Breathing techniques linked to yoga
How yoga breathing techniques can help modern day professionals manage stress, improve productivity and luck.
Fifteen years ago, in a cosy meditation centre in Chiswick, west London, I attended an introductory talk given by two Art of Living yoga and meditation teachers from Mumbai who explained that by doing pranayama, yoga and meditation one’s luck would improve.
Knowing that these two IIT graduates were very logical and rational individuals and not ones for conjecture and speculation, their words really grabbed my attention. They then went on to explain their point of view in greater detail, which drew from a discourse given by Art of Living’s founder Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (an authority on matters linked to the breath, mind and emotions).
At the heart of the techniques he teaches is the idea that when you are anxious, stressed or angry there is a corresponding pattern or rhythm to your breathing, it might be heavy and fast, but when you’re relaxed and happy it will be slow and deep. Just as our emotions influence our breath, we are able to use our breath to influence our emotions and therefore state of mind. This is where it becomes very important to learn breathing techniques as they are techniques for managing stress and anxiety, enabling you to deal with negative thoughts and emotions as and when they come up.
But before I tell you what the two teachers famously known as Bawa & Dinesh (YouTube them) said, we should better understand what yogic breathing techniques or pranayama, are and how they have such a significant influence on us.
‘Prana’ means life-force energy and ‘yama’ means to store or house it. When one performs pranayama techniques, they are able to raise the level of prana in the body resulting in them becoming more energetic, alert and aware. The obvious but often bizarrely overlooked function of breathing is to oxygenate the cells in our body. Every cell in our body requires oxygen and we can only survive a few minutes without it. If a tissue in the body is denied its requirement of oxygen for just a few minutes, it will die and necrosis will follow quickly.
In the context of wellbeing, there is great attention given to detoxification. Over 70 per cent of the bodies toxins are released through the breath mainly because carbon dioxide (CO2) is a by-product of cellular activity. But breath has other profound influences on the body. There is a significant neurophysiological effect on the body which relaxes muscles and other connective tissues in the body that hold tension and cause discomfort. Through this mechanical effect, blood perfusion in tissues improves due to tissues not being tight and restrictive. Good perfusion allows blood to deliver vital nutrients and remove toxins from tissues keeping them healthy and maintaining their function. This impacts physical energy levels positively as it improves cardio vascular fitness and reduces the work load of the heart and lungs. All of this is achieved by sitting, relaxing and breathing. We often think that if we want to get healthy and fit we need to slog it out in the gym. Perhaps you do if weight-loss and or developing athletic fitness is your agenda, otherwise we are perfectly capable of staying healthy with a general level of day to day activity that includes the above techniques.
We live in a world which can be tough, competitive and pressured. If you work in an office environment, then you will likely be walking and on your feet for only a few moments throughout the day and you will spend most of your time sitting in chairs. The trouble here is that our shoulders, spines, pelvis and knees are not designed for that sort of lifestyle and need force, loading and activity to stay healthy.
Sitting doesn’t promote full and deep breathing, if anything it teaches us to breath shallow and fast largely because the lungs are compressed and the diaphragm doesn’t have space to move as much when sitting. It is for this simple reason that we need to practice deep voluntary breathing techniques because if our ribs and diaphragm don’t move properly because of the restrictions imposed from sitting in chairs, they adapt and reduce output and function which over time can have significant negative effects on our health and state of mind.
Dr B.M. Hegde, a renowned professor, scholar and practitioner of medical sciences made a very keen observation in a talk given on diabetes and its treatment and management by natural remedies. He presented an epidemiological suggestion as to why we have psychosomatic dysfunctions, disease in the body and depression in the mind linked to stress, anxiety and emotions. He explained that our nervous system carries within it a survival mechanism commonly referred to as “fight or flight”, which enables one to flee or defend/fight in circumstances of danger. The contemporary human, lives in civilisations where animals and other humans are not a constant threat to life, nor are they risking life and limb every time they venture from one place to another as our evolutionary forefathers did.
The contemporary human is faced with a distinctly different form of threat to life and existence. One’s, boss! He or she may put pressures on you that exert an emotional stress which is ongoing, day after day, week after week and month after month. Our body’s defences are continuously defending, fighting and supporting the faculties which enable us to survive these challenges without developing “life threatening” diseases. Hegde believes that eastern philosophies, remedies and techniques are more in line with supporting our bodies innate software and hardware used to tackle these problems, namely yoga, meditation and Ayurveda.
Coming back to Bawa & Dinesh, once they had made their fascinating claim that one’s luck improves when one meditates and does pranayama techniques, they elaborated on how one’s skill of observation, perception and expression becomes refined with the practice of breathing and meditation. Increased awareness and sensitivity leads to improved powers of objective observation of the environment in and around you and increased energy levels. Greater enthusiasm powers perception by linking mental faculties together and developing intellect as well as a calmer, less perturbed mind, which is able to observe instinct and intuition. When the mind is clear and knows what it wants and when it is calm and free of agitation our expression, be it through our words or our presence, becomes clear and obvious.
When these factors come together, actions followed by thought are far more fruitful and therefore beneficial. Energy literally follows thought, but when there is a chronic lack of energy and when thought is obtuse and uncommitted, the action will only reflect that. So how can situations and circumstances not go your way when you breathe and meditate? Practice them and see how your luck improves.
Keerti Mathur is an associate at the Gait and Posture Centre at Harley Street in London and has been practicing Osteopathy for 10 years. He is part of the Art of Living faculty and a keen musician. Under the guidance of Art of Living Founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Keerti worked to set up India’s first school of Osteopathic medicine in Sri Sri University Orissa.