By Saraswathi Vasudevan
Conscious breathing is a powerful tool to minimise pain and take the mind’s focus away from it, so that the body’s natural recovery process can take over, says Saraswathi Vasudevan
We work a lot with people with pain conditions; from general aches and pains to chronic neck, lower-back and arthritic conditions. When there is intense pain, it can hamper our ability to cope with daily life, causing emotional disturbance, anxiety and even depression. When the mind is disturbed, it interferes with the healing and recovery of the body. We become more and more attached to the very pain we want to get rid of.
As yoga therapists, the very first tool we engage with is the breath. Conscious breathing, especially slow and gentle exhalation, will:
So, one of the effects of a good therapeutic practice is that the person feels immediate relief in pain and disturbances of the mind. When one tastes the state of calmness and comfort, even if temporary, it helps one to commit to regular practice. We experientially understand that even simple practices can work wonders!
Healing is holistic
It is important to understand that the body is constantly changing and getting impacted by so many factors both within and without. We don’t have an ideal lifestyle. We are not able to follow food discipline. And even if we are very good with all these, we have the mind to deal with! Without bringing any change in the mind, we cannot hope to progress much with just taking care of the body. And for reaching and working with the mind, breath is such a fine tool!
The goal of yoga is citta vrtti nirodha, which means to achieve a quiet mind that can reflect the reality to us as it is. When our perception is free from distortions, when the mind is quiet, the body settles down. Just a glimpse of this experience helps us understand the power of yoga. Only when we taste this quietness, can our conviction grow. It is like tasting a mango; no matter how much I describe the taste to you, unless you taste it, you will never know.
Try this practice for calming the body and mind with the breath. Choose a lying (supine) posture with legs bent or legs raised on a stool. Lower back, neck, and shoulders should be in relaxed position.
Bring your focus to the natural breath. Just start observing your breath in your belly, the gentle movement of the abdomen.
Next step is to start exhaling slowly by engaging the lower abdomen. Gently draw the lower abdomen in and up while relaxing the chest. Keep lengthening the exhalation, starting from three seconds to maximum; each time focussing on lower abdomen movement, relaxing the chest and regulating the breath at the throat. Let the sound in the throat be very smooth and subtle. The longer and more subtle the breath, the quieter the mind.
Pause for two seconds after exhalation and inhalation, which by now, should have become longer and deeper. Stay with each breath from the beginning to the end, fully and completely paying attention to it. Notice how each exhalation allows better inhalation.
Mastering this technique of breathing, to calm the mind and body will help handle pain situations very well. Even though pain pushes us to seek remedy, learning these techniques when in severe pain maybe difficult for most people. We cannot practice weapons at the time of war! Spend time breathing out slowly everyday, make the breath very quiet and effortless, the breath will take care of the rest.
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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