"We found that brain rhythms are closely tied to the rhythm of our breath across many different types of tasks and animals. We are more sensitive to the outside world when we are breathing in, whereas the brain tunes out more when we breathe out," Allen said.
"This also aligns with how some extreme sports use breathing, for example, professional marksmen are trained to pull the trigger at the end of exhalation."
The study suggests that breathing is more than just something we do to stay alive.
"It suggests that the brain and breathing are closely intertwined in a way that goes far beyond survival, impacting our emotions, attention, and processing of the outside world," Allen said.
"Our model suggests there is a common mechanism in the brain, which links the rhythm of breathing to these events."
Can breathing directly affect our mental health?
Understanding how breathing shapes our brain and by extension, our mood, thoughts and behaviors, is an important goal to better prevent and treat mental illness.
"Difficulty breathing is associated with a very large increase in the risk for mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. We know that respiration, respiratory illness and psychiatric disorders are closely linked," Allen said.
"Our study raises the possibility that the next treatments for these disorders might be found in the development of new ways to realign the rhythms of the brain and body, rather than treating either in isolation."
Other places where breathing is used
Stabilising our mind through breathing is a well-known and used tactic in many traditions such as yoga and meditation.
The new study sheds light on how the brain makes it possible.
It suggests that three pathways in the brain control this interaction between breathing and brain activity.
It also suggests that our pattern of breathing makes the brain more "excitable," meaning neurons are more likely to fire during certain times of breathing.
This approach is one of several common practices that use breathing to reduce stress.
When you inhale, your heart rate speeds up.
When you exhale, it slows down.
Breathing in for a count of four and out for a count of eight for just a few minutes can start to calm your nervous system.
Scientists found that one of the reasons why people need to learn to manipulate their breathing is because breathing changes how we feel.
“Breathing brings every part of your body into equilibrium, this is because it brings everything into rest mode. When you breathe in, you take in more oxygen and your heart and mind start to slow down," Allen said.
Her study was published in the journal PsycNET.