Deep Breathing Practice Facilitates Retention of Newly Learned Motor Skills

Sci Rep. 2016 Nov 14:6:37069. doi: 10.1038/srep37069.


Paced deep breathing practices, a core component of a number of meditation programs, have been shown to enhance a variety of cognitive functions. However, their effects on complex processes such as memory, and in particular, formation and retention of motor memories, remain unknown. Here we show that a 30-minute session of deep, alternate-nostril breathing remarkably enhances retention of a newly learned motor skill. Healthy humans learned to accurately trace a given path within a fixed time duration. Following learning, one group of subjects (n = 16) underwent the 30-minute breathing practice while another control group (n = 14) rested for the same duration. The breathing-practice group retained the motor skill strikingly better than controls, both immediately after the breathing session and also at 24 hours. These effects were confirmed in another group (n = 10) that rested for 30 minutes post-learning, but practiced breathing after their first retention test; these subjects showed significantly better retention at 24 hours but not 30 minutes. Our results thus uncover for the first time the remarkable facilitatory effects of simple breathing practices on complex functions such as motor memory, and have important implications for sports training and neuromotor rehabilitation in which better retention of learned motor skills is highly desirable.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Breathing Exercises*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Motor Skills / physiology*