The Effects of Pranayam on Emotional Well Being
(Pranayam in very simple words can be described as breathing techniques belonging to the ancient yogic tradition.)
On one hand, emotions are the main force of life that leads the average person to take decisions about their life. However, on the other hand, emotions that are not in one’s control cause much pain and create reactions. Some people find that they are very strongly under the sway of their emotions and behave in a reactive manner, often unbefitting the situation, so for these people, these unwanted reactions are the rough edges of their personality that prevent them from leading a happy, fulfilling and successful life. However, even successful people can find that the emotional content of their mind disturbs them. From a practical perspective, emotions can be understood as the reactions of the mind to outer stimuli but they are also the coloring of the mind that make the mind see things, not as they actually are, but distort the reality. Most of these unwanted reactions and incorrect perceptions are caused by certain previous negative conditioning, incorrect learning, bad habits, lifestyle and unhealthy experiences all of which leads to stress. Whenever there is an excess stress on the mind it will show up in various forms. Some of these are experiencing a feeling of incompleteness, mood swings, bad moods, emotional upsets, and sharp negative reactions to people, anger, sadness, depression, freezing, feeling of pain, of actual bodily pain, of certain health problems, diseases as well as other similar reactions.
Often, the person himself or herself experiencing these reactions wants to get rid of these reactions but does not know how to do so. The mind centered in a state of calm can be an individual’s best friend while a disturbed or unbalanced mind is a cause for problems and pain. But how does one work on these reactions and thoughts to get rid of them?
There are numerous techniques to purify the mind. From the practical point of view there are four broad methods to work on these negative reactions and stress. These are:
- Working with the thoughts (for example psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, but not limited to it),
- Working with energy (such as healing techniques, mantras, meditation, etc),
- Working with the pain by using herbs, medicines, massage, physiotherapy and other techniques,
- Working with the breath (Pranayam, breathing techniques).
Here we will discuss about working with the breath. From a practical perspective working with the breath cannot be separated from energy work as there will essentially be an element of the energy in the practice. So in a certain sense it is both, however the techniques are based on the breath.
Recently, during my visit to the west, in Germany, I happened to meet some very nice people, however, some of them were suffering from strong emotional problems. During my stay there, I noticed that many of them seemed to heal very fast by spending some time with me as well as due to the form of Pranayam I teach. These observations got me thinking and I decided to test out the techniques on persons with more serious problems. So I asked an acquaintance in Russia who is a Psycho organic analyst to bring some of her patients for my seminar on Pranayam. She agreed and brought some of her patients. This for me was quite a challenge, as the usual groups of people that I get are spiritual persons, many of whom have already been practicing spiritual techniques for some months atleast, if not for years. When these people arrived I realized that their energies were quite different from the people I was used to. Their energies were quite scattered and somewhat disturbed. For a moment I wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew. But once I had started and involved myself in the process, there was no looking back. Anyway, I was quite confident I would be able to help them.
The seminar was for a total of 11 hours divided into 3 days. The first and third day was for 3 hours each while the second day was for 5 hours. On the first day as we started, after about one and a half hours I could observe that all the people had calmed down as their energies seemed to be getting balanced. The remaining one and a half hour went well and by the end of the first session I could see the positive effect it had on all these people. On the second day, when they arrived, there was a distinct change in their energies. They already felt like spiritual people who had been doing some spiritual practices. Since it was an intense five hour practice, the effect had to be quite strong. I observed that the people were able to sit quite comfortably for all these hours with small breaks. This was quite an achievement since most of these people had probably never in their lives sat cross legged for so long. I attribute this to the techniques which remove the negativities thereby healing and making it easier for individuals to perform the practices. On the third day, when they arrived I could already feel a great change in the people. They had become much calmer, more centered, much more rested and looked happier. There was a distinct positive change in their mood, behavior and composure. The third day of practice strengthened the results of the previous days. People left the seminar feeling very elated, light, happy, positive and full of life and energy. The results of the experimental seminar were very positive and successful. My colleague, the Psycho organic analyst was pleased with the results.
Here I must point out certain things. The term Pranayam is very generic in nature and covers a vast range of different traditions and techniques. Each tradition or school has its own approach & system. Each school stresses on certain selected techniques & methodology, so there can be enormous differences in the actual practice. Whereas, most Yogic schools that teach pranayam teach traditional Hatha yoga techniques that are aimed at quieting the mind or in my understanding, as I would put in simple words, muting the mind. This works very well if one wants to meditate as it will result in a calm mind and allow one to meditate well. However, it has a negative in that the emotional content of the mind is not cleaned out but is suppressed.
The techniques we follow have two aims. They do not silence the mind but are directed at purifying the mind and releasing the negative emotional content or load of the mind. And the second objective is to make the mind very subtle so that the person is able to feel spiritual vibrations throughout the body. The second objective will be completed only when the mind becomes quite subtle and clears a big part of the negative content of the mind mainly the emotional disturbances. It is important to clear these emotional disturbances as they do not allow the intellect to function well. Negative emotions prevent one from taking rational and logical decisions, while stress has a way of dulling the mind, hence not allowing it to function effectively.
For a simple understanding the mind can be considered to have two parts. One which is the working memory (prarabdha and kriyaman karma) much like the RAM in a computer and the other is the stored memory (sanchit karma) where all the information is stored. Some of these memories or files may not be open yet so they do not disturb the mind; however, they will open when the opportunity presents itself. In a certain sense these closed files are out of reach, therefore, we can work with the open files or the working memory. The techniques cleanse out the negative emotions and calm the mind; however one must understand that the source of the problems often lies deeper within the mind. So some part of it will remain and only by regular practice will many of the deeper disturbances be completely removed. This negative content of the mind is formed due to:
- The collected past deeds (Sanchit Karma) (Stockpile of Deeds) from many lifetimes,
- Those files or deeds that have now become active (Prarabhda Karma),
- The deeds that we have done in this life time which may have been inspired by our stockpile of past Karma that have become active,
- Those deeds that we are doing currently (Kriyaman Karma).
(The term Karma simply means deeds which are of three types. These are physical, vocal and mental.)(Sanchit Karma are stored in the Causal Body whereas the Prarabhda and Kriyaman are working in the subtle body. It is easy to work with the subtle body but not with the causal body).
So as we go about living our lives, it is our lifestyle and deeds that we commit which influences the stress level of our minds. (For example working in a stressful job, too much public interaction, travelling in a crowd, financial insecurity, etc). Regular practice of these breathing techniques keeps the mind calm while allowing us to regularly remove all the negative impurities that arise from this stored memory and due to our deeds.
The techniques by themselves are very easy and not strenuous designed to be compatible with the modern individual & lifestyle. There is a very specific set of rules to be followed while doing the techniques. In the beginning there are certain techniques to correct the breathing as most people breathe incorrectly. A certain part of the time, in the beginning of each day, is spent on techniques to condition the mind. Along with this, a specific explanation is given during the seminar to correlate the ancient yogic techniques and modern scientific studies to give an in-depth understanding of these techniques. Since the techniques are designed to release pain and emotional disquiet, with each passing hour the person feels better and lighter. However, it is important to do the whole program as it is designed as a program, for only then does the complete effect of the techniques makes itself visible. After completion of the seminar and upon learning the techniques properly, one can practice these techniques on one’s own.