Breath is a link between the subtle and gross aspects of an individual. There is a close relationship between breath and emotions. We often observe the impact our emotional states have on the body; our breath speeds up when we are agitated and remains slow and smooth when we are calm or asleep. However, there is some need to work on the other side of this; ie, how the body affects emotions. Modifying our breath is the only way to purify and stable our emotions and manage stress.
If we try to reverse the agitation in our breath when we are emotionally disturbed, we may be able to correct our emotional state as well. The first step to this is the practice of deep, long, smooth, rhythmic breathing. For this, it is important to breathe diaphragmatically; our lungs need room to expand if we want to breathe deeply. It is obviously difficult to move the rib cage around, so the best way to give them space is by adjusting the diaphragm, which is a large muscle. For this, it is essential that our stomachs be relaxed rather than tucked in; so, we may need to rid ourselves of some notions about whether tucked-in stomachs look smart or not. Since we are used to shallow breathing, it will take some effort to get ourselves used to diaphragmatic breathing, and this will require real practice, rather than just waking up one morning and deciding to do it. There is a two-pronged approach to this; through the body and through the nervous system.
For the former, one can either lie in makarasana, or if that is not possible, simply lie on the back, with feet comfortably apart, and one hand on the chest and the other on the navel. Then, simply observe the hand on the navel moving with the breath, and the other remaining still. This can be done even when sitting in a car, or wherever one may have time. if doing this while sitting, the back must be kept straight. It is important to note that simply straightening the upper back is not enough; what is important is that the lower back be straight. Mindfulness is key. There must be constant awareness.
The other part is relaxation. Relaxation is of many kinds; muscular, physical, or nerve-oriented. I have observed that thirty-six point relaxation is extremely effective in calming emotions and chronic anxiety, and must be practiced twice, or at least once a day. This can be done with the help of a recording, but it is very important that initially it is done in the presence of somebody who is experienced.
If this is practiced for a few weeks, there is a gradual change in one’s emotional states. It doesn’t happen overnight, but if one looks back, one notices how far one has come. Persistence and regularity are of utmost importance.