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Meta-analysis Shows Breathwork is Effective for Managing Mental Health

— February 21, 2023

Breathwork may be as effective as some pharmaceuticals, research shows.

A recent meta-analysis published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine has suggested that breathwork may be an effective tool for improving stress relief and managing mental health overall. Breathwork is a form of therapy that utilizes specific breathing patterns to promote physical and psychological well-being.

The analysis, which included 18 studies and a total of 1,133 participants, reviewed the effects of breathwork on well-being and found that it was associated with significant reductions in symptoms of “stress, anxiety, depression, and PTSD.” These populations include healthy individuals, patients with medical conditions, and individuals with mental health disorders. The sample sizes of the studies varied, with some studies having as few as 20 participants and others having over 100 participants. Most of the studies had a sample size of fewer than 50 participants.

The breathwork interventions used in the studies also varied. Some studies used a specific type of breathwork, such as the “4-7-8” method, while others used a combination of different techniques or tailored approaches based on the individual’s needs. Some studies having interventions as short as one session and others having interventions that lasted for multiple weeks.

Meta-analysis Shows Breathwork is Effective for Managing Mental Health
Photo by Kelvin Valerio from Pexels

The meta-analysis has some limitations, such as small sample sizes and diverse breathwork interventions, making it difficult to pinpoint the most effective interventions. Most participants were from non-clinical populations, too, and more research is needed to confirm the findings in clinical populations. Other studies have investigated the effects of breathwork on stress and mental health and have come to similar. However, not all studies have found significantly positive effects of breathwork, and more research is needed.

It’s important to note that the results of a meta-analysis should be interpreted with caution, as it is a summary of multiple studies, and the quality and findings vary. Therefore, it’s a good idea to look at the original studies and not only rely on meta-analyses.

This research is promising, however, as it suggests that breathwork is a non-pharmacological intervention that has the potential to improve mental health outcomes. In addition, breathwork has other benefits like reducing blood pressure, improving sleep, and managing chronic pain. Previous research has suggested that focused deep breathing exercises are as effective as pharmaceutical drugs in managing mental health symptoms.

There are currently several ongoing clinical trials and studies that are associated with those mentioned in the meta-analysis. For example, one study is examining the effects of breathwork specifically on symptoms of depression and anxiety in individuals with cancer. Another study is investigating the use of breathwork as a tool to reduce symptoms of PTSD in veterans. Additionally, there is a study that is looking at the use of breathwork as a tool to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

These ongoing clinical trials will provide further evidence to support the findings of the meta-analysis and help to understand the mechanisms by which breathwork may be beneficial for mental health. Many clinicians support breathwork as a mindfulness intervention in their practices. This form of therapy has been around for thousands of years and promotes a holistic approach to managing distressing symptoms.


Review and meta-analysis suggests breathwork may be effective for improving stress and mental health

Effect of breathwork on stress and mental health: A meta-analysis of randomised-controlled trials

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