Study: Mindful breathing can help lower blood pressure,

3 min read

The word pranayama consists of two parts—’prana,’ meaning ‘breath’ (or ‘the energy that sustains the body’), and ‘ayama,’ telling ‘to extend or draw out.’ The two come together to mean ‘control over the breath essentially.’ The most basic part of yoga—the first, most important building block—is the breath. We breathe in for extending motions, out for compressing motions, and we let our breath be the internal energetic manifestation of our outward physical movements. Together, the two create focus and calm, but the effects of pranayama are not just psychological. Several studies have looked into the physiological benefits of yogic breath practice, and they have overwhelmingly found that the simple act of mindful breathing can significantly lower blood pressure.

Stress and Breathing

Controlled breathing exercises have other benefits as well. In a recent study published in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a group of subjects performed rhythmic breathing for 20 minutes. The saliva of all participants was tested for biomolecules that indicate stress and inflammation in the body. These molecules can be easily detected in saliva. The researchers measured the number of molecules present before, during, and after the exercises. They found that compared with a control group that did not practice the breathing exercises, the saliva of the group practicing relaxing breathing techniques contained significantly fewer stress- and inflammation-indicating molecules.

This study and others are a sign of an increased interest in proving the benefits of yoga, which have been unofficially acknowledged for many years. It is exciting to measure the physical effects of breath and meditation on your body. This could lead to doctors prescribing yoga, mindfulness, and breathing to improve your health.


Try your home experiment to see if you feel less stress and inflammation following a breathing exercise such as the one below:


Feel your spine lengthening as you raise your crown of the head toward the ceiling. Draw your shoulder blades along the length of your spine to create space between your ears and your top shoulders. As you draw your shoulders down, your heart center will be opened, allowing you to expand through your chest.


Draw in your breath as you relax into the posture. Start at the base of your nostrils and draw air in through your nose, down your throat. Allow the air to expand up to your upper chest, diaphragm, and the entire chest cavity. You may notice that your muscles and brain are receiving more oxygen with your first deep breath.


As you exhale, keep your shoulders back, your chest up, and your lungs open. Imagine the air in your stomach leaving first, then moving up the diaphragm and throat to the mouth (or nose, depending on what you prefer).


Count the length of your exhale and compare it to your inhale. If you counted five when inhaling, then try depending on five again when exhaling. Try pausing for a few seconds at the end of your exhale to add more concentration and control.

You can count, sing, or say a random sound or ‘om,’ or breathe out a mantra. You can use a single word, such as “peace” or “grace,” or you can select a more complex meditation passage. One of my favorites is:

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