I recently came across a study (well two actually) by a team of scientists from the University of Louvain in Belgium, who had been investigating the relationship between emotional feelings and respiration. A subject which, as a keen pranayama practitioner, I find particularly interesting.
In the first study, participants were asked to produce an emotion (either joy, anger, fear or sadness) through the use of memory and fantasy and to describe the breathing pattern that fits best with the generated emotion. Results revealed that the resulting breathing patterns were:
(a) comparable to those objectively recorded in experiments on emotion arousal,
(b) consistently similar across individuals, and
(c) clearly differentiated among different types of emotions.
But what’s even more interesting is that a second study using breathing instructions based on the results of first study showed that it is possible to produce significant emotional feeling states by using specific breathing patterns.
A .pdf of the study can be downloaded here.
That breath and emotions are linked is no breaking news – yogis have known for centuries that the breath and the mind are closely connected – but the practical implications are thought-provoking, because these studies clearly demonstrate that by training our breath, we actually get better at managing our emotional responses.
The key to this, however, is regular practice. We need to learn and routinely practice breathing patterns that induce positive emotions so that when we are under stress, or in the grip of tumultuous feelings, we can consciously use these breathing patterns to still our racing mind and sooth our frayed nerves.
This, really, is what pranayama practice is about.