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After 24 years of Yoga practice and 16 years of a daily breath work practice the changes I have witnessed in myself and the strongest coping tool I have ever been grateful to have found...... this is why I teach this practice ...... eternally grateful to my Breath master Sri.O.P.Tiwari. Siobhan
Pranayama – what it is? It is a way of exercising control over the breath or vital force in our body (Prana) and working with it through different practices that have been around for thousands of years, which is proof in itself that it must still be doing something very good for us today. Once we master the breath control
What’s it about? It is the fourth limb of the 8 limb Yoga system. We begin slowly and gradually tame our breath to bring it more and more under our own control. We make it longer on in and exhales, we make it stop for a period of time and we create a new inner and far more profound deeper connection with our self. This in turn has its benefits especially in todays society. If we can get a better strength in our lungs and our nerves. We can ultimately master our thoughts or become much more positive and grounded and much less reactive. Life changes as a result and we feel a subtle rise above the things we once got upset about. We learn to master our emotions. Our new found energy and happiness is infectious and we touch the hearts of those we surround ourselves by too.
What can students expect? Immediately what we feel is calm and reduced chatter in our heads…. Enough to make us feel clear in our thoughts….we feel very happy or we may feel other emotions that are usually buried deep inside …. When we practice even a little everyday we start our day on the right foot , in a positive frame of mind and it stays with us all day long…. Over time we become much more resilient to the drama of life around us, our heartrate lowers and our lung capacity increases. We become happier inside and our biorhythms start to gradually synch making hormones and nerve response enhanced and the toxins in our cells destroyed. It is a fast track to our mental and physiological wellbeing.
Talk about your experience… I was taught Pranayama 24 years ago in my first ever Yoga class, I will never forget how those first years of Yoga changed how I felt about myself. Coming from a very erratic and quite dysfunctional family life (albeit a comfortable childhood home-wise) these events produced trauma in my system at a very deep level, in my teens it was buried and ignored and in doing so , ignoring my own needs and putting others first. It was destructive in many ways I was not aware of. I thought I was surviving and doing well. When Pranayama really got deep into my system through my Guru, now of the past 16 years my whole body became one that was purified, which enhanced how my mind worked, my mind encouraged my systems to synchronise and bad habits vanished. Insomnia, Eating problems, Low moods, Anxiety and hormonal problems, all gone. I knew I was never going back to who I was because I loved who I had become. That is priceless and that is the beauty of having Pranayama in my life. Why would I ever want to give up something that makes me feel alive, feel and touch inner Joy and reward me with such a great life. It has not been without its struggles, but they have made me accept them as part of my own journey rather than allowing them to pull me down. It is just a beautiful thing and the health benefits are infinite.
Maybe think about some of the common questions you’re asked. We start slowly and we increase what we do in our practice in stages…. Safely taming our inner emotions and bring ourselves into a better state of being. We can have a long practice or a short one. We can focus on a health issue, like HBP or anxiety. It has so many uses that help in every person a unique way that is personal to them.
Pranayama for stress and anxiety.
In Yoga Therapy we can be of great benefit to the most commonly occurring mental disorders worldwide including amongst them general anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, acute stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which affect our unique natures in different ways and tests all of our abilities to cope and remain in control when we are feeling far from it in any situation.
Pranayama is a tool to combat stress and anxiety. The nature of the mind (psychological), environmental, genetic and developmental factors contribute to anxiety disorders. Trauma and stress are key players in triggering our anxiety symptoms in our nervous system which can be tamed by the breath. When we learn to slow breathe in a controlled or structured way, in this practice of breath work we develop a quieter, calmer, controlled and peaceful inner world. This can be felt immediately from the practice of pranayama. It instantly lowers heart rate and produces a feeling of calm when we learn to bring the breath under our own control and in turn we control the mind. Giving us resilience to stress. Practiced regularly it creates change on a cellular level. Change which creates balance in our endocrine system. Our calm brain stays “on” and our stress brain is far less ”reactive”. This is due to our higher brain in which our positive hormones are released becoming more active which in turn dials down our lower brain where stress and anxiety are activated. Our circadian rhythms begin realigning and becoming balanced. Sleep, restlessness, low mood and uncertainty are all greatly reduced. Hormonal secretions and activity are balanced and inflammation and ageing of cells reduces also. The practice of pranayama when done everyday is proven to last 24hrs ….not just a few hours after the practice. Numerous studies have shown that pranayama has rapid normalizing effects on the auto-nomic nervous system and much more so than held yoga postures or meditation. It is invaluable to those who embrace its beauty and its strength.
To talk about breathing and its benefits we have to first understand how anxiety and panic attacks affect our breath. In sufferers with Anxiety the breath is usually more shallow and in some instances we find the sufferer literally gasping to hold onto the breath in a stressful situation as seen in panic disorder. In Ayurveda it is recognized as a derangement of the Vatta Dosha and for the suffer their kidneys and heart will be working much harder than that of a non-anxious individual. The lower brain centres will be in a continual heightened state of arousal affecting other areas in the body affecting sleep, hormones, immunity and relationships.
Pranayama as it is called in Yoga or breath-work in general has a direct impact on giving the sufferer the ability to take control of their breath. So lets look at the scientific facts.
There is so much more I could say on other aspects of breathing in our life. So much more. For now my share is on the results anxiety and stress have on our breath and the ability to put things into reverse.
What is paramount in anxiety is “belly breathing” with a gradual lengthening of the exhalation part of the practice in order to reduce arousal by shifting our poor overworked sympathetic NS to parasympathetic NS activity. In Panic disorder “diaphragmatic breathing” is invaluable as it takes us away from the intensity experienced in hyperventilation and gives us back a sense of control. The key is in doing things slowly and gradually. To begin mixed with a flowing vinyasa practice it can introduce breath and movement taking the individual into a place where they are focused and not over obsessing but not too calm too quickly that they panic due to it being too extreme a change. Individuals in a seated position for breath work may need to keep their eyes open in order to not feel out of control, until trust is established that the practice is safe for them. It is also good in the beginning for instruction to be continual so that there is no chance of the mind wandering to more negative thought patterns again. We slowly increase the students capacity for stillness. This is the key.
I hope I have got you wanting to make a change. One that is simple to do and free to do at your leisure. Once you know how in the hands of a breath expert is it not a wonder why more people are not using this tool as part of their life. It is just about the most wonderful life changing practice I know. My prescription is to surrender and embrace its power. Connect to the belly and breathe.
By Siobhan Fitzgerald @ Pranaforlife.com
Thanks to Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Lorenzo Cohen, Timothy McCall and Dr Shirley Telles “The Priciples and Practice of Yoga in Health Care” ( Sage 2nd Edition 2017)