Vital but often forgotten link
By Parmjit Singh, PhD
If you are sensitive enough to notice, every time you feel angry, frustrated, happy, depressed or overjoyed, the first physical change that becomes palpable in your body is your breathing patterns. The moment you freeze in terror, your breathing also freezes; the moment you become nervous and tense, your breathing behavior also becomes choppy and shallow.
It has a scientific reason, for our mind and physical body do not interact directly. They only interface through breathing. This knowledge was commonsense among the practitioners of meditation but science has discovered this valuable fact only recently. Researchers of repute at various institutions, including Harvard Medical School, have shown unequivocally that simple breathing techniques as a part of meditation program are able to bring down blood pressure, lactic acid level (indicator of fatigue and anxiety), heart rate, breathing rate etc. These physiological markers are vital indicators of the level of stress and negative emotions in daily life.
Swami Rama, the founder of the Himalayan Institute, claims that by practicing controlled breathing for 2 minutes each hour for three months consecutively will instill deep relaxation unmatched even by sleep. Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School later confirmed this assertion that physiological states induced by meditation are markedly different from that of sleep.
If your nervousness and anxiety can change your breathing patterns unconsciously, then you can use that knowledge to your advantage by reversing the procedure consciously. E.g. every time you are seized with a fit of anger, count from 1, 2, 3, … to see how much time you take to take an in-breath. Then you do the same thing when you are relaxed or happy, count 1,2,3… to check the time you take for an in-breath. Apply that count when you are sad or angry. Your situational negative emotion will disappear in no time, because your mind and body cannot work against the physiological logic of breathing. Following breathing exercises are helpful during turmoil.
Simple deep breathing: Each hour take out 2 or more minutes and sit in an upright position. The upright position should not be too strenuous. Ancient traditions have always advocated the upright posture for better mental health, however, cognitive psychologists (experts on thinking, etc.) also have shown that upright posture do help us to think clearly in comparison to reclining posture. Breathe in deeply and consciously through the nose. Breathe out through the nose thereby repeating the procedure for few minutes. Focus your mind on the breathing itself. If you feel distracted, say 1 with first in-breath, 2 with out-breath, 3 with the next in-breath, 4 with out-breath. Go up to the count of 10 and then repeat the procedure. Try to make the out-breath longer (twice recommended) than the in-breath.
Alternate nostril breathing: Another important and beneficial variation is the alternative nostril breathing technique. In this procedure, you draw in air from one nostril and then expel it through the other one. E.g. if you draw from left nostril for 1 second, hold it for 4 seconds, then expel it through right nostril for 2 seconds. Keep your lungs empty for 4 seconds before taking another breath. You may have to use your fingers to press the nostrils to help you do it. Three sets for each nostril are recommended.
Mindful breathing: Another type of breathing patterns, which is very useful and can be practiced at any time even without making any time for them, is to breathe mindfully. Every time you breathe in and out, remind yourself that you are breathing. The moment you watch your breathing, it will automatically become slower and helps you become aware of your mental state.
The above-mentioned techniques are not only time-tested methods to control the mental states but also powerful and scientifically valid programs to deal with daily negative emotions.