I was trained by the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta in India, where my teachers told me that the secret in pranayama was in the exhalation, not the inhalation. To calm down when we're flustered or angry, most therapists teach us to use our breathing. Everyone thinks that the secret is in the inhalation. The more I can inhale and fill my lung, the more calm I am, right?
Scientists led by Heather Mason of University of Roehampton (UK) have suggested that equal periods of inhalation and exhalation be used by yoga newbies to gain maximum stimulation of the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve, located in our brain, is in charge of our parasympathetic nervous system — it decreases our heart rate and blood pressure by deactivating the human’s “fight or flight” mechanisms, including anxiety.
When you stimulate your vagus nerve through breathing, you gain control over your raging heart rate and rising blood pressure. As they decrease, so does your activation in the anger and anxiety departments.
You will hear this time and again from all yoga instructors: “To gain control of the body, learn to control your breath.” Breathing management helps to balance us on a physical level as we execute our asanas (postures), mental level as our buttons get pressed at the workplace, and emotional level to regulate our thoughts and feelings.
So how long should we inhale and exhale to gain the maximum benefit? For newbies, it was measured to be five seconds minimum for the vagus nerve to be stimulated.
Feeling your blood boil? Take a deep breath and exhale to the count of six. Repeat.
Feeling that your body is unsteady in an asana? Take a gentle and deep breath and exhale to the count of six. Repeat.
What if you're not a yogi newbie? Then try slowing your breathing down even more. The average person takes 12 breaths a minute. Respiratory research suggests taking 5 to 6 breaths a minute instead.
Try it today to enjoy some peace of mind.