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Exploring the Science of Breathing

Breathing is a fundamental aspect of our existence, occurring incessantly, often without conscious thought. It operates as an automatic and intuitive process, so ingrained in our daily lives that we rarely take the time to contemplate its significance. Without this essential function, life as we know it would cease to exist. Much like various other bodily functions, our brain processes breathing differently from conscious, deliberate thought. Psychologists have developed a useful analogy to help distinguish between these mental processes:

System 1 Thinking: This mode of thinking is automatic, intuitive, quick, emotional, and reactive. Breathing falls into this category, as it happens spontaneously with minimal mental or physical exertion.

System 2 Thinking: On the contrary, this mode is conscious, effortful, logical, and deliberate. Activities like solving a math problem or engaging in complex decision-making belong to this category, demanding significant mental effort.

While the human brain is not neatly divided into these systems, this analogy serves to illuminate how our brain manages various bodily functions. Recognizing the distinction between System 1 and System 2 thinking is essential in understanding the science behind breathing practices.

Breathing practices, often referred to as “Yogic Breathing” or Pranayama, constitute a crucial aspect of Yoga. Recent scientific studies have underscored the profound benefits of these practices on our physiological systems. Notably, human respiration is the sole physiological system subject to both automatic and voluntary nervous control, underscoring its importance for both mental and physical well-being.

In essence, the positive physiological effects of breathing practices arise from shifting our breathing from System 1 thinking to System 2 thinking, making it a conscious and deliberate act. Studies have found that breathing practices offer short-term and long-term benefits across various physiological parameters, including:

  • Blood Pressure
  • Heart Rate/Heart Rate Variability
  • Respiratory Rate
  • Galvanic Skin Resistance
  • Pulse Rate

These breathing practices have been integral to Yoga for centuries, and contemporary research, endorsed by psychologists and behavioral scientists, provides a robust foundation for their enduring benefits. Incorporating these practices into your life can significantly enhance your physical and mental well-being. By understanding the profound impact of breathing practices on your overall health, you can take a meaningful step toward holistic wellness.


Tay SW, Ryan P, Ryan CA. Systems 1 and 2 thinking processes and cognitive reflection testing in medical students. Can Med Educ J. 

Saoji AA, Raghavendra BR, Manjunath NK. Effects of yogic breath regulation: A narrative review of scientific evidence. J Ayurveda Integr Med.