This Breathing Trick Is Like Hitting the "Refresh" Button on Your Brain


(Image credit: Urban Outfitters)

For most of us mere mortals, encountering a brain hiccup at some point during the workday isn't a matter of if but when—none of us can be "on" all the time, after all. That being said, it can be mighty inconvenient to lose focus just before a big meeting or deadline, which is why it's handy to have a few strategies on deck to stave off a slump when we don't have the luxury of indulging it—like a go-to energizing snack, for example.

But what if we told you that it could even be as simple as breathing? Considering the fact that it's one of the few "alternative" healing methods that actually have extensive research to back them up, breath work is highly underrated as a brain booster—especially since it's free and accessible to everyone. A recent study published in The Journal of Neuroscience only emphasizes this, as scientists at Northwestern University were able to make a direct connection between rhythmic nasal breathing and superior cognitive function.

Scientists already know that our sense of smell is closely linked with emotion, memory, and behavior—that's why smelling a certain food might evoke a powerful situational memory from childhood, for example. But the researchers at Northwestern wanted to dive deeper into this notion by seeing if just the act of breathing through your nose—scent or no scent—could have a similar effect. Sure enough, through a series of experiments in which they asked participants to breath through their noses rhythmically, the scientists found that the study subjects were better able to recall memories and distinguish specific emotions on other people's faces. The scientists were even able to hone in on the fact that this superior cognitive function specifically happened during the inhale.

This all essentially means that the advisement to "take a deep breath" during times of stress is scientifically legit—especially if you're inhaling through your nose. To really reap the benefits, you'll want to breathe slowly and steadily on a beat—literally count to five as you inhale and exhale, so that your brain is only zeroed into that moment. Ta-da! You just practiced mindful breathing—and you're totally ready to tackle that big presentation.

On that note, learn how breathing can help you get rid of allergies too—and shop our favorite work-desk products for breaking out of an afternoon slump.


This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used in the place of advice of your physician or other medical professionals. You should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider first with any health-related questions.

Victoria Hoff