Anxiety is something most people go through almost as a matter of course, on a regular basis. There are degrees of severity, however, and based on this psychiatrists have classified them into three types, namely general anxiety, phobias and panic disorder. Some amount of anxiety we are told is actually a good thing because it acts as an alarm when danger is close. However, if you are always anxious about everything and nothing and anxious about being anxious on top of that, then it is a vicious cycle, which can impair your normal day-to-day functioning.
Whatever the case, be it phobia, panic or general anxiety, there are implications for the person’s social, emotional well being and in some cases even their physical well being.
One of the ways in which anxiety can be managed is through the regular practice of pranayama.
Pranayama is an age-old technique developed by the Yogis of ancient India as the key to inner wellness. Pranayama is the technique of breath manipulation to achieve desired levels of emotional and physical wellness. Yogis often say, “Breath is key”. Well, key to what? While the body is a tangible entity, the mind for most of us is an abstraction. That is to say, it is not as easy to become aware of the mind, as it is to become aware of the body. The breath is therefore, the bridge that connects body and mind. Becoming aware of your breath then, is key to becoming aware of your mind.
Consider this: when you are angry or upset, observe your breath. You will notice that your breath is guided by the emotion – there is a distinct shortness of breath when it is associated with anger. Similarly when you are upset, you feel a lump in your throat and so on. It follows logically therefore that if your breath can bear testimony to your mental state, then your breath can also be used to alter your mental state. Your breath can guide your emotions. This is precisely where pranayama can be invaluable.
At its worst, pranayama is a tool that can change your mental state, alter negative thought patterns, and create an environment of wellness in body and mind. At its best, it can bestow upon the practitioner enlightenment.
The word pranayama is derived from two words, prana, meaning life force and ayama meaning to lengthen or expand. Yogis assert that prana is the energy of the breath, not the breath itself that pervades the body. Breathing, an involuntary action can be made voluntary through the practice of pranayama. That is, the part of the brain that controls our breathing is the primitive brain or brain stem. This control can be shifted to the frontal lobe through the sustained practice of pranayama, so that it is no longer a mechanical activity, but a conscious one.
The point here is two-fold: 1.The next time you feel an emotion rise up in your chest or throat, take your awareness to your breath. You will find yourself calming down very quickly and your body relaxing along with that. 2.Your breath is your best ally, so learn to use it to your advantage. Try pranayama.
Start with a simple practice. Sit in your favorite seat and take your awareness to your breath at the nostrils. Notice the normal, natural movement of breath. Keep your awareness on this for a few minutes, maybe five or ten. Spend these precious five minutes everyday for the next ten days simply watching your breath. Then add another dimension: namely visualization. As you breathe, you become aware of the movement of your abdomen in tune with your breath. As you inhale, feel your abdomen expanding and moving outward, simultaneously visualize sparks of light rising up along the spine. As you exhale, feel the abdomen contracting and moving inward, and visualize the sparks of light falling, again, along the spine. Do this a few times and when you stop sit with your eyes closed and notice the effects of your practice. You will be surprised at how brilliant you feel. Besides, the extra oxygen will make the brain and muscles function optimally.
The rationale behind the visualization is that prana, if you can actually see it, will look like sparks of light. Prana is light. So the visualization of prana permeates the body with light energy. It is a healing visualization; moreover, it keeps the mind engaged with something as vital as life force. Your breath is life. But more than that, the energy of your breath, that is prana, is the cosmic light that pervades everything.