Breath yourself into a better mood – Emotion regulation with pranayama by Dr. Christie Smirl

Emotion Regulation with Pranayama by Dr. Christie Smirl

Pranayama is a practice of breath control. The Sanskrit word pranayama is divided into two roots, prana and yama. Prana means vital energy or life force which is present in every being. Yama means control. Other texts ¹ note however that the root ayama is defined as extension or expansion, therefore pranayama would denote breath extension. Breath techniques can effectively create more balanced energy, emotions and awareness.
A human takes about 15 breaths per minute and 21,600 times a day, usually unconsciously. Irregular breathing disrupts cognition and leads to emotional and mental blocks. Conscious control of breath establishes a link from unconscious to conscious healthy mental and emotional patterns. There are two types of breathing; metabolic and behavioral. Metabolic breathing is an involuntary process based on metabolic feedback, chemoreceptors, blood ph, CO2 and O2 levels. Behavioral respiration is voluntary and can be controlled and changed. Emotions have a significant impact on behavioral respiration. Research shows that breathing patterns stimulate neurons in the cerebral cortex, amygdala hippocampus and limbic system which are responsible for emotional processing.

When stress is encountered the sympathetic nervous system causes a fight flight cascade and promotes higher levels of epinephrine and nor-epinephrine. This reaction rapidly mobilizes energy to respond to the situation, increases the heart rate, increases the respiratory rate, increases blood pressure, directs blood flow to muscles and away from digestive tract, contracts muscles and causes adrenal glands to secrete cortisol. This is fine in times of fight or flight, but all too often people are in chronic stress creating a platform for long term disease. Pranayama can modulate and reduce the response to stress, anxiety, grief, anger and many other emotions.

Pranyama has multi-level benefits

  • Eliminates respiratory toxins: CO2, nitrogen, cellular respiration waste
  • Improves oxygenation
  • Clears stagnant mucous and CO2 from alveoli
  • Strengthens respiratory muscles
  • Improves tidal volume and spirometry
  • Calms and tonifies the sympathetic nervous system
  • Increases endorphins, the “feel good hormones”
  • Balances hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis
  • Normalizes blood pressure
  • Normalizes heart rate
  • Balances hormones, neurotransmitters and nervous system
  • Balances metabolism and cortisol levels
  • Enhances digestion
  • Reduces muscle tension
  • Reduces pain perception
  • Calms and balances emotions
  • Retrains emotional feedback system
  • Clears deep seated mental patterns
  • Brings a person to deeper states of meditation
  • Delivers proper levels of prana, vitality and energy to body and mind
  • Connects body and mind to spirit
  • Strengthens the auric field
  • Balances doshas and strengthens dhatus

Different emotions are directly related to changes in breathing. Panic creates short, fast and shallow breaths. Anger often manifests with long forced breaths. Sadness is characterized by shallow and slow breaths with more frequent sighs. In contrast, when an individual is calm the breath pattern in slow and steady. People who are happy take longer inhales and exhales. Since voluntary breath control has a feedback system to the central nervous system it can used as a cognitive behavioral modification technique. Many people will state that they always feel stressed out and don’t know how to change it. Changing one’s breath pattern can change emotional patterns. One very beneficial mindful breath practice is Nadi Shodana pranayama.

Nadi Shodana, also known as alternate nostril breathing many benefits.

  • Enhance autonomic control of the heart by increasing parasympathetic modulation
  • Balances right and left side of brain
  • Balances the ida and pingala energy channels
  • Balance the yin and yang qualities of body and mind
  • Increases prana to third eye
  • Facilitates logical thinking
  • Reduces anxiety, stress, grief and anger
  • Creates focus before test or speeches
  • Promotes calm sleep before bed
  • Trains the mind to focus on meditation

How to do Alternate Nostril Breathing

  • Gently close right nostril with thumb
  • Inhale fully and slowly through left nostril
  • Pause
  • Gently close left nostril with ring finger
  • Exhale fully and slowly through right nostril
  • Inhale fully and slowly through right nostril
  • Pause
  • Gently close right nostril with thumb
  • Inhale fully and slowly through left nostril
  • Stop if you are not able to breath through each nostril or if you have any discomfort or strain.

Watch this video by Dr. Christie Smirl to learn alternate nostril pranayama.

Visit for more breathing techniques, healthy living education, online classes and certifications.

Dr. Christie Smirl has over 25 years of medical experience. She completed a Doctorate of Ayurvedic Medicine from American University of Complimentary Medicine as well as Nurse Practitioner and Master of Science from Loma Linda University. Dr. Christie is also an E-RYT 500 Yoga Teacher Trainer YACEP, Reiki Master/Teacher, Tantric Energy Healer and Musician.

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  1. Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, 2013 Golden Jubillee edition, Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Rebecca says:

    Excellent pranayama info.
    Thank you. We can control more than we think!

    Liked by 1 person

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