Pranayama, probably the most important instrument in times of crises: An introduction
'Prana is the fundamental basis of whatever there was, is and will be.'- Atharva Veda.
Patanjali is known to the father of modern yoga. According to the Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga philosophy, there are 8 stages of yoga. The ultimate goal of Yoga( which means union) is the achievement of absolute harmony(as a result of merging or union) with all that there was, is or to be. Hence, the state of Samadhi it enlightenment is the last stage of Yoga.
Prayanama is the third step toward this goal and possibly the most important stage as through the medium of breath, it helos to regulate both body and mind.
Ordinary day-to-day breathing is unconsciously done and its function lies in the reptilian brain whereas Pranayama is conscious(attentive) breathing and its function lies in the neo cortex( the developed brain). It may be useful to remember the phrase 'Wherever attention goes, energy flows.'
Why is Pranayama particularly important in these times or, for that matter, in any time?
Because, regular practice of controlled breathing has an effect on the body as well as the mind, pushing both into wellbeing. In times of health crises, there are two very important, we need - a healthy body and a relaxed mind. Both act as armour towards ill health in the form of disease and stress, both of which lower the immune system in man.
In the following days, we will cover various techniques which will help regular practitioners fortify their body and mind efficiently. This is not a guarantee of immunity against illnesses as that involves various other factors such as current health condition or lifestyle amongst others, but it will certainly help as a preventive measure and, in many ways, a curative one, too.
The first technique: Anulom Vilom (Alternate nostril breathing)
Anulom Vilom Pranayama or Alternate Nostril Breathing exercise is one of the most beneficial breathing exercises.
Benefits: The practice has manifold benefits. It helps in reducing hypertension, better blood circulation and digestion. It helps to reduce stress levels and hence, lower blood pressure.
Steps by step guide for Anulom-Vilom Pranayama:
Anulom Vilom Pranayama is very easy to do.
Step # 1:
First, close your eyes and sit in a relaxed pose and rest your hands on your knees. Use your right hand for the practice, keeping the left hand on the knee in Gyan ( or dhyan) mudra.
Step # 2:
Close the right nostril with the right thumb, keep your fore finger between your eyebrows, and your middle finger on close to your left nostril, and your little and ring fingers free. Inhale slowly through the left nostril, inhale the oxygen as much as you can, this will fill your lungs with air. To start with, you can inhale for a count of 5-6 seconds and with practice, you can extend the duration as per your capacity.
Step # 3:
When you exhale use your middle finger to close your left nostril then inhale with through your right nostril and remove thumb from the right nostril then exhale. Again, do this for 5-6 seconds to give it a 1:1 ratio.
Step # 4:
Then, breathe in through your right nostril for 5-6 seconds, keeping your left nostril closed. When fully inhaled, close your right nostril with your thumb, and exhale through your left for 5-6 seconds.
Step # 5:
Again, inhaling through your left nostril, continue the process. Repeat this process initially for 3-5 minutes.
Be focused and concentrate on your breathing.
See how you feel. If you are comfortable, you can continue the process for a few more minutes. This can lead to deep meditative states.
This helps in balancing the left and right brain centers ( also variously known as Yin Yang energies or Ida Pingala psychic channels- basically, the feminine and masculine sides of your personality).
Useful tip: Besides, the physical health benefits mentioned earlier, this practice is best done during stressful situations because it helps to stabilize your energies and once your energies are neutral, the decisions that you take are bound to be fair and just and not inclined towards any dominant side of your nature at any particular moment. So, definitely a best practice before decision making moments such as board meetings or a talk with your teenage child!!