Cyclic Sighing Can Significantly Increase Good Feelings and Energy

A study from Stanford Medicine suggested that cyclic sighing can have a better effect on good feelings than other forms of mindfulness meditation.
A study from Stanford Medicine suggested that cyclic sighing can have a better effect on good feelings than other forms of mindfulness meditation.

Cyclic sighing, a controlled breathing exercise that emphasizes long exhalations, can help lower stress levels and calm the body, according to a new study from Standford Medicine. The mindfulness activity can take as little as five minutes and can be done anywhere, making it an ideal option for busy clients constantly on the go, and an effective addition to spas' wellness programs as a warmup or accompaniment to longer-form mindfulness activities.


Related: How to Bring Mindfulness Into Your Life

Cyclic sighing is a simple activity that only involves breathwork. Guests should breathe in through their nose until they've comfortably filled their lungs, then take a second, deeper sip of air to expand the lungs as much as possible. Finally, very slowly, exhale through the mouth until all the air is gone. One of the most appealing aspects of cyclic sighing is that it can be done anywhere with zero cost and zero side effects.

After one or two of these deep sighs, guests may already feel calmer, but to get the full effect, it is recommended to repeat these deep sighs for about five minutes. Exhalation activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows down the heart rate and has an overall soothing effect on the body.

The benefits of mindfulness meditation are well-documented. Stanford Medicine's study on the method, led by David Spiegel, M.D., neurobiologist Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., and Melis Yilmaz Balban, Ph.D., included a randomized, controlled trial of 111 volunteers that compared cyclic sighing compared to two other types of breathing exercises, one emphasizing inhalation and another asking participants to breathe in and out for equal amounts of time. Participants performed their assigned exercise for five minutes a day over the course of one month. The trial also included a control group of participants who passively observed their breath during five minutes of mindfulness meditation.

Before and after completing their daily breathing exercises, participants answered two online questionnaires: the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, a standardized measurement of current anxiety levels, and the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule, a common research tool used to assess good and bad feelings on a scale from 1 to 5.

The mindfulness group reported lower anxiety and improved mood, but the controlled breathing groups reported even more improvements, with significantly greater increases in good feelings like energy, joy and peacefulness. On average, participants in the controlled breathing groups experienced a daily increase of 1.91 points on the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule scale, compared to 1.22 points for the mindfulness meditation group.

While all three controlled breathing interventions decreased anxiety and negative mood, participants in the cyclic sighing group had the greatest daily improvement in positive feelings on the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule questionnaire. The effect increased as the study went on, suggesting that the more consecutive days they practiced cyclic sighing, the more it helped their mood.

More in Research