Breathing rate and pain are
influenced by a spectrum of cognitive, affective, and physiological interactions. Yet, it is unknown if an individual’s resting breathing rate is associated with pain.
Continuous cerebral blood flow (CBF) and respiration rate were collected in 74 healthy participants during innocuous (35 °C) and noxious (49 °C) stimulation. Mindfulness and anxiety were assessed before acquiring perfusion fMRI data. Visual analog scale pain ratings were collected after pain testing.
Slower resting respiration rate during noxious (r = 0.26, p = 0.03) and innocuous (r = 0.28, p = 0.02) heat was associated with lower pain sensitivity. Analyses of the whole-brain fMRI data revealed that higher CBF in the supramarginal gyrus, a central node of the ventral attention network, was associated with a slower breathing rate during noxious heat (r = − 0.51, p < 0.001) and lower reported pain levels (r = − 0.24, p = 0.04). Higher levels of dispositional mindfulness, but not anxiety (p > 0.20), were associated with slower breathing rate (r = − 0.28, p = 0.02) and lower pain (r = − 0.25, p = 0.03).
These findings demonstrate that individuals who naturally breathe slower report lower pain and engage unique mechanisms, suggesting the allocation of attention to physical bodily processes.