Slow and subtle breathing calms the mind, dramatically improves focus, and greatly improves the quality of life, says Saraswathi Vasudevan
Pranayama does not carry the glamour of asana and therefore does not interest or excite people so much. Even committed practitioners of yoga (asana) are quite reluctant to give time to reconditioning and conscious regulation of breath, which is the most vital aspect of yoga practice. But once you get hooked to it, you will experience change at an exponential rate. Something one cannot achieve through years and years of physical practice!
Quality of breath
Apart from regulating and balancing all physical and physiological functions, slow, subtle breath regulation calms the mind, dramatically improves focus and attention and prepares the ground for meditation. The real key is to make the breath as subtle and as long as possible. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defines the essential qualities of pranayama as dirgha (long) and sukshma (subtle).
When the breath becomes longer, it develops the capacity to hold the attention of the mind, drawing it inwards, away from external distractions caused by the senses. A long breath is a direct indication of a system that has less toxins, a mind that is less disturbed! A subtle breath demands the mind to be quiet. To listen to the quiet breath, the entire system has to calm down, soften and experience a meditative state. One can get in touch with deeper thought processes and feelings that are normally inaccessible through the loud mind! Making the breath long and subtle is the most important means of facilitating this process.
Listen with a quiet mind
You will start noticing subtle changes within and without. You will be able to understand yourself, another person or a context with less distortion. You will begin to see the relationship between your thought, feeling and action. You may be able to regulate your speech and actions to create less disturbance within and without. A quiet mind helps make healthier choices with food and lifestyle practices. You will be able to process and clear out negative emotions more efficiently, and not accumulate the toxic effects in the body. This can help prevent a whole range of psychosomatic and lifestyle-related conditions that account for 95 per cent of the health issues we suffer from.
All it requires is to learn to breathe long and subtle.
Every day sit for about 10 minutes before and after your asana practice. Choose a comfortable posture. Sitting on a chair is also fine, just ensure you are sitting with the spine erect and chin down.
Start focussing on your natural breathing, slowly begin to extend it with a gentle hissing sound in the throat.
Count the length of the exhalation and inhalation, you may also keep inhalation equal to exhalation – 3:3, 4:4, 5:5, staying with each ratio for 2-3 breaths and progressing to the next level.
Extend exhalation beyond the inhalation, and keep counting till you reach your maximum inhalation and a longer exhalation.
Then drop the mental counting and start paying attention to the quality of the breath. Make it very quiet and subtle – like a fine silk thread passing through the throat, almost imperceptible. Just the feeling of the breath moving, visualising the fine thread of prana flowing in and out…
This breath is expansive and freeing, extending beyond the body, beyond the thinking mind, touching and penetrating the very ground of our existence, that is pure, joyful and imperishable…
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