Faster and more shallow won’t, necessarily, bring you the peace that you’re looking for whereas deep, slow breathing will calm the mind and the body.
The foundation of your yoga practice is Pranayama or ‘yoga breathing’, techniques which allow you to control your breath whilst you move through the various postures. Most of us think about exercise in terms of cardio vascular – running, jogging, aerobics etc. all of which tend to leave you out of breath and sweaty at the end; yoga is different. With yoga, the idea is to create a relaxed mind and body and holding your breath or taking short, sharp breaths whilst you are in the poses will just lead to stress and tension in the body i.e. the opposite of what you are trying to achieve. There are many different styles of Pranayama but here is a basic explanation of one of the most common known as Dirga Pranayama:
Dirga Pranayama is called the three part breath because you are actively breathing into three parts of your abdomen. The first position is the low belly (on top of or just below the belly button), the second position is the low chest (lower half of the rib cage), and the third position is the low throat (just above the top of the sternum). The breath is continuous, inhaled and exhaled through the nose. The inhalation starts in the first position, the low belly; then moves to the second position, the low chest; then to the third position, the low throat. The exhalation starts in the low throat, moves to the low chest, and finishes in the low belly.Rest your hands on the individual positions to feel the breath rising and falling through each position. When you start practicing, you may want to individually isolate the movement in each position, using the hands. When you have a good feel for the breath moving in and out of each position, practice without the hands. Eventually relax the effort of the Pranayama and breathe into the three positions gently, feeling a wave of breath move up and down the torso. [Source]
So, whilst this is all very interesting, how can it help you in your day to day life? The answer is pretty simple really. Stress is known to be a contributor to a number of health problems such as anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. When you are stressed your breathing becomes shallow and rapid which can then make you feel short of breath which only serves to make the problem worse. Anyone who has ever had the horrible experience of a panic attack will know exactly what I mean! With the breathing techniques that you learn through yoga you can, very effectively, reverse these symptoms because you will be activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve which will slow down your heart rate and calm your body and your mind. In addition, with deep breathing, you engage the abdominal muscles and diaphragm instead of the muscles in the upper chest and neck. This conditioning of the respiratory muscles results in improved efficiency of oxygen exchange with every breath by allowing more air exchange to occur in the lower lungs. If you practice yoga regularly you will find that, as your breathing techniques improve, you will have more energy because your body is becoming less stressed and therefore more efficient and as Krishnamacharya said “If you can breathe, you can do Yoga”
Breathing techniques are also used in meditation which can be hugely effective in reducing chronic pain or any other affliction which is made worse by stress. This video explains meditation techniques – we could all do with less stress in our lives so why not give it a try?
I started meditating about a year ago and although, at first, I found it difficult to just sit and relax, after a time I found that I craved the peace that it afforded me. Initially I had dozens of thoughts rushing around my head but gradually I realised that, if I just accepted that those thoughts were there rather than acknowledging them or engaging with them, the meditation process became much easier and a great pleasure.