emotional stress physical and mental benefits of yoga,You are not alone, you who are tense, nervous, worried, unable to relax even in bed. You seem to be tied up in knots and you sometimes feel at your screaming wits’ end. And you take relaxation pills, pep pills, tranquillizers, anything to give you a ‘lift’ and then wonder at the resulting unpleasant side effects. Can Yoga help? But of course it can. Yoga doesn’t like drugs and you know, your body does not either so if the so-called orthodox methods have failed to establish an easing of tension in your overworked body and over-worried mind then why not try Yoga’s way ? Yoga has often been known to succeed when medicine has failed.
Proper breathing is intrinsically linked with relaxation, with the emotions, with the health of the body itself. The thoughts are reflections of the breathing habits and so if the breathing is faulty then the mind cannot but be affected. You can prove this for yourself by your day to day experiences. When you are absorbed in a book, watching television, or listening to an interesting talk on the radio your breathing processes become slow. When your mind is afflicted by anger, or sorrow, the breath becomes irregular and choppy. When you are frightened you gasp and hold your breath, and when you are bored you open your mouth and yawn.
The exercises formulated by the Yogis of ancient times in connection with the respiratory tract are all based on a close observation of the body’s natural impulses. This most vital of the body’s functions is so neglected by the average person that the majority of people take in only enough oxygen to keep themselves from falling dead.
Mind and breath, then, being interdependent, you must learn how to breathe properly if you want to calm your mind and rid yourself of your worries and frustrations in everyday life. When you are at peace your breath is slow and even so if you reverse the process and learn to breathe slowly and deeply your mind will follow suit. You cannot be worried and upset if you are breathing in a calm and controlled manner, nor can you be calm if your breath is coming in hurried jerks.
So first things first. I want you to try the Yoga COMPLETE BREATH which employs the lower, middle and upper lung. It is sometimes divided into three—diaphragmatic, intercostal, and clavicular breathing—but in its correct form the Yoga COMPLETE BREATH should employ all three sections in one fluid intake of breath. Beginners should take things very easily at first. Lie down flat on the floor, no pillows, and place your hands lightly over your diaphragm. Remember to wear nothing tight around your waist or chest, and women should always loosen the bra before doing any Yoga breathing exercise.
The Complete Breath
Slowly exhale as completely as you can.
Very slowly inhale through the mouth, drawing in the air
evenly and without sudden jerks. With your hands placed lightly
over your diaphragm you will find that this is the first area to
As your inhalation progresses you will feel a very slight
retraction of your lower abdomen.
As you complete your inhalation you will feel your shoulders
rise slightly as your upper lung becomes fully expanded.
Slowly exhale through the mouth, using slight force. Con
tract the abdomen as you complete your exhalation to expel as
much air as possible.
Lie quietly for a few minutes after you have taken your first Complete Breath. Do not attempt to sit up for a while or you may experience a slight dizziness or faintness due to hyperrven-tilation caused by a sudden, excessive, and unaccustomed intake of oxygen. If you do have such a reaction it only proves how badly your poor lungs needed that extra oxygen, but do not worry, the dizzy feeling will soon pass. Go carefully at first with this exercise and soon you will be able to perform it with no unpleasant side effects. When you reach this stage you can perform the exercise sitting up straight with your head level and your hands in your lap, or even standing erect with your hands at your sides. Always, of course, practice Yoga breathing exercises before an open window and if at all possible, in the open air. For the first few days do not take more than two Yoga Complete Breaths a day, but gradually increase the number ad lib up to sixty full breaths a day. This should be a slow process and you should allow yourself quite some time before attempting the full quota of sixty a day. Be content at first to take just a few at a time.
When performing the Complete Breath I want you to be conscious of the slow filling up of your lungs, from the abdomen to the shoulders, and the ensuing slow exhalation should produce a feeling of calmness and relaxation in your body and in your mind. Never hurry this exercise. It is far better to take two slow correct Complete Breaths than to take ten hurried ones. In Yoga exercises it is always quality and not quantity that counts.
Tense people will particularly benefit from this exercise if they perform it just before bedtime as it promotes healthy, natural and refreshing sleep. When you are able to perform it correctly do try to practice it whenever you can during the day but particularly when you feel tired, depressed or upset. You can even take a few deep breaths as you take that morning walk up to the bus stop or the train, in which case you can match your breathing to your footsteps, say breathe in for six and exhale for six. If you are lucky enough to be anywhere near the sea draw in that wonderful, sweet-smelling air for all you are worth.
It is said that some people are tense by nature. Not true. They are tense by sheer bad habit, and these so-called natural-tension-merchants unconsciously allow all kinds of lurking tensions to accumulate until, hey presto! a beautiful, full-blown peptic ulcer, a chronic heart condition or worse. The breaking up of tension is going to be, for most people, the breaking of the habit of a lifetime. I have been told in all seriousness many times, ‘But, Miss Richmond, I must build up tension while I am working otherwise . . .’ Otherwise what? Otherwise, I would add, you would have so much more energy that you wouldn’t know what to do with it, so you feel you must squander a little by becoming tense!
Let us consider this problem in its proper perspective. No one, repeat, no one ever got the best out of themselves by means of tension. You may think you need it, that you could not do without it, nevertheless you wonder sometimes why you are unable to sleep and that your nerves are often ‘worn to shreds’, and you suffer from nameless fears. Can you imagine what it would be like to be free for ever of these distressing symptoms, to feel relaxed and cheerful and full of energy ? I can show you the way, through Yoga, but there is a price. You will have to part with those precious tensions of yours.
My intention in this book is to show you the way to better health through Yoga and not to moralize in any way, but may I tell you just one story which I hope might stick in your mind for the rest of your life ? It is aimed particularly at those readers who feel they cannot live without a burden of tension on their shoulders.
There was once a wise old man who was sitting at the window of his house when he saw, down in the street below, a poor beggar carrying a heavy load on his back. ‘What is that you carry ?’ called the old man. The beggar looked up at the window and then opened up the large sack he was carrying. It contained bundles of old newspapers, empty bottles, bits of wood, empty tins, broken bricks and all kinds of useless matter. ‘But it is nothing but a lot of rubbish,’ protested the old man, ‘tell me, why do you burden yourself with it?’ To which the beggar replied, ‘I must, it is all I have’.
And now to the second round in this battle against those tensions of yours. In the previous chapter I discussed physical relaxation, yawning and stretching, and if you have been practicing the exercises I described they will have gone a long way towards the breaking up of tension. Let us now go a step farther. Your next task is to learn how to develop and control your respiration. In Yoga breathing the following five principles are involved:
♦The habitual use of the full power of the lungs.
♦Retention of the breath.
♦Cleansing of the lungs and bronchial passages.
♦Breathing and slow stretching.
♦Alternate breathing, or breathing through one nostril at a
♦time. This is known as ‘Sun and Moon’ breathing.
In this book I will cover all five principles of Yoga breathing and in this chapter I will deal with 1, 2, and 5. Firstly, then, practice the Yoga Complete Breath as often as you can and always remember that the depth and quality of your breathing is far more important than the number of breaths you take. It is a good idea to start your Pranayama or breathing exercises by taking a few full breaths to cleanse your lungs and prepare yourself for the other breathing exercises, all of which are basically variations of the Complete Breath. Practice the Complete Breath in any position you prefer, either lying down, sitting on the floor with your spine straight, sitting on a hard chair with your hands in your lap, or standing up straight.
Retention of the Breath
This should not be attempted until you are able to perform the Complete Breath at least half a dozen times in succession without experiencing any unpleasant dizziness or fainting. Then proceed as follows. When you have completed your inhalation hold your breath for an instant before you start to exhale. One second is enough at first, but gradually extend this period of retention until you can hold your breath for several seconds without discomfort and without employing any force. Please do not try to force your lungs to do things which you know they would rather not. Remember that correct Yoga breathing is based on the body’s natural impulses.
At the end of every exhalation there is a natural pause with the lungs completely empty. At first you must obey this natural impulse and breathe in when you feel the need to, but gradually extend this pause for a second longer, and then yet another second, but do not force the pace. This gradual extension of the pause will make the ensuing inhalation that much more full and deep. Practice retention of the breath until you can perform it to your satisfaction but I repeat s-l-o-w is the word for Yoga breathing, slow and rhythmic. The word hurry has no place whatever in this book.
I would like you now to try Alternate Breathing or, as it is also called, SUN AND MOON BREATHING.
To explain this strange name before you begin, the two aspects of Prana or life force which surrounds us are personified as Pingala, the positive pole and Ida, the negative pole. One of the aims of Yoga is to balance their opposite currents in the body, which then produces a state of perfect spiritual and mental equilibrium. The breath that enters the right nostril or Pingala is called the sun breath and that which enters the Ida or left nostril is the moon breath. The ALTERNATE BREATH consists of deep controlled breathing through each nostril in turn.
Sit down either cross-legged on the floor or on a hard chair with your spine erect, but not stiff, and your head level. Close your eyes and proceed as follows:
♦Close your left nostril with your left thumb and breathe in,
♦slowly and deeply, through the right nostril.
♦Hold the breath for two seconds.
♦Close the right nostril with the last two fingers of your left
♦hand and exhale very slowly through the left nostril.
♦A natural pause will follow and when the impulse to inhale
♦appears do so, this time through the left nostril, the right still
♦being held closed.
♦Hold the breath for two seconds.
♦Exhale slowly through the right nostril with the left held
This completes one round. Beginners to Pranayama should limit themselves to two rounds at first, but do add one round each week until you are performing six rounds a day. Ideally this exercise should be performed facing different points of the compass according to the time of day, following the path of the sun. Thus in the early morning you should perform it facing east, at midday facing the meridian, at sunset facing the west, and at night facing the north, SUN AND MOON BREATHING should be preceded and followed by three or four Complete Breaths to create the right atmosphere of peace and tranquillity throughout the mind and the body. Though 1 have concentrated on the physical aspect of Yoga in this book, as I said in the beginning, it is impossible to divorce the body from the mind and all Yoga exercises, breathing or otherwise, must always affect all parts of the organism, both physical, mental, and spiritual.
When you have been practicing Sun and Moon breathing for a few days and have established some sort of rhythm and balance in your performance, proceed to the next stage, which is the regulation of the length of your exhalations to twice that of your inhalations. Thus if you inhale to a count of four, then you exhale to a count of eight. I use four only as an example for the length of your inhalation must always depend on your individual capacity and comfort. 1 reiterate the warning about undue strain. Please, no straining in this or any other Yoga exercise. It can only do harm and achieve nothing.
After a few days of the above controlled breathing your next step is to prolong very gradually the retention of the breath until it equals the length of your inhalation. Thus if you inhale on a count of four then hold your breath for four and then exhale on a count of eight. Again you must adjust this counting to suit your own capacity.
This is the simplest form of Sun and Moon breathing and will suffice for our purposes in this chapter which deals with the calming of the mind and nerves. The advanced forms of this exercise call for almost superhuman discipline and are practiced in connexion with the awakening of a mysterious force in the body known as Kundalini, the Serpent Power. This may briefly be described as the Divine Power of Knowledge and Wisdom from which, through civilization, Man has become separated. But the Kundalini, said to lie coiled at the base of the spine, is not dead but dormant, which is why every man is potentially divine no matter how far he may have strayed from the Divine Path.
But to return to your frayed nerves and wayward emotions, I will end this chapter with two simple exercises, one which combines breathing and movement and one which calms the mind and quenches thirst. The first of these is called THE L BALANCE STRETCH because while performing it your body roughly resembles the letter L.
♦Stand up straight, feet together and hands at your sides.
♦Inhale deeply and at the same time raise your arms above your
♦head, lace your fingers together and turn them palms upwards.
♦Remain stretching upwards with your arms while you complete
♦Hold your breath for an instant and then, while exhaling
♦slowly bend your knees until your calves are touching the backs
♦of your thighs. Remain thus until you have completed your
♦inhalation, with your arms still stretched above your head.
♦A natural pause will follow the completion of your inhala
♦tion, during which you should rise into the standing position
♦and lower your hands to your sides.
When you can perform this exercise try a slightly more difficult version which requires you to hold the breath throughout the movement, thus:
♦Stand erect, inhale deeply while raising your hands above
♦your head with the fingers laced as before.
♦When you have completed your inhalation hold your breath
♦and bend your knees as before with your arms above your head.
♦Remain in this position for as long as you comfortably can
♦When the impulse to exhale appears do so, at the same time
♦rising to your feet. Repeat up to six times according to the time
♦at your disposal.
This exercise taxes your sense of balance but it is a good exercise in calming the mind for it requires a considerable degree of concentration and muscular control to keep from overbalancing and this discipline, in conjunction with the deep slow breathing and the retention of the breath, results in a calm mind and soothed nerves. In conclusion here is a simple exercise which imitates the respiration of the serpent. It is called Sitali, and it helps to calm the mind, purify the blood, quench thirst and cool the body when it is overheated. Protrude your tongue from your lips and fold it together to form a tube. Draw in the air through this ‘tube’ with a slight hissing sound until you have completely filled your lungs. Hold your breath for as long as you can and then exhale through the nostrils, SITALI should be practiced up to twenty times a day. Combined with the other breathing exercises in this chapter the result will be a calmer, happier, more peaceful you.
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