Or that calm is retained by the controlled exhalation or retention of the breath.
The mind is also calmed by regulating the breath, particularly attending to exhalation and the natural stilling of breath that comes from such practice.
Patanjali here is talking about pranayama, or the control of the movement of prana (the vital life-force) through our breathing. Be mindful of the breath, and you will regulate your mind. We have all experienced this when feeling worried or anxious, if we purposefully take a few deep breaths then it can help to calm us.
There is some debate as to whether Patanjali meant simply observing the breath or whether he actually meant retention of the breath, kumbhaka. Swami Satchidananda believes he just meant regulating the breath, rather than detailing any specific breathing exercise. Being mindful of the breath going in and out can bring serenity of mind.
This excellent blog, which I have referred to many times whilst reading the sutras, says that:
Pranayama is often translated as breath control. The root ayama actually means lengthening. Thus, pranayama more specifically means lengthening the life force.
This is in contrast to Zen Buddhism, which does not stress the end result of meditation. There is no goal in Zen, we meditate to see things as they really are. Serenity of mind may be a pleasant by-product of this, but should not be the ‘goal’ (there is no goal). Some days it may bring serenity, some days it may not. Both are ok. There is no expectation in Zen that there will be any particular result or side-effect. It is what it is, and that’s ok.
What I struggle most with is time management. I get to the end of each day feeling like I’ve achieved little and wondering where the time went. A couple of years ago I went down to working two and a half days a week, thinking it would improve my work-life balance. It has, to a point. I am no longer so tired on my days off that I don’t have the energy to do anything, but am still left feeling scattered.
I think I am guilty of trying to do too much, and achieving too little. I’m always trying new things, new hobbies, but feel I don’t stick at things. Am I looking for sense gratification? Probably. I take too much on, too many commitments. But maybe this is my obsession with ‘achieving’. Maybe it’s ok to try things, just for the experience of trying them, without a need to ‘achieve’ anything.
I struggle to maintain a regular asana / pranayama / meditation practice. Partly because having a 7yr old who doesn’t play on her own much in the house does not always make for ideal conditions, interruptions, etc. The other part is because I live in a small two-bedroom flat – if I want to do yoga, I have to do it in the lounge due to lack of space, and if everyone else wants to eat their breakfast then that’s not ideal either. In a few weeks we are moving to a much larger house, I could even have a whole room dedicated to yoga. I look forward to that. But then I shall have no excuses.
When I d have time, another issue is that of eating. If I have the luxury of practising asanas in the morning (which I prefer), then I can have a strong coffee and get going. If I practice later in the day, the issue of how long since the last meal becomes an issue. If it’s a work day, then I’m always famished when I come in, and it’s hard to find the right-sized snack. Ah, but I procrastinate…