Northwestern University in Illinois and Hofstra University's Northwell School of Medicine in New York shows that concentrating on your breath improves performance of certain parts of the brain, including the anterior cingulate, premotor, insular and hippocampal cortices. Some of those areas are known to be related to stress.

Many pre-holiday sales will still be there after the new year. Take a breather. Until New Year's. (Photo: Ronald Sumners/Shutterstock)

The major takeaway of the study is that it's one of the few times scientists have been able to see marked improvement after instructing subjects to focus on their breath. Its co-author, Israeli professor Moran Cerf, wanted to know how we can gain access to parts of our brain that are not normally under our conscious control. After instructing a group of patients to perform a task both with and without focusing on their breathing, Cerf and his colleague, Dr. Jose Herrero, were able to see tangible, marked changes.

"The findings provide neural support for advice individuals have been given for millennia: during times of stress, or when heightened concentration is needed, focusing on one’s breathing or doing breathing exercises can indeed change the brain," said Cerf, an alumnus of Tel Aviv University.

Could it be that simple? To be better, breathe better? Cerf says yes, and with the science now backing it up, the technique could have all sorts of benefits.

"The research findings show that the advice to 'take a deep breath' may not just be a cliché," Cerf said.

Hundreds of people practice yoga on International Yoga Day in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on June 21, 2017. Engage that core, open those hips ... and breathe. (Photo: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

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Science just discovered exactly what meditative breathing does to your brain
We all know stress does a number on your well-being. A new study shows that conscious breathing really does change how your brain works.