The practice of yoga offers many benefits for the body, such as increased strength and flexibility, lower blood pressure, and improved sleep quality. Yoga can also help reduce stress and anxiety. A recent study has demonstrated that one aspect of yoga — the practice of controlled breathing — can also help reduce markers of stress-related inflammation.

In the study, researchers measured inflammation by examining cytokines, which are small proteins released by cells. Certain cytokines are released during inflammatory responses in the body and are associated with pain. Researchers used saliva samples from study participants to determine their cytokine levels, and then asked participants to perform certain activities. Half of the participants read for 20 minutes, while the other half engaged in yoga breathing exercises. The yoga participants practiced 10 minutes of chanting and 10 minutes of rhythmic breathing, a breathing exercise that regulates the breath through counting.

Researchers continued taking saliva samples every five minutes throughout the study. At the end of 20 minutes, stress-related cytokines had significantly decreased in the yoga group, while the participants who spent the time reading did not experience the same results. The study was the first to demonstrate how yoga practices can influence cytokine levels. Although further studies are needed to understand the effect of yoga breathing on molecular processes in the body, the results indicate that controlled breathing exercises could help lessen the effects of systemic inflammation.

How to do rhythmic breathing exercises

Rhythmic breathing is a simple activity you can do any time throughout the day, no matter where you are. The purpose is to slow down your breathing and promote relaxation. Practicing rhythmic breathing for even just one minute per day can help reduce stress levels and improve your overall focus. If you feel extreme discomfort or pain with the timing of the rhythmic breathing, adjust the length of your inhalation and exhalation as needed, and slowly work up to the recommended times.

For the best results, designate a specific time of day to practice breathing exercises. You may find them particularly beneficial before starting your day in the morning or while getting ready for bed.

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight.
  2. Close your eyes and focus on your breath.
  3. Inhale through your nose for four counts and imagine your lungs filling up with air from the bottom.
  4. Pause at the top of the breath for four counts.
  5. Exhale through your nose for four counts and imagine your lungs emptying of air.

The more you practice breath exercises, the easier it will be to regulate your breathing. As you become more comfortable, try extending the length of your inhalation and exhalation.

Reducing chronic inflammation is an important part of improving your overall health and extending longevity. Other beneficial practices, such as eating a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods and practicing periodic fasting, can also help reduce markers associated with inflammation.