While working on themes for my class this week, I came across this quote from a 15th Century Hatha Yoga manual:
“When the breath wanders, the mind also is unsteady. But, when the breath is calmed the mind too will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath.”
It seems such a simple thing---breathing. You're doing it right now and not even thinking about. Well, you probably are now since I made you think about it. You're welcome.
Since breathing is so automatic, one wouldn't think it would be such a challenge to keep breathing controlled. However, when stress attacks, when the mind begins running through a negative script, when some jerk cuts us off in traffic, our long smooth breaths become a pant.
As the quote above indicates, the reverse is true as well. Sometimes, I'll notice anxiety creep up for no reason at all. Luckily, I've learned to pause and take note. When these anxious feelings occur, it's often because my breath has become quick and shallow.
This is why pranayama, or breath control, is such an important part of yoga. The more we practice deep, controlled breathing, the more natural it becomes.
Additionally, these techniques can be taken off the mat to help us deal with stressful situations. The next time you're feeling stressed out, try alternate nostril breathing or simply extend your exhales longer than your inhales. Breathe in for a count of three, then exhale to a count of four. Inhale three, exhale five. Keep increasing the length of your exhales. I guarantee you'll feel better by the time you reach ten.