Greetings to you.
Why you want to control your breath!!! Optimising is a better word. You can optimise your breath using Pranayama - one of the eight limbs of Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga:
Yoga is the science & technology of calming down the mind. It has eight limbs – Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyan & Samadhi.
While the 5 Yama &5 Niyama are theguidelines to deal with others & with self, respectively; Asana & Pranayama are the techniques to calm down the mind using one’s body &one’s breath, respectively.
Pranayama – the general theoretical basis:
Breath, by default is an involuntary activity, but as we all know, it can be overridden by volition – we can hasten it, slow it, extend it and to some extent and for some time,even stop it. Therefore, breath is both a voluntary activity &an involuntary activity and can act as a bridge between the voluntary & involuntary activities of the body. It is this fact which is utilized in Yoga techniques to modulate involuntary activities of our body.
We also know that when we are angry or stressed, our breath is uneven, jerky & fast. So, it is obvious that state of mind modifies the breathing process. What we don’t know& what was discovered by our Rishis long long ago - that the reverse is also true - the breath can be used as a tool to modify the state of mind.
Above two principles form the theoretical basis of Pranayama – a series of Yoga techniques to modulate involuntary bodily activities & calmdown the mind.
Pranayama acts at both levels – Body & Mind - so by practicing it regularly we gradually align our activities, thoughts & desires – shifting them from Tamasic to Rajsic & finallyto Satvic; rather than suppressing them and generating stress.
There are many Yoga Techniques related to Breath, but we start with two basic techniques – ‘Sahaj (Simple) Pranayama’ and ‘Vibhagiya Svasan (Sectional Breathing)’. Mastering these two is very very important as they form the base of all other techniques.
These two techniques do not have any contraindications or side effects. Minor deviations during practice [which are quite common in unsupervised settings], will also not cause any adverse side effects – therefore, these are also very safe techniques to practice.
A word of Caution: There is no place for ‘Kumbhaka’ [Forceful Stoppage of Breath] in this practice, so please do not try to incorporate Kumbhaka as part of this practice and practice only as per the guidelines given below.
Sahaj (Simple) Pranayama:
Sahaj Pranayama is the technique to convert one’s routine reflexive breathing to a mindful & relaxed activity. It is also called Saral or Sukh Pranayama. The steps to be followed are as follows:
1.Become aware of your breath:Outward directed awareness shifts to becoming inward directed. To achieve this, trace the movement of air in each breath – while inhaling, trace ingoing air: nostrils àthroatà chest àbelly; while exhaling, trace out coming air: bellyà chest à throat à nostrils.
Compared to our body, inhaled air is cooler & exhaled air is hotter – this temperature difference should be used to assist the above mentioned tracing activity. Generally practioners are able to trace, in the initial phase of their practice, the inward movementof the air only upto the mid chest. When we are breathing out, tracing is a bit more difficult and the point from where the practioners become aware of the air which is coming out, is somewhere in lower neck. But at the nostrils, we are more aware of the exhalation than inhalation, as the exhaled air is hotter than the nostrils. With practice all these aspects improve and the tracing extent will increase.
2. Inhale deeply and exhale completely: Usually during the whole day, when we are breathing in a reflexive way, we are putting in effort to inhale while exhalation is passive.This passive exhalation is shorter than inhalation and in each cycle some stale air is retained in the lungs. This accumulated stale air, in the basal & apical part of our lungs is the root cause of Tamas [laziness]. When we say ‘Inhale Deeply’ we mean that one has to take a deeper & fuller breath. When we say exhale completely we mean that there should be some effort at the end of exhalation to squeeze maximum air from the lungs. This effortful exhalation also ensures that the exhalation becomes longer than inhalation and there is no stale air left in the lung, removing the cause of general lethargy.
3. Breathe with feeling& visualization: there is great power in visualization – when breathing in – visualize that you are taking in Amrutha, Health & Positive emotions like Love, Compassion, Forgiveness, Renunciation etc, And which is being taken to each & every cell of the body and while breathing out, visualize that the process has extracted Toxins, Disease&negative emotions like anger, jealousy etc from all the cells of the body and is throwing them out.
4. Keep a soft smile on your face. Very easy to say but very difficult to achieve!!Harbouring a soft smile on your face is a technique, practicing which, you can be always happy.It has to be practiced like one practices a sport - swimming, running etc. Simplest technique to be always happy is to have a smile on your face. It will not come easily, initially we will slide back into a frown or a scowl, no issue, as soon as we become aware of that fact, we should bring back the smile. We have to make a conscious effort to be always happy.
The aforesaid smile has to be genuine and from our heart, born out of the sense of being present in this moment, peaceful acceptance of all events of past and with no sense of fear ofany events of the future.
Kindly note that the above-mentioned 4 points can be followed even while walking or doing routine daily activities – therefore, our aim should be to convert, during the course of the day, as many ordinary breaths as possible to Sukh Pranayama.
Additional points to be followed if you are able to attain a sitting posture:
1. Sit in any comfortable posture on a hard flat surface. The way we usually sit cross-legged on floor is called Sukhasana& is good enough to start with. If you can do it, sit in Bajrasana. If it is not possible to sit cross legged on floor, you can sit on any chair – just ensure that the chair has a straight back and a flat sitting surface.
2. Keep the spine straight & erect and the spine, neck and Head in one straight line. Keeping spine erect is important. A very simple way to ensure this when you are sitting cross legged on floor is to achieve 3-4 inches of slope between the buttocks and the knees by using a Chaukhat or a Pidha.
3. Keep your eyes closed and try to focus on a point inside your head which is about a couple of inches behind the mid brow point.
Hope this is useful.