You probably heard more than a few times in your life the well known granny advice of taking a deep breath whenever you are worked up, agitated or just stressed out.It is an useful advice. And Yoga Sūtra, being a treatise on meditation, has something to say here.
(Sūtra 1.34) prachardhana vidhāranābhyam vā prānasya
Sūtra 1.34 is part of a collection of Sutras (7 of them in total) that give specific tips for stabilising a distracted mind.
It says that mind can be stabilised by restraining or controlling exhalation. Not just breathing, but specifically exhalation. Fascinating indeed!
While it is tempting to write a few words on the possible effect of exhalation on parasympathetic system markers, I shall desist and invite you to put this into action in your daily life and see if it makes any difference.
Controlling exhalation means slowing it down (i.e. stretching it out). There are a many ways to do this. The obvious way is to directly control the movement of diaphragm. This engages your abdominal muscles as well. Also, it is a stealthy move! No one can see what you are up to and this comes handy when you are in a meeting, at your desk or on the phone with a difficult other end. However, the direct way may be difficult for people who have shallow, short breathing and weaker abdominal muscles.
One other way is to control at the nostrils by breathing out through just one partly closed nostril. For example, breathe in normally, close your right nostril with your right thumb and partly close your left nostril with your right index finger and breathe out without any additional effort from abdominals. Like a water tap, you can calibrate the opening of the nostril such that you achieve a desired extension of exhalation that is comfortable.
A useful thumb rule is to aim for exhalation twice as long as inhalation. With regular practice, inhalation gets longer as well and the exercise gets easier.
So here is what you do before you go to that nasty meeting:
1. Take a few deep breaths
2. Inhale normally; stretch out the exhale using one of the above methods
3. Repeat 10 times
Takes just 5 minutes and you are all set!
This is fun to practice when you in a bus or train or waiting for one. This is a great alternative to fiddling with the smart phone or letting the mind run amok!