Pre-Bötzinger complex

Stop! Take a deep breath. Slow release. Do it again. Breathe from your stomach if you can. There! You just trained yourself to be calm. Do you possess a critical mind? A mind that looks for evidence-based insight? If so, the scientists at Stanford University have news for you. They have been able to establish this truth clinically. Ancient texts teaching yoga have said this for a while. Perhaps they forgot to include the clinical evidence. In any case, it is there now. The neurones in your brains that regulate this are called the Pre-Botzinger Complex (pre-BötC).

The pre-BötC are a cluster of interneurons in the medulla within your brain. This cluster has been identified as responsible for regulating breathing. While the exact mechanism and the science behind the rhythm remain subject to debate, synthetic compounds have been shown to bind to these neurones. Serotonin for example. The pre-BötC produces two types of breathing. The first normal breathing or eupnea. This is fast but low amplitude breathing. When you are stressed or shocked, it produces a slow and large amplitude breathing. You and I know this as gasps or sighs. Sighing is your nervous system reacting to elevated electrical currents.

The research has been limited to mice for now. In the study, a portion of the pre-BötC with genetic markers cdh9 and Dbx1 were eliminated from the mice. After this, the mice seemed to take any adverse event in their stride. They showed no variations in breathing when deprived. Effectively these neurons were telling the rest of you to worry. The theory is if you can regulate these neurones from firing you can reduce stress. You do this by – yes – taking a deep breath. It turns out that you can train your body to respond to stress by breathing deeply. A deep breadth regulates your level of anxiety when stressed. Maybe it is not so hard to be the Buddha after all?


Ritesh is a born again health enthusiast and holds a Certificate in Physiology from Harvard Medical School and a Certificate in Nutrition from Tufts University.