In yoga and ayurvedic medicine, the practice of controlling breathing is a powerful tool to manage mental and physical imbalance. It is generally known as pranayama, the 'expansion of life-force', or moving the flow of energy and vitality through the body.
It isn't just the ancient texts that talk about the importance of moving air through the body. Anatomical knowledge now increases our knowledge of the number of physiological and psychological processes occur when practicing pranayama (read more about pranayama techniques later).
Stressors trigger our sympathetic nervous system, known as the flight-or-flight response, readying our mind and body for action.
Activating our parasympathetic nervous system signals our brain and body to slow heart rate and bring feelings of calm.
When we are stressed, our rational thinking is impaired, so using controlled breathing techniques allows us to gain back some control so we can make better decisions. We can't always take away bad feelings - they're normal. We can't always take away stressful environments - they're common. With practice and awareness, we can teach ourselves to get better at managing our physical and mental response to things that cause us anxiety.
We know that different breathing patterns are related to different emotional feelings[*].That's why it's useful to recognise the signs our body gives us as an early warning of our emotional state. When you're angry you may notice you are taking short, fast and shallow breaths. Trying to control your breathing to the pattern of a different emotional state, such as the deep, regular breathing of happiness, can help shift you into that corresponding emotion.
If you would like to read a more in-depth article about breathing and your health, look through Anahana's article here.
For an easy way to control breathing, try the 5-Finger Breathing Technique.
This can either be done on the go, or slowly on a piece of paper with markers.
1. Stretch out one hand wide, spreading out the fingers.
2. With the index finger of your other hand, start from the bottom of your thumb and slowly start to trace the outline of your hand.
3. As you go up your thumb, take a deep inhale. As you go down the other side of the thumb, give a slow exhale.
4. Do this for all fingers, and on both hands if you need to!