Before I began practicing Yoga-meditation, I thought of breathing as something my body did to stay alive, and never thought more deeply about it. Later, when I began studying the teachings of Yoga, I learned that breath is much more than I’d realized. For example, breath both indicates and influences the degree of serenity or agitation in my mind and emotions.
When I become emotionally agitated in any way, my breath becomes jerky and short. When, on the other hand, I am calm and relaxed, my breath becomes smooth and long. By observing whether my breath is jerky and short or smooth and long, I know the state of my mind and emotions. In this sense, the breath is an indicator, like a barometer, of my emotional weather.
In addition to indicating my emotional state, the breath also can be used as a lever to change my emotional state. This is because the way I breathe can be affected by my volition: I can chose to breathe fast or slow, shallow or deep. So, if I find myself in an emotionally agitated state, with short, jerky breaths, I can gently smooth out and deepen my breath and calm my emotional state. Of course, I can agitate my mind too, by breathing fast and unevenly.
Want to get started working with your breath in this way? The first step is to become aware of how you are breathing at any particular time. To do this, you can take samples at various times throughout the day. To do so, simply become aware of how you are breathing at that time. Is your breath smooth, deep, and long or are you breathing in short, shallow gasps? Just notice how you are breathing and also notice how you feel emotionally. That’s it. Repeat several times in the day.
Each time you take a sample in this way, follow the preceding instruction.
Once you’ve taken enough samples, and begin to see the connection between the way you breath and the state of peacefulness or agitation of your mind and emotions, then you are ready to take the next step of changing your emotional state by changing how you breathe. To do so, you can simply experiment with changing your breathing now and then and observing the results. So, for example, when you're feeling anxious and your breath is short and uneven, try smoothing out and lengthening your breath for several minutes and notice what happens.
As you do these experiments, you’ll learn how your breath and emotional state are tied together and you’ll gain the ability to affect your emotional state in a positive way.
Enjoy the process!