By Saraswathi Vasudevan
Control your agitated mind by stilling the breath to regain calmness and equanimity, says Saraswathi Vasudevan
“I don’t know why this pain has aggravated so much! I am very relaxed mentally, nothing is bothering me right now, but my neck pain is not abating despite my best efforts.”
Yes, we see the apparent contradiction in these lines. When people come with problems in the body, the assumption is that the cause is purely physical/physiological and we (the self/mind) are not contributing to it. The very fact that you are disturbed by it is enough to come in the way of healing and recovery. If the mind can willingly step out of the way, the body’s own innate healing mechanism can be activated and made fully functional.
Find out how
According to the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, vyadhi (illness) is an obstacle in the path of an aspiring yogi. Because along with illness, many other obstacles, like mental stagnation, doubt, carelessness, laziness and impatience rear their diabolic heads, making any progression on the path arduous (YS1 30. 131). They disturb the mind, cause suffering and physical pain, and disrupt breathing pattern.
One of the solutions Patanjali offers is extending our exhalation and breath retention (after exhalation) (YS 1.34). This is essentially the fundamental benefit of pranayama. The idea of lengthening the breath, particularly the exhalation, is for the purpose of calming the mind. When the mind relaxes, the body calms down too, allowing the healing to progress. But if the mind is constantly agitating over the present problems, the breath invariably dives into a downward spiral. Since we cannot work with the mind directly, we work with the breath. Training to breathe in and out slowly and deeply, and making the breath subtler, calms the physical, physiological system and the psyche. Practising suspension of breath comes next.
Stilling the breath does not mean forcefully controlling the breath. Training to breathe in and out very slowly, keeping the flow so subtle that there is hardly any movement, helps you gradually develop better control over the breathing apparatus which in turn begins to regulate other systems in the body. With subtle long breathing, mind becomes quiet. Slowly you gain control and mastery over suspension of breath after exhalation (which is more challenging than holding the breath after inhalation). When you train to still the breath, mind becomes absolutely still. You are then ready for dharana – meditation.
Master your breath to master your mind
Spend just 10 minutes daily practising slow, deliberate extension of exhalation and inhalation making the breath very subtle. Just feeling the sensation of the breath in the throat region will be enough. Count three seconds for each inhalation and exhalation, extend the breath by one or two seconds for each step stretching the breath ever so gently. When it becomes really long and subtle, suspend it for a short while after exhalation. The mind will instantly go quiet. When you master holding the breath after exhalation for a longer time without compromising with the length or subtlety of the breathing process, then you are ready to use your breath to heal your mind. When thoughts are brought under control, you can get in touch with your true feelings. There is more clarity, actions are more intelligent and appropriate, and they leave less residue. in yourself or the other.
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