Control the breath and you control the mind, like throwing a net over a wild parrot.Ramana Maharishi
When I was new to meditation I read something that said that after a while of meditating your breath gets slow. The book emphasized the use of breath as a focus of meditation. The reasoning was that the breath was a portable tool and it reflected the state of the body. If you were agitated then chances are your breath would reflect it. Similarly if you’re relaxed then your breath would be gentle and easy.
But perhaps we got it wrong. Recent books and emphasis on breathwork seems to be pointing us in a different direction. Breath is how we influence the body’s chemistry influencing your affective (emotional state). So how does breathing really impact your body?
When you breathe in your diaphragm descends creating room for your lungs which fill up with air. At the same time the heart fills up with more blood triggering sensors to signal the brain. The brain then increases the heart rate of the body to pump out the blood.
During an out-breath, the same process goes in reverse. The diaphragm returns up reducing the volume of the lungs and reducing the space for the heart which now has less volume. This is sensed by the brain and it reduces the heart rate.
This beat-by-beat variation in your heart beat is called Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia and is a normal and healthy functioning of the body. As you can see, if the breathing emphasizes one part over the other, then you will change your state. Take long in-breaths and quick out-breaths and your heart rate will accelerate prompting the release of cortisol and waking you up. Take shorter in-breaths but slow and long out-breaths, the heart rate slows and the parasympathetic nervous system is activated.
How could you use this in a meditation session? One thing you could try is to use a breath app to guide your breathing. Using a technique that slows down your out-breath (4-7-8: breathe-in for 4; hold for 7; out for 8) could help you settle down.
Tried it? Let me know.