Stress is something that cannot be avoided in today’s life. To manage this stress, people often resort to mindfulness meditation. A new study has found that breathing techniques do a much better job than meditation to reduce stress.
The study, published in the journal Cell Reports Medicine, found that three breathing techniques -- cyclic sighing, box breathing, and cyclic hyperventilation -- overall provided more positive influence than mindfulness meditation. Moreover, cyclic sighing was the most successful of the three breathing techniques that were evaluated.
The researchers from Stanford University described the three techniques as “cyclic sighing, which emphasizes prolonged exhalations; box breathing, which is equal duration of inhalations, breath retentions, and exhalations; and cyclic hyperventilation with retention, with longer inhalations and shorter exhalations,” in their paper.
Mindfulness meditation, on the other hand, requires a person to relax by staying in the moment in a nonjudgmental way for a period of time.
The study was carried out online during the pandemic, a time when stress was understandably high for most people. One hundred and fourteen volunteers were recruited in the study and they had to engage in one of the four stress reducers for five minutes daily for a month at any time of the day that suited them. Furthermore, every participant had to keep a stress journal to keep track of the effects of their stress reduction activities, according to MedicalXpress.
About 90% of the participants found the exercise to be a positive experience, according to the study.
“Overall, breathwork was more effective than mindfulness meditation in improving positive affect, an effect that got larger with more adherence to the protocol. Participants in the exhale-emphasized cyclic sighing group had the highest increase in positive affect throughout the course of the 1-month study,” the researchers wrote.
In other words, the volunteers doing breathing exercises showed more stress reduction compared to those doing mindfulness meditation, the study found. Also, cyclic sighing was found to be the most effective in reducing stress in comparison to the other two breathing techniques.
“The remote nature of the study limited the monitoring of how closely participants followed the instructions on a daily basis. In addition, we had to rely on the completion of daily surveys to assess adherence,” the researchers further wrote.
A separate study found that mindfulness meditation was just as effective as medication for treating anxiety. "Anxiety disorders are common, highly distressing, and impairing conditions. Effective treatments exist, but many patients do not access or respond to them. Mindfulness-based interventions, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, are popular and can decrease anxiety, but it is unknown how they compare to standard first-line treatments," the study said.