?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Introduction:
    In Hindu philosophy, the motion of lungs which leads to the act of breathing, is said to be the manifestation of the life force or Prana [1]. This close correlation between breathing and the life force is the basis of the science of Pranayama, in which we gain control over the life force by controlling the breath and respiratory muscles [2]. To further support the idea, it is notable that almost all the actions in the body, are either completely voluntary (like moving hands, legs, etc) or completely non-voluntary (beating of the heart, digestion, etc). In this respect, the act of breathing is exceptional by being semi-voluntary. This extraordinary nature of breathing gave it a special position among spiritualists. It is celebrated as a bridge between voluntary and non-voluntary actions.

    The general scheme of Pranayama is to take the act of breathing as the starting point. By breathing consciously with measured intervals for inhalation, exhalation and retention periods, one gains more control over breathing and turn it to a more voluntary action. The consequence is to gain more control over all other non-voluntary actions, like the beating of the heart, digestion and more important than all: controlling the mind [2]. Pranayama is a perfect way to steady and calm the mind. The practitioner gradually comes to exercise his will over more parts of his body and mind. An advanced practitioner has full control over his mind, body and his inner life current. This is how some Yogis levitate, or stop their heart at their will [2].

    You can do the Pranayama exercises anywhere, while seated or walking. Just make sure that your chest, neck and head are in a straight line. You need to keep track of time, you can do it by listening to a clock's ticks or by mentally counting numbers. Here are some of the most important and famous Pranayama exercises:

Exercise 1) Rhythmic Breathing:
    Inhale slowly for four seconds. then exhale slowly for another four seconds. This constitutes one round. It is called rhythmic breathing because the periods of inhalation and exhalation are the same. You may replace the four second period by some other shorter or longer period according to your capacity. You can practice it whenever, wherever. More the better. While walking, don't waste your time by day-dreaming or looking around, instead do this exercise with the rhythm of your steps (you may take each step as one second). Do the same thing while in taxi, bus or even stuck behind a traffic jam in your car.

    This exercise is said to give a very good rest to the body and mind, even better than sleep [1][2]. besides, like all other Pranayama exercises, it engages the mind in some rhythmic activity (counting or listening to the clock ticks) which causes all the wandering and intrusive thoughts to spill out. It calms the mind efficiently.

     A more elaborate version of this exercise involves some delays between each successive inhalation and exhalation. The amount of this delay varies according to different sources. You may set a short delay at your convenience. In [3], a delay as twice as the inhalation time is suggested. So the above example of 4 seconds become: 4 second of inhalation, 8 seconds of retention, 4 seconds of exhalation, 8 seconds of retention again. This is one round. In another source, [4] the period of half the time of inhalation is proposed. Namely we have to replace the 8 second period of retention with 2 second period. Anyway the retention period seems not very crucial and the important thing is the equal period for inhalation and exhalation with some fixed period for retention. Come up with some numbers and stick to them.

Exercise 2) Internal Retention:
    In this exercise we inhale slowly for some fixed period, say 4 seconds. Then we retain the breath for four times as the inhalation period, namely 16 seconds. Then exhale slowly for twice as long as the inhalation time, namely 8 seconds. this is one
round.

    This exercise should not be practised so much [1]. Start by 4 rounds in morning and, if you are capable, 4 rounds in the evening. Increase the number of rounds and the inhalation period gradually when you find pleasure in it. After a while, based on your discretion, you may add some other sittings, in noon or midnight for example.
   
    This exercise also has a more elaborate version which I call it single-nostril, in which we breath through each nostril in a separate round: close the right nostril with the right thumb, inhale through the left nostril (4 seconds). Then close both nostril and retain the breath (16 second). Open the right nostril while the left one is closed and exhale through the right nostril (8 seconds). Then repeat the whole thing for the right nostril, (inhale through the right nostril, retain and exhale through the left nostril). It is said that ([1]) this exercise, purifies and opens the blockage in the intersection of the right and left nerve currents which lies in the base chakra. 

Exercise 3) External Retention:
    This is the same exercise as above, the only difference is that the order of retention and exhalation is changed, but the ratios remain the same: we first inhale (4 seconds) then exhale (8 seconds) and then retain (16 seconds). The single-nostril version of this exercise is also the same as the previous exercise (inhale through one nostril and exhale through the other one and vice versa).
 Just like the first exercise, this exercise can be practices whenever and wherever, more the better [1].

A General Plan for Pranayama:

    You can (and should) practice the rhythmic breathing and external retention whenever you get a chance, in home or work place, in public transit. But in addition to these, it is advised to have some daily official regular sittings. Morning and evening are most recommended ones. In each sitting you may start by some rounds of internal retention and then do some other exercises at your choice. There is no rule for a plan.

Mental Condition During Pranayama:
    During all these exercises, it is important that the mind does not wander. The act of keeping track of time (by mental counting for example) automatically blocks the wandering thoughts and brings harmony to the mind. You may also include some additional mental scenarios to this process and make it more meditative. These scenarios are all optional. Here are a few examples:

For all exercises:
    1. When inhale, imagine you draw in positive traits like strength, mercy, confidence, love, purity, forgiveness, integrity, generosity, humility, etc and they purify your mind. When exhale imagine you breath out negative traits like weakness, fear, unstability, hatred, lust, anger, greed, pride, etc. ([2]).
    2. Imagine a ball of pure white fire in front you. With each inhalation you draw in a ray of this purifying nectar in your body and it runs through all your vessels and washes the impurities. In exhalation you breath out these impurities (by inspiration from [3])
    3. Using mantra: during inhalation mentally say 'A', during retention say 'O', during exhalation say 'M' ([2])
There are tons of other scenarios and no more room left for this article!
For the single-nostril version of internal retention:
    This imagination is very common [1,3]: when inhale through the left nostril, imagine the energy enters and runs down the left side of your spine and strikes the base chakra on its left side. During retention imagine that this energy is provoking this chakra and the blockage in this chakra is diminishing. During the exhalation imagine that this energy, from the left side is moving to the right side of the base and melting the blockage and running up the right side of the spine, along with the dross of the blockage, to be exhaled out. Do the same for the right side.

Some Tips and Comments:


*. Breath slowly and as noiseless as possible.

*. Use your abdominal muscles much more than the chest. They must inflate when breathing in and contracted when breathing out. It must be very natural without forcing anything. Retain the breath firmly in the stomach during the retention [5].

*. According to [3]: “Feel the counting rhythm in your body as it is more important than the breath length”

*. According to [3]: “Adjust the timing in such a way that no strain takes place, the exercise must be done in quite comfort. You must feel joy and freshness after each exercise.”

*. Practice Pranayama at least two hours after eating meal. Don't take shower within half hour after the practice [2].

*. According to [2]: “Retention of breath augments strength, lifetime, vitality and concentration (e.g. we suspend our breath to hear a faint sound or lift a heavy load).” Perhaps that's why swimming is such a exhilarating sport.

*. Breath and mind are in close conjunction [1,2]. When the mind is distracted, like in anger or fear, the breath is irregular and shallow, whereas the breath is slow, deep and regular when the mind is concentrated, like when studying and solving a puzzle. Paranayama's approach is to concentrates the mind by simulating the calm mind's breathing condition. Namely it makes the breath steady and calm, so the mind becomes steady, calm and concentrated [1,2].

References:

[1] 'Raja Yoga' by Swami Vivekananda
[2] 'Practical Lessons in Yoga' by Swami Sivananda
[3] 'The Science of Pranayama' by Swami Sivananda
[4] 'The Hindu-Yogi Science of Breath' by Yogi Ramacharaka
[5] 'Zen training' by K. Sekida 1975

A Lesson on Contentment

From contentment comes the superlative happiness (Yoga Sutra 11:42)
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A man came to Nasreddin saying:
- my house is so noisy and disgusting! so full of children running around and making horrible noises, with their toys and stuff spread all over the house. The kitchen is dirty and I cannot tolerate it any more. What should I do then?
-Do you have chickens?
-Yes
-Bring them in the house! And come to me again tomorrow and tell me how it is going.
The next day, the man came again and said:
-O Nasreddin, the situation is even worse now, not only the kids are running around and the house is dirty on its own, now the chickens are squawking and leaving poops all around! What should I do?
-Do you have cows?
-Yes
-Bring them in the house! And come to me again tomorrow and tell me how it is going.
The next day, the man came again and said:
-O Nasreddin, it is so unbearable now, the kids are making noise and throwing things around, the chickens are squawking and leaving poops, additionally, these cows are messing around and running over everything in the house. so so crazy, I pary you, tell me what should I do?
-Do you have horses?
-Yes
-Bring them in the house! And come to me again tomorrow and tell me how it is going.
The next day, the poor man came with a pale face and began to speak with a tired voice:
-Nasreddin, the peace is altogether lost in my house! The kids are messing around, the chickens don't miss any opportunity to dirty the place, squawking all the time, then come the crazy cows and horses, the broke everything and now are racing with each other! Tell me for the last time what should I do, for if I stay in such a house one more night, I shall end up in the grave!
Nasreddin said:
-take all the animals out! And come to me again tomorrow and tell me how it is going.
The next the man came to Nasreddin, with a joyful voice he said:
-God bless you! how quite is our house now! how clean it is! except some occasional and mild voices from the kids and some almost-invisible stains in the kitchen, this house is ideal to me!

...

When you feel miserable, think about those who are more miserable than you
When you feel proud, think about those who are better than you
when you feel sad, think about those who are sadder than you
when you feel happy, think about those who are happier than you

Four Common Illusions which Lead to Sorrow

And in that purity of spirit, there is produced for him the end of all sorrows (Bhagavad Gita 2:65)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sometimes my friends told me about how they feel and the things which were bothering them. Gradually I came to realise a few common illusions which were the sources of their sorrow and suffering. Of course there would be many more which I'm not aware of. I named these illusions here along with my humble opinion about each one. Please criticise these explanations and introduce more sources and illusions which are ignored in this writing.

Illusion #1. Work and Fun Are Distinct:
For many people work is something different from life, something superfluous, something that you should get rid of as soon as possible to have more time for fun. Many worker and employees, spend their weekdays working with a very dark mood, dreaming a weekend full of fun. If they had choice, they would not work at all. Work and fun must become one. One should convince himself that to live is to work and to work is to live. Life is lived through work, not through rest. No matter how boring the work is, we still can enjoy it if we want. The problem is not the boredom of the work. The real problem is our attitude towards work. We don't consider work as part of life, but as something extra, something that we are forced to undertake to make money. If we cast away this view and consider work as a tool through which the beauty of life is expressed, no matter how boring it is, we will enjoy it! Any work, even the most boring ones,  brings action and action brings harmony to the mind and body. If this harmony attended by a positive view and mental attitude, it becomes a perfect and refreshing exercise! Life is a continues stream of needs which prompt for action. Never will be a time in which we are exempt from work. Never will be any joy in a life without work. So give up the idea of finishing things up to take a break as it will never finish! Besides, taking long breaks and lying idly somewhere, really does not make us feel better. Human is intended for work and idle spending time, only adds to our boredom. Taking break must include work, though of a different kind for the sake of diversity.

Illusion #2. Necessity of Something Else:
People often say: 'My life becomes happier if I own a car and house', 'My problem is that I have no girlfriend, as soon as I get engaged, I'll live a cheerful life', 'I need to get that job, then I'll be all right', .. In all these statements, the person thinks that he will feel better if he acquires some particular thing. But it is a well known experience that as soon as that thing is acquired, the person will long for something else that he doest have yet. It is the nature of mind that it glorifies what is not present and despises what is present. We always think that salvation lies in something that we don't posses. People who don't have car will long for car. When they attain the car they'll long for a more expensive one, then they long for a summer house ... There is no ending to this craving. It has nothing to do with the desired object, it is the 'something else-ness' that attracts the mind. One day I noticed that I have a very strong desire to travel to some other city, while the target city was much worse than the current one in terms of the quality of life. It was the 'otherness' of the target city which was enticing me! We must deliberately stop this craving by knowing its uselessness and unreality. We must learn to be happy with what we are and where we are. We have many things which others are dreaming for, so what are we grieving for!? Otherwise this craving will go on and on and takes over our whole life. 

Illusion #3: We Must Grief When Encountering a Problem:
We feel frustrated when something happens that we don't want, and feel happy when something happens that we like. There is absolutely no reason for these feelings! We can encounter any event without a bit of anger or happiness! Suppose you go to a martial art class and the master, in order to strengthen you, beats you on the stomach. You won't become angry and humiliated. You may even feel positive and developed. But if a bully beats you on the stomach in the street, you become very angry. The event is the same in both cases, being hit on the stomach, but its mental effect is different in each case due to our attitude. Our mind is programmed to consider this event positive, constructive and normal in the martial art class, and the same event is considered negative and hostile in the street setting. That means how an event affects our mind has nothing to do with the event itself, but with how our mind is programmed to react to it. Who programmed our minds this way? the answer: society. Our society taught us that in a martial art class it is ok for people to be beaten up. This fact is planted into our subconsciousness through many repetition and constant observation of this fact. The same for being hit in the street. Now we can deliberately program our mind to take both cases positive and remain calm. By means of auto suggestion and constant thinking, we can learn to remain undisturbed even when someone hits us on the stomach and react based on wisdom, rather than a sentimental and impulsive anger. Hard it is, but it is worth it!

Illusion #4: Other People Have Something Special
Many of us think that other people are special, are much more successful, are much ahead. Mr A and I are classmates. We are not friends. I hardly noticed him. One day I see him coming off the car with his girlfriend. One week later someone tells me that Mr A and his friends went to a camp. I have no other observation about Mr A which caught my attention. Based on these two observations my mind makes an imaginary picture of Mr A: "a successful and outdoor man who has many female contacts and many friends. He always has girls in his car and he's camping all the time!" This phenomenon is called 'jealousy'. This is a mental disease. It is an illusion. The mind with this illusion make a superior picture of people based on a few snapshots from their lives. Mr A has many defeats and weaknesses, but they were not included in those snapshots that I saw from him. So jealousy is the child of ignorance. It makes me burn in the fire of jealousy and adopt Mr A as my role model. I begin to imitate his behaviour and degrade my own nature. Next day I see another person, Mr B who is wearing an expensive cloth and he tells me that he is off to the stock market. Again my diseased mind makes an imaginary Mr B: "he is rich, successful, he's in a know about money and stock, he is a winner, I'm a loser!" We may overcome this illness by the knowledge that these imaginary people are not real, that the real Mr A and Mr B have many weaknesses that we are not aware of, that we have some strength that they don't have and possibly we had some glorious snapshots in our lives too. We must learn that we are all equal and we must focus on our own natural growth rather than imitating our imaginary heros.

The Most Valuable One

A teacher gave to his student three similar dolls in the form of human and asked him: "Tell me which one is the most valuable one". The student was puzzled as these dolls were exactly the same in shape, size, colour, ... He couldn't find any distinction between any two of them. He confessed to his teacher "O teacher, they all look the same to me, I see no difference between them to indicate any superiority or inferiority". The master gave him a thin twig and ordered him to stick it in the ear hole of one the dolls. The student did so and it came out of the doll's other ear's hole. The master said "this is a man who forgets whatever he hears". Having said this, he ordered his student to put this doll aside and take another one and perform the same action. This time the twig came out of the doll's mouth. The master said: "This is a man who reveals to anyone whatever he hears". Then the student took the last doll and repeated the same process, the twig did not come out of anywhere at all. "This is a man" the master said "who keeps in his heart, whatever he hears. He is wise, he is the most valuable one." 

No Job is Small!

"To action alone have you a right and never at all to its fruits. Let not the fruit of action be your motive, neither let there be in you any attachment to inaction" Bhagavad Gita 2:47
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

At the end of a lecture on wisdom and self-realisation, A disciple addressed the master:

Disciple: You speak words about wisdom and still I think you are far from it! All of you, wise men, saints, philosophers, yogis, sophists, only talk! You make no contribution to the society but a bulk of poems and empty words! Compared to the businessmen and scientists who built hospitals, roads, cars and wonderful buildings, whom without them no patient shall heal, no parcel arrives, no child is delivered, what did you do then? Which part of body do you heal? which problem did you solve? I ask, do you poets, sophists, yogis, wise men, served the community better, or intellectuals like Einstein, Edison, and many mores who laid down the foundation of our civilisation?

Master: Have you heard the story of the flower boy?

Disciple: No!

Master: So listen, there was once a young man, dreaming of becoming an engineer, but the difficulties in his path left him with no hope and courage. One day, when returning back from his workplace, depressed and angry as usual, he felt like crying. Then he saw a boy selling flowers. The boy offered him a rose: "one smile for each rose!" the boy said. "what are these for?" the young man asked. "These are the roses of happiness and life. I go to the wilderness cheerfully every morning to pick them up, so take one cheerfully from me and give it to the person you like the most and ask that person to do so". The young man picked a rose with a faint smile and departed and miraculously, he began to feel better! He took the rose to work everyday and it always made him smile and sometimes even laugh! He started to work better and gained more courage and confident. In the later years his small workshop turned to a big factory with many workers and employees, producing many different products which the people of the city needed a lot. He turned to a very prolific man and that rose, was always sitting on his table. Now I asked you my dear student, who is the hero here?
Any action we do, impacts some people who, in their turn, may impact other people and this way, many interlaced chains of impacts and influences emerge out of a single action and infiltrate deep into the community and influence many people. The direct consequence of any action is only the tip of the iceberg and the much bigger consequences of our actions are hidden beneath the layers of the society. But since this 'tip of iceberg' is the most visible part, for many people it is the basis for judging how great the action is. The direct consequence of the flower boy business was the faint smiles of some occasional pedestrians. But in the next level these smiles may transfigure into inspiration and courage for these people and they may perform actions with much more significant fruits, like what the young man in our story did. So no action is small and no action is big. In the light of this knowledge, it seems that in a long run everyone, a flower boy, a poet, a wanderer, an ordinary householder, a toilet cleaner as well as scientists like Einstein and Edison and CEOs like the young man in our story, all have an equal share in establishing the welfare and civilisation. For in the lives of all these great famous heros, many other people contributed. Which people contributed to Einstein's welfare and education, which people had part, directly and indirectly in inspiring J.K Rowling to write her famous Harry Potter books, which people served as role models for great politicians who authored the history, the lives and actions of which people influenced Edison and turned him to an stubborn and invincible investigator? We get a long list of forgotten heros who never received any credit for the fruit in which they had part. History gives all the credits to only one person, usually the one who was the closest to the fruit, the one who did the final kick which knocked the ball into the goal. But in reality the whole team should be scored. No one can claim for himself or herself alone, any credit for any fruit, even if it has come directly out of his or her mind! We all have an equal share in any result!

Disciple: How then, one may make decision to do something, as no one can keep track of this manifold chains of cause and effect? What should guide us in deciding whether to take this action or that action when it is so impossible to predict the consequence of our actions, when our actions are so mixed with others and the fruit is unknown? It is like shooting in the darkness!

Master: The true measure of action is the intention of the doer, not its fruit at all. We must do our best to contribute to the welfare of the world with a pure heart. This is the right intention which channel the consequences of our action in the right paths and we bear magnificent fruits that we may not even be aware of! We are only rings in the chain of actions and fruits. We have no control over the things that we should do and over the way that they should yield results. Thus we can have no claim on our actions. But our intention and attitude is entirely up to us. That is what we have perfect control over. That is what we are judged by. The action and its consequences will be dissolved in the nature, but the good and pure intention of the doer goes to God and never perishes. The roses of the flower boy shall return to him again. The young man in our story was only one of those who were inspired by his roses. The business empire of the young man is a but a small part of the boy's vast empire of love and purity.

What shows us the way

While traveling cross the desert, the boy said to his father:

Boy: How can we find our way cross this desert? What does show us the way?
Father: The sun shows us the way, for by the light of the sun we find the path, walk along it and arrive at the destination.
Boy: When the sun has set, what does then show us the way?
Father: The moon then shows us the way, for by the light of the moon we find the path, walk along it and arrive at the destination.
Boy: When the sun has set and the moon has set too, what does then show us the way?
Father: Fire then shows us the way, for by the light of fire we find the path, walk along it and arrive at the destination.
Boy: When the sun has set, and the moon has set, and the fire has gone out, what does then show us the way?
Father: Sound then shows us the way, for by hearing the sounds we find the path, walk along it and arrive at the destination.
Boy: When the sun has set, and the moon has set, and the fire has gone out, and no sound is heard, what does then show us the way?
Father: God then shows us the way, for by God alone we find the path, walk along it and arrive at the destination.