You can breathe in a steady, gentle, slow and balanced way. When each inhale is the same length as your exhale, your breath can be a continuous flow. This balance is nothing compared to the balance you'll experience in your mind.
Symmetry is not everything, though. If you slowly inhale to build up pressure, then release it through your mouth in one, quick burst, you'll notice it energizing you like a warm cup of coffee.
People might look at you strangely. That's okay, because looking ridiculous is good training.
So how ridiculous can you look by breathing?
If you like to think in pictures, you might see each style of breathing as a different shape. One is a sine wave; the other, a punctured balloon.
Different patterns for different outcomes.
And so you might wonder: what other shapes can your breathing take?
Well, there's triangular breathing.
Once you can breathe around five times a minute without training yourself, the next step is to introduce pauses. This can distract you during your meditation or enhance the experience. Experiment and see what happens.
You can inhale, then hold the breath, then exhale, all for equal counts. When you can do this naturally, this breathing pattern centers you. In fact, they teach it in Systema – the martial art developed by Russian special forces.
The next progress is to invert that triangle. Inhale, then exhale, then hold the breath.
I have to remind you of safety. Take care when changing your breathing, especially with this last one. Make your changes slowly and build up over weeks. If you feel discomfort, then breathe normally.
Once you can comfortably follow both triangular patterns, you can combine them into square breathing. You hold twice per cycle – after inhaling and after exhaling.
When you can breathe like this without distracting you, it changes your body and mind. This is not necessary for deep meditation …
… but you might find it helps.
There's one more shape to mention. This humble breathing exercise is easier than those I just mentioned. It feels like someone is scrubbing your insides clean with each cycle.
Even if it does make you look a bit ridiculous.
Ignore that impulse if it arises. It's a judiciary and a distraction.
The technique of Nadi Shodhana involves inhaling through your right nostril, then exhaling through your left. Then you inhale through the left and exhale through the right.
The best way to do this is to block the unused nostril with your finger. (On the outside, people – this is not an excuse to pick your nose …)
How does this work?
I do not know. Does it matter? See for yourself that it works, then worry about why it does.