Brief structured respiration practices enhance mood and reduce physiological arousal
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 mixed-effects 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.