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Breathing, the Brain, Being

In this episode, we discussed how breathing is an autonomic (involuntary) function that can uniquely also be consciously controlled.

Can breathing influence neural activity even when we are not fully conscious?

Breathing was found to act as a scaffold for neural activity during the subconscious state of sleep:

“Breathing coordinates cortico-hippocampal dynamics in mice during offline states” Karalis & Sirota (2022)

How does respiration influence higher brain regions and cognitive functions?

Research has shown that it directly influences arousal and attention:

“Breathing control center neurons that promote arousal in mice” (Yackle et al., 2017) Breathing control center neurons that promote arousal in mice (

The respiration-attentional system converges onto a structure in the brainstem, the locus coeruleus:

“Coupling of respiration and attention via the locus coeruleus: effects of meditation and pranayama” (review by Melnychuk et al., 2018)

How does breathing influence predictive coding to alter interoceptive states?

“Keeping the Breath in Mind: Respiration, Neural Oscillations, and the Free Energy Principle” (review by Ezgi Kayhan and Asena Boyadzhieva, 2021)

How does the breathing phase (inspiration/expiration) influence perception/action/behaviour?

Belli et al., 2021: breathing affects production and perception of quantities

Respiratory rhythm during nasal breathing is synchronized with neural oscillations throughout the brain in humans. Behaviourally, respiratory phase is coupled with memory and fear discimination:

“Nasal respiration entrains human limbic oscillations and modulates cognitive function” (Zelano et al., 2016) Nasal Respiration Entrains Human Limbic Oscillations and Modulates Cognitive Function | Journal of Neuroscience (


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