Health & Fitness

Huberman: Brief structured respiration practices enhance mood and reduce physiological arousal, HRV and vagus

Kristen Sparrow • March 18, 2023

One of the mail goals of my practice is to improve patients’ autonomic balance and increase vagal activity.  I firmly believe if we can encourage vagal activity, we will see benefits to mood, immunity, pain all of which leads to longer life.

Besides acupuncture, TAVNS, exercise, probiotics and good sleep, breathing is a key lever in improving autonomic balance and mood.  In this recent study, Huberman and his lab show that cyclic sighing, Huberman has a guided demonstration how to do it here, improves mood more than box breathing, periodic hyperventilation or meditation.  Unfortunately, no change in HRV was noted.  Not to be deterred, he will be pursuing HRV in future studies.


Cell Reports Medicine| Volume 4, ISSUE 1, 100895, January 17, 2023

Brief structured respiration practices enhance mood and reduce physiological arousal

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  • Controlled breathwork practices have emerged as potential tools for stress management and well-being.
    Here, we report a remote, randomized, controlled study (NCT05304000) of three different daily 5-min breathwork
    exercises compared with an equivalent period of mindfulness meditation over 1 month. The breathing
    conditions are (1) cyclic sighing, which emphasizes prolonged exhalations; (2) box breathing, which is equal
    duration of inhalations, breath retentions, and exhalations; and (3) cyclic hyperventilation with retention, with
    longer inhalations and shorter exhalations. The primary endpoints are improvement in mood and anxiety as
    well as reduced physiological arousal (respiratory rate, heart rate, and heart rate variability). Using a mixedeffects
    model, we show that breathwork, especially the exhale-focused cyclic sighing, produces greater
    improvement in mood (p < 0.05) and reduction in respiratory rate (p < 0.05) compared with mindfulness meditation.
    Daily 5-min cyclic sighing has promise as an effective stress management exercise.