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5 Minutes Of Daily Breathwork Is Enough To Ease Stress + Improve Mood, New Study Finds

Jenny Fant
Author:
January 18, 2023
Jenny Fant
mbg Health Contributor
By Jenny Fant
mbg Health Contributor
Jenny is a San Francisco-based mbg contributor, content designer, and climate & sustainability communications specialist. She is a graduate of the University of California Santa Barbara. An avid open-water swimmer, Jenny has worked for healthy living and nutrition brands like Sun Basket, Gather Around Nutrition, and Territory Foods.
Image by Danil Nevsky / Stocksy
January 18, 2023

It's no secret that meditation can do wonders for your brain power and mental health. But try as you might, even a quick meditation routine can be difficult to pull off. If you struggle to keep up a daily practice but still want to reap the benefits of meditation, you may be in luck.

A recently published study out of Stanford University1 compared several breathwork methods with standard meditation. It found that breathwork—specifically something called cyclic sighing—was the most effective at improving mood, managing respiratory rate, and easing stress.

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Breathe easy.

For this research, over 100 participants practiced one of four methods of mindfulness for five minutes every day for one month. The methods tested were:

  • Cyclic sighing (the winner): Focused on extended periods of exhale with two nasal inhales to full lungs followed by a full exhale through the mouth
  • Box breathing: Included four equally timed segments of breath: inhale, hold, exhale, and hold
  • Cyclic hyperventilation: Involved deep nasal inhales and full-mouth exhales (25 cycles) followed by 25–30 seconds of breath holding with emptied lungs
  • Standard meditation: Had no structured breathing and instead focused on mindful meditation strategies
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All four groups experienced positive effects, including reduced respiratory rate and improved mood. However, the breathwork groups experienced greater improvements than the meditation group overall, with cyclic sighing performing the best.

The study also noted that no effect on sleep was noticed in any of the groups, suggesting that longer daily sessions or longer-term studies may be needed to explore how mindfulness could help with catching better zzz's.

The fact that just five minutes of breathing can replicate—and even outperform—some of the well-studied effects of meditation is a promising finding for anyone short on time or patience.

But if you're already a committed meditator, don't feel the need to shake up your practice in favor of breathwork just yet. While this study's results are promising, research has a long way to go when it comes to measuring breathwork's long-term effects, as well as its effects beyond respiratory rate and mood. The study's authors note that they plan to expand the scope of their research in the future.

One of the best things about breathwork and meditation is that you can do either right now at home for free. "If you're interested in potent stress reduction practices, these zero-cost methods can help," wrote Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., a contributing author of the study, in an Instagram post.

RELATED: Want To Stress Less? These 14 Science-Backed Supplements Can Help*

Feel better in just 5 minutes.

Healthy habits can be difficult to form, but something as accessible as a short breathing practice is a great place to start for some impressive benefits. If you're looking to start a mindfulness practice in the new year, this study gives you full permission to block out just five minutes a day. 

After all, we can all find five minutes to breathe—maybe while our morning coffee is brewing, while we're waiting for the bus or pumping gas, or while we're doing our evening skin care routine.

If you're looking to improve your day-to-day mood this year, incorporating endorphin-boosting exercise into your routine can also help. Taking a supplement for stress management can introduce more calm into your life too. Here's a list of our 14 favorites.

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The takeaway.

New findings from Stanford University point to something called cyclic sighing as the most effective way to reduce respiratory rate and improve mood. You can implement it on your own by spending five minutes a day on intentional breathing—just focus on extended periods of exhale with two nasal inhales to full lungs followed by a full exhale through the mouth.

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Jenny Fant
Jenny Fant
mbg Health Contributor

Jenny is a San Francisco-based mbg health contributor, content designer, and climate & sustainability communications specialist. She is a graduate of the University of California Santa Barbara. An avid open-water swimmer, Jenny has worked for healthy living and nutrition brands like Sun Basket, Gather Around Nutrition, and Territory Foods.