Recent News and Events

by Alison McGinnis, PT, DPT, FAFS

Posted in Blog.

July 1st, 2019

Nasal Breathing for Improved Memory and Stress Reduction

Breathing is a vital component of life. It moves oxygen through the bloodstream and removes carbon dioxide waste from the body which is essential for human function. But breathing and breath regulation also play a role in the nervous system and on cognitive function. Slow quiet breathing can calm the nervous system and reduce anxiety and stress by bringing down the heart rate and turning on the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for rest and digestion) and decreasing activation of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight). Breathing also influences parts of the brain that process emotions and produce memories. How you breathe impacts these systems in the body and brain as well.


Nasal breathing can lead to:

  • improved memory retrieval and fear discrimination
  • positive influence on emotion and memory formation
  • regulates CO2 levels in the bloodstream
  • promotes deep abdominal activation for core stability


Mouth breathing can lead to:

  • hyperinflation of diaphragm and lunges (hyperventilation)
  • excessive use of neck and shoulder muscles to breathe
  • hypocapnia (reduced CO2 in the bloodstream)
  • increased fight or flight responses and anxiety
  • promotes fatigue and muscle weakness
  • hypersensitivity to light and sound


Breathing is the only system in the body that is both voluntary and involuntary. Practicing a few active breathing techniques can have a huge impact on memory and overall health. Start by assessing how you breathe at rest (don’t adjust anything yet!).

  Do you breathe in through your nose or mouth?

  1.   Do you feel your chest move outward or your shoulders move upward as you inhale?
  2.   Does the abdomen expand first or the chest?


Quiet breathing throughout the day should consist of inhalation and exhalation through the nose, with minimal to no shoulder elevation. The abdomen will expand slightly before the chest expands. How does this compare to your “normal” breathing? If your breathing mechanics don’t match, try to practice breathing in and out through your nose and see how you feel.


If you want to practice relaxation breathing techniques to improve memory and reduce stress and anxiety:


  • Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth 8-10x per minute, with each exhale lasting twice as long as the inhale (start to feel the deep abdominals activate by the end of the exhale)


  • More advanced version:
    • Place the tongue on the ridge of your mouth behind the teeth.
    • Maximally exhale while making an “ah” sound.
    • Close your eyes and inhale easy and silently through your nose while counting to 4.
    • Do not exhale and hold for 4.
    • Now exhale again making “ah” sound for 8 seconds.
    • Hold the exhale for 4 seconds if you can then inhale relaxed again
    • Repeat the cycle 5x.
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