People deal with stress differently – some exercise, others go to a Thai massage, and some treat themselves with a nice hot bath. But something you’re doing right now, and you’re probably not even thinking about it, is arguably the most effective natural stress reliever of them all – breathing.
Turns out, deep breathing isn’t just relaxing, it’s been scientifically shown to affect our heart, our immune system, and our brain – helping to increase serotonin levels.
Mladen Golubic, a leading physician said that breathing can have a massive impact on our health and physiology. In his words: “You can influence heart failure, you can influence asthma, and you can influence chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. There are studies that sow that people who practice breathing exercises and have those conditions – they benefit.”
In this article, we’ll delve into why the answer to “does deep breathing increase serotonin” is yes, and share with you a few breathing techniques you can implement right now for a happier, healthier mind.
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Serotonin & Your Mood
Serotonin is an essential neurotransmitter that plays a key role in our emotional health. It’s not only important for sleep and digestion, it also helps your mood, focus, and mental clarity.
Serotonin is often referred to as the “happiness hormone” by doctors and health gurus. Low serotonin levels can lead to depression, anxiety, poor sleep, and even weight issues.
However, every day we do different things that disrupt our natural serotonin production. From drinking too much alcohol and eating too much sugar, to being sleep deprived and under constant stress.
So this begs the question; is deep breathing a good way to counter these negative lifestyle factors, and boost serotonin in the process?
Does Deep Breathing Increase Serotonin?
As we’ve seen in the intro, deep breathing is a good natural way to raise your body’s natural serotonin production.
However, although science is only now catching up on the perks of deep breathing, these techniques are nothing new. Breathwork, also called pranayama, has been regularly practiced by yogis for millennia. Pranayama means control of the life force.
But how does deep breathing increase serotonin? It’s through the reduction of cortisol. (1)
Cortisol is the main stress hormone in your body. Your hormones are always trying to balance each other out in order for the body to stay in homeostasis. So if cortisol is constantly high from stress, serotonin levels will stay low – as shown in this study.
Stabilizing your cortisol levels through deep breathing is an effective strategy to feel better and happier. Deep breathing also reduces your heart rate and ultimately helps your brain to relax. Which can make it easier for you to fall asleep.
Additional Benefits of Deep Breathing
Now, deep breathing (or diaphragmatic breathing) has more than one benefit. In addition to boosting serotonin, it also:
- Alleviates pain. Deep breathing triggers the spurt of endorphins, your natural anti-pain chemicals.
- Detoxifies the body. Deep breathing will stimulate your lymphatic system and help with getting rid of toxins from your body. As a matter of fact, your breathing process is in charge of removing around 70% of toxins in your body. The remaining 30% is through bladder and intestines. If you don’t breathe fully, your body has a harder time getting rid of toxins.
- Boosts your energy levels. The more oxygen you have in the blood, the better your bodily functions will be. As a result, you’ll feel stronger and more energetic and have more stamina.
- Bolsters your immune system. When your body is filled with oxygen, it’s able to carry and absorb vital nutrients more effectively. In essence, the cleaner the system, the harder it is for illness to wreak havoc on you.
- Better digestion. By making deep breathing into a habit, you’ll have a healthier blood flow, which stimulates your organs to work more efficiently – this includes your intestines.
Quick Deep Breathing Guide
Okay, so you’ve seen the benefits of deep breathing. And you know that it can help boost your serotonin. If you decided to give deep breathing a try, you might wonder how to do it correctly.
There are two great ways to practice deep (or also called diaphragmatic) breathing. The first, and the most basic method goes like this:
Diaphragmatic Breathing Technique
- Sit comfortably or lie flat on your bed, floor, or another comfortable surface.
- Fully relax, especially in the shoulders.
- Put one hand on your chest and another hand on your stomach.
- Take a breath through your nose for around two seconds. Focus on moving the air through your nostrils into your stomach, which will make it expand. During this key step, make your stomach moves outward as your chest stays relatively still.
- Pucker your lips (as if you’re going to drink with a straw), press gently on your abdomen, and then slowly exhale for around two seconds.
- Repeat this process at least a couple of times for best results.
Rib-Stretch Breathing Technique
This is another simple and helpful deep breathing exercise, here’s how to do it:
- Stand up straight and make sure to arch your back.
- Fully exhale (breathe out) until you can’t anymore.
- Breathe in slowly and gradually, inhaling as much air as you can until you just can’t anymore.
- Hold the breath for around 10 seconds.
- Exhale slowly with your mouth. You can do it either normally or with pursed lips.
Anything Else to Consider?
Now, if you didn’t practice deep breathing regularly in the past, it might feel a bit unnatural when you start doing it. Your body simply isn’t used to it, and just like with any new skill, it takes consistent practice to master.
To not get overwhelmed, I suggest doing just one breathing exercise per day to start with. Over time, as this becomes a habit, you can incorporate more deep breathing sessions throughout your day. You may notice that your body starts to naturally crave deep breathing as you continue to do it.
Wrapping up – Does Deep Breathing Increase Serotonin?
Deep breathing is something very few of us do consciously. Yet it’s incredibly powerful for raising your feel-good hormones like serotonin, along with reducing pain, easing digestion, and promoting overall well-being.
If you’ve never practiced deep breathing before, a basic diaphragmatic or rib-stretching breathing exercises are good places to start.
Remember that it’s a skill like any other. It will take some practice before it becomes a habit and you notice some of its benefits.
It took me a good two weeks before I started feeling the benefits of this exercise. I noticed my mood lift and my focus increase. The key is to stick with it. If you do, you’ll see the results.