Hi, I am Dr Eric Cobb of Z-Health Performance and today we’re going to talk about “if you only have five minutes should I do breathing exercises or should I meditate?”If you are new to Z-Health we are a brain-based education company we specialize in training world-class doctors therapists and coaches from around the world. We have people that work in rehabilitation, fitness all the way up through Elite and world-class sport. So if that’s you and this is of interest to you make sure to subscribe to the channel and check out our online resources.
All right, what we’re going to talk about today is a direct comparison from a study that was just published in 2023 on three different breathing techniques versus mindfulness meditation. In terms of reducing overall anxiety, improving mood and also changing physiologic parameters in the body so respiration rate heart rate HRV. This was a super cool study because it looked at the most current practices that you’ll see around the world on the breathing side as well as mindfulness meditation and what I love about it like I said it was a direct head-to-head comparison a randomized controlled trial, so let’s go through this so that you as a human being have five minutes what should you do should you meditate or should you breathe?
So in this study what they did is they looked at three kind of classic breathing techniques. The first one was called cyclic sighing. If you’ve been around Z-Health for any period of time you know we’ve been teaching breathing for almost 30 years and one of the things that we always focus on in the beginning is what is called a prolonged exhale. Cyclic sighing is another way to say breathe and make sure that your exhalation is much longer than your inhalation. So if I was breathing in for two seconds I’m going to exhale for somewhere between six and eight seconds. That’s a basic idea behind cyclic sighing usually in through the nose out through the nose or out through the mouth depending on comfort level.
So that was breathing technique number one. Number two: Box breathing. Box breathing is a inhale pulled exhale hold pattern that’s why it’s called box and usually what people will do is they’ll choose a breathing pattern three seconds three seconds three seconds three seconds or four or whatever. In most cases when you read about this people will say We’ll breathe in for four hold for four exhale for four hold for four and repeat.
So in this particular study they had people do a pre-test of take a deep breath in and then exhale as slowly as possible and then based on how long that exhalation took they gave the participants a target for their box breathing. Then number three they focused on voluntary hyperventilation. This is what a lot of people would now kind of call Wim hofstyle breathing where we are intentionally hyperventilating. It was typically 30 breaths in a cycle where you are breathing in deeply and a shorter exhale. So they had people use those three breathing techniques and then they had them also do mindfulness meditation.
Now mindfulness meditation has become super popular I would say in the last 10 or 15 years. It is a form of meditation that basically just means sitting non-judgmentally while you focus on your breathing or in the environment or other things. It literally is just about being in that spot. Now as a movement professional working as I said personally in the rehab field and all the way up to Elite Sport Fields I have said for many years that meditation while I think incredibly valuable is often more challenging for people in the beginning. It can sometimes increase stress because you have all these random thoughts you’re trying not to have these random thoughts or you’re trying to be mindful you’re not being mindful. And in this particular case what they found was that when they did a comparison between the three breathing techniques and mindfulness meditation over a four week period what they found was that the volitional breathing techniques outperformed meditation in terms of improving mood reducing anxiety and improving physical logic parameters.
So there you already have answer number one if I only have five minutes I want to make myself feel better what do I do? Breathing exercises. Now from here the question becomes which of the three the cyclic sighing or prolonged exhale box breathing or voluntary hyperventilation if I only have five minutes and I know that I’m going to do breathing which style of breathing should I choose? Again clear winner in this was the cyclic sighing or prolonged exhale when they compared these three different techniques. What they found was a prolonged exhalation practice led to the highest improvements in mood anxiety traits and also the different physiologic parameters that they were looking at particularly a reduction in respiratory rate.
So I wanted to share this with you because it’s a very cool study it is a I think it came out of Stanford some very interesting people doing the study and I loved it because they’re really focusing on the kind of three styles of breathing that we’re now hearing a lot about you know on social media or in different programs and mindfulness meditation as I said which has become also very popular to talk about in the last few years. This does not mean that box breathing that voluntary hyperventilation or mindfulness meditation should be abandoned they are all useful and powerful tools this study was specifically looking at if I had to choose I have someone that’s anxious I want to get them good results right away which one do I start with. Start with the prolonged exhale breathing style. I hope that you found this useful and interesting give yourself a chance to play with that for the next few weeks. Let us know how it goes.