Simple Breath Work for Improved Mood and Cognitive Function

With the high demands and stresses of modern living, it can be difficult to believe that in slowing down and quieting the mind, we can perhaps accomplish more. The instinct for many of us when dealing with feeling overwhelmed or exhausted from our daily obligations is to reach fMeditation and Simple Breath Workor another cup of coffee and “power through”. The concept of a meditation practice can feel impractical and out of reach, as it seems like yet another task on our list of to-dos. Such a practice, though, can be as simple as five minutes of deep breathing per day and, according to research, can provide not only a newfound sense of relaxation, but also an increase in cognitive function and ability to tackle the many tasks at hand.

Shaolin Dan Tian Breathing: Promotes Relaxation & Positive Mood

A recent study investigated the effects of a certain deep breathing technique based in the practice of qi gong, referred to as Shaolin Dan Tian Breathing. Researchers measured changes in human neural activity and connectivity, mood state and cognitive functions in subjects performing the breathing technique regularly over a one-month period. Electroencephalography (EEG) data were compared before and immediately after a session of Shaolin Dan Tian Breathing, at the beginning and end of the one-month period. Initially, the EEG changes for the experimental and control groups after one session were comparable.  However, after one-month of regular practice, the experimental group showed an increase in relaxation and positive mood (determined by temporal alpha asymmetry), and attention and alertness (determined by intra- and inter-hemispheric theta coherence) after performing the breath work for five minutes.

Shaolin Dan Tian Breathing: How To

Relaxed Woman by OceanAlthough the name sounds foreign and complex, Shaolin Dan Tian Breathing is quite simple. You begin by closing your eyes and placing your hands on the dan tian region, located a half-inch below the navel. This region of the lower abdomen is a major focus in the practice of qi gong, and also contains powerful acupoints commonly used in acupuncture for boosting our vital energy.

On your inhale, with your mouth closed:

  • Breathe deeply into your hands while focusing your awareness on the dan tian
  • Let your abdomen change shape and fill with this deep inhale.

On your exhale:

  • Move your focus to your nose, and observe your breath as it gently leaves your body.
  • Repeat for at least five minutes, and up to 30 minutes or longer.

Although it is easy to feel the immediate sense of relaxation that a quiet moment with a deep breath can impart, it is helpful to be reminded of the measurable changes in the body and mind that can occur when performed with regularity. A simple breathing technique practiced daily can make a tremendous difference not only in the quality of our mood, but also in our capacity for attention and alertness, even after just one month’s time. (And surely there are positive health effects beyond the observations of neuro-electrophysiology not covered in this research!)

It only takes five minutes a day.

What challenges might it help you with in your life? 

Kalle SkurlaKalle Skurla, LAc is a Licensed Acupuncturist and graduate of The National College of Natural Medicine. She helps her patients find lasting relief from a variety of chronic pain conditions with acupuncture and other Chinese medicine modalities, and through collaborating with other practitioners of the Heart Spring Health team to provide a full spectrum of mutually supportive care. She additionally loves helping her patients manage stress, as it is so often a key component of illness and a significant hindrance in the healing process. To schedule an initial visit with Kalle, contact Heart Spring Health, a natural medicine clinic located in Portland, Oregon.


Chan, Agnes S., Mei-Chun Cheung, Sophia L. Sze, Winnie Wing-Man Leung, Dejian Shi.
“Shaolin Dan Tian Breathing Fosters Relaxed and Attentive Mind: A
Randomized Controlled Neuro-Electrophysiological Study.” Evid Based
Complement Alternat Med. v.2011 (2011): 180704.