November 2016by Saraswathi Vasudevan When you give your breath your loving attention you will have earned a friend who will come to your aid in all situations, assures Saraswathi Vasudevan. “One can only understand the things one tames, the Fox tells the Little Prince. If you want a friend, tame me. You must be very patient. First you will sit down at a little distance from me, like that, in the grass. I shall watch you out of the corner of my eye and you will say nothing. … But everyday, you can sit a little closer to me”(From The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery) The fox here presents a very important pre-condition for developing a friendship: the time you invest and the loving attention you give.This is the kind of relationship one seeks to establish with one’s own breath through practices such as pranayama. It might sound strange when I say pranayama is about befriending your breath. For most of us, pranayama practice means inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through the other, or breathing like a bellows! We have been conditioned to focus on these aspects so much that the real purpose of pranayama the mind being an active witness to the breath has been lost! This article is about reconnecting with the real purpose of pranayama.Before we even try to understand how to befriend the breath, we need to know why this is important. Do you have any friend in your life you can call for help anytime, in any situation? And also reach that friend in a moment? Yes, we know technology has advanced so much today that you can reach a friend in a moment but ironically, the same technology has also caused so much separation and isolation, has it not? But you do have one companion who will come to your aid anytime you want unconditionally (well, almost)! Your breath perhaps your only companion who comes with you from birth to death. Breath is our sole connection to life and to all life forms around us. To the extent we have nurtured this friendship with our breath, we can be assured that this friend will come to our aid in any emergency. And if you want to learn how to use your breathing to deal with stress, observe your breath in a stressful situation. Try to observe the reactions in your body, breath, thoughts and emotions as they arise.How comfortable are you in your body?How is your breath? Where can you feel/hear your breath? What is the quality of your breathing?Are you in control of your thoughts and emotions?Just observe the complex dynamics of a stress response as you stay with your breath.At other times, work on lengthening your exhalation systematically. Start with three seconds exhalation, and then go to four seconds, then five seconds till you reach your maximum comfortable exhalation, and maintain it for some time. Practise this as often as possible (not immediately after a meal) so that you develop a stronger relationship with your exhalation. Try this practice at bedtime: Sit on the bed with your back straight and eyes closed. Rewind the whole day in your mind’s eye from the present moment backward and look at everything that comes up in your memory. Exhale deeply and let everything drop clearing your mind of all residues from the day. When your exhalation is long and complete, it induces a deep relaxation response in the body and mind. Lie down and have a wonderful sleep!Wake up feeling fresh and rejuvenated, ready to welcome a new day with a smile! About the author: Saraswathi Vasudevan is a yoga therapist trainer in the tradition of Sri T Krishnamacharya. She specialises in adapting yoga to the individual. (www.yogavahini.com).
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