Meditation: how your breath can reap benefits

Meditation pose

Do you want to remove negative thought patterns and be calm, mindful and able to stay in the present?

You’re not alone. It sounds pretty ideal, hey?

The meditation technique Prana Samyama, which involves focusing on the natural breath, offers all of this.

Our natural breath reflects our emotional, mental and physical state at any given moment. For example, have you ever noticed how your breath becomes short and fast when anxious? 

The breath is connected to the body and to the conscious and unconscious minds. The unconscious mind is where the ego, our reactions/habits reside.

By observing the uncontrolled breath at the entrance of the nostrils, you can learn to live in the present moment and experience a state of harmony.

This method was taught by Buddha, and in the present time by yoga and meditation master Dr ALV Kumar in India.

It also has the potential to remove stored stress or negative thought patterns. This happens by the conscious mind neutrally observing the fluctuations in the unconscious mind. These reactions are reflected in the breath.  Doing this in a state of calm, objective awareness results in profound and permanent long-term changes.

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Neeta Madahar is a senior meditation teacher with Traditional Yoga, a voluntary organisation which trains teachers and runs courses to teach this technique.

Here she explains its impact.

Why should people practise Prana Samyama?

There are lots of meditations available which work with the conscious mind, giving people the ability to develop concentration, reduce stress and become more relaxed.

This technique does all of these things. But it goes further by working with the unconscious mind, as well as the conscious mind.

Prana Samyama meditation also does not condition the mind to become attracted and therefore attached to a meditation object, like a mantra. With its focus on awareness of the natural breath, there is no liking or disliking created. There is only a choiceless awareness of the present changing reality, as manifested by each unique breath.

This objective meditation strengthens the conscious mind at the same time as deconditioning the unconscious mind.

How did you discover this technique?

I have been meditating on mantras from a young age thanks to my mother and religious upbringing as a Hindu.

Although I found that I was getting the relaxation, problem-solving and concentration benefits of these devotional meditations, my negative habits and thought patterns weren’t changing. 

In 2009, I met Anna Bhushan, an illustrator and senior teacher and volunteer with Traditional Yoga, at an art exhibition in London where we were both exhibiting. Anna and I felt an immediate connection.

Two years later, we met up again, talking more deeply about meditation and Anna’s teacher Dr Kumar, who was coming to London to run a two-day yoga workshop.

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I attended the workshop and was so impressed by Dr Kumar’s wealth of knowledge and his genuine humility that I enrolled onto a silent meditation retreat with him in India in December 2011. There, I learnt and practised the Prana Samyama technique, and continued on my return home.

Describe your personal practice?

It has changed over the course of the last five years. For the first three years, I meditated for one hour in the morning and another hour later in the day. This pattern eventually shifted to one daily two-hour session.  

I also attend Dr Kumar’s meditation retreats twice a year to strengthen and deepen my practice.

What have been the benefits to you of practising this method?

I have seen an evolution in my behaviour and personality. For example, I used to get angry and irritated about lots of things, even though I could keep these feelings under wraps most of the time.

Now the intensity and frequency of getting annoyed has dramatically decreased. I also get over things more quickly because the triggers for my anger having substantially weakened. 

I’ve also become more compassionate, have a greater awareness about things and see situations from different perspectives so don’t jump to conclusions as quickly. I am also less restless and more patient. 

These changes in entrenched behaviour patterns have been enough of a motivation for me to persevere with my practice. It’s not been five years of bliss, light and no problems. But there’s been enough of a revolution in my personality for me to be committed to this technique.

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What obstacles – or challenges – have you had to overcome in your own practice?

Restlessness. You may expect meditation to be a blissed out experience. While this can and does sometimes happen, it’s not all that frequent. This is when motivation and persistence is crucial.

It can be hard when going through a protracted period of difficulty. But whatever a meditation session is like, I don’t judge the experience nor do I have expectations anymore.

I just see my practice as something I have to do in the morning like having a shower or cleaning my teeth. I don’t overthink it or procrastinate, but see it as the driver for everything to work properly in my life – my relationships, my work… all that I do.

What advice would you give to students encountering difficulties or doubts over this meditation method?

If you’re experiencing difficulties, don’t give up. Challenges happen and are a normal part of the meditation journey.

• Sit with the restlessness, the boredom, the doubts, the sadness, essentially whatever comes up – the sensations are impermanent, they are rising to pass
• Meditate with other people too whenever possible as that helps strengthen your practice
• Share any difficulties about meditation with fellow meditators – chances are they’ve experienced the same problems and can help.

Book your meditation course

Register now for a Traditional Yoga meditation course run by Flavia in north-east London

Find out more about Traditional Yoga courses, retreats and training

Visit Neeta’s Yoga Cafe on Facebook

With thanks to Traditional Yoga for the images.

 

How to survive the three peaks 24-hour challenge

Ben Nevis halfway

Clinging to loose mountain rock amid gale-force winds, I looked to my friend Karen and thought: ‘what have you done?’

It’s always good in a crisis to find someone to blame.

Then I laughed, picked myself up, wobbling like a floating astronaut, and was guided down to a place of (relative) safety.

It was Karen’s idea to climb the UK’s three highest mountain peaks – Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon- in 24 hours. Most people opt for a party or weekend break for their 40th birthday ‘treat’ – but not this one. Myself and our mutual friend Clare were foolish (or brave?) enough to join her on this ‘Life Changing Challenges’ charity event.

Ben Nevis – battling ‘The Ben’

Our stroll began in earnest at 2.20pm on an unusually windy summer Saturday (even for Scotland). From here, we began the 1,345m-ascent of Ben Nevis. It began with us stripping off layers as we sweated under the heat of the sun (yes!). It ended with us attempting a ‘summit selfie’ in what weather forecasters would describe as poor visibility, with a woolly hat and 100 per cent waterproof hood not being sufficient cover (in August).

Scafell Pike summit

Scafell Pike – where’s the summit?

Next up (after a short nap in transit on our minibus) was Scafell Pike (978m) in the Lake District. The place to be, it appeared by the crowds, at 3.20am on a Sunday morning. With rave lights, or rather head-torches, we set off up the stone steps and ascended the gravelly ground and rocks to reach the top around day-break.
This was my bleakest mountain. I was close to tears on summiting. This was the result of a mixture of exhaustion and being left alone, unable to see the summit (an unusual occurrence on this challenge and rectified by local guides on the descent). Karen and I also grouped together from then on, despite months ago saying we’d all ‘do our own thing’. This made the experience much better.

Snowdon summit

Snowdon – are we nearly there yet?

This is a frequent question on this challenge to which our brilliant guide, Dave, always responded: ‘I don’t like to lie, so can’t answer that’. At least on Snowdon, last up (a mere 1,345m up, in fact), we knew the end was near if not in sight. This was the most attractive ascent, in my opinion, but that may be more due to the fact I could see the beautiful surroundings due to daylight combined with a bit of sun. It was a scramble to the top, quick photo ‘finish’ and then the long, misty ascent. Knees suffering (even with the aid of walking poles), we did it – and cracked open the fizz at the first opportunity! I finished in just over 25 hours, a proud achievement.

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Top tips

Expect the unexpected

It’s so British to go on about the weather, but that was my biggest challenge. I expected sleep deprivation to be the biggest problem. I didn’t expect brilliant sunshine, but you can’t anticipate that it will be Scotland’s windiest summer’s day since records began!

Food is your fuel

It sounds pretty obvious but when you’re trying to press on and avoid the weather, it’s easy to forget to eat or drink. I failed to do so often enough, and I should know better as I used to be a long-distance runner. Eat or drink something small each hour. Choose food you like. I was lucky enough to have a friend bake a selection of yummy healthy snacks for me. See how to bake them on the other blog.

Snowdon descent

Moment by moment

All you can do is put one foot in front of the other and repeat. And repeat. And again. It’s best not to think too much about far you have yet to go.

Let it out

When there’s a loo, use it. You never know when the next one is coming, and time is always of the essence. The same for tears/frustration – another emotional challenge will come soon enough so let this one go.

Lean on me

If the willpower is faltering, it is your friends who will get you to the top. Agree to either post a Facebook/Twitter update after each summit, or use a WhatsApp group or SnapChat. The feedback from your friends will power you on.
Similarly, put together some power anthems for those low points – if that’s your thing.

One of the nicest things about doing this challenge is that our trio have been in constant contact for months. We all live in different parts of the UK but we’ve been chatting online about hopes and fears for the challenge, and also supporting each other in our everyday highs and lows. I probably won’t climb the equivalent of a marathon in 24 hours for my 40th but I’m glad I did it – and with these determined two friends.

We raised £2,895 for our chosen charities, Mind, the Lullaby Trust and the Brain Tumour Charity.

Fancy completing your own challenge? Check out Life Changing Challenges.

Recipes for sporting success

Flapjacks and energy balls

Food is your fuel and your friend on any endurance challenge.

That bite of a tasty sweet snack is a much-needed boost, physically and emotionally, up a mountain – whatever your mode of transport.

And if you have a foodie friend on hand, then you’re already a winner!

I was lucky to have such a friend supply the energy snacks for my challenge to climb the UK’s three highest peaks in 24 hours.

Here my recipe writer friend Lucy Battersby, who trained at Leiths School of Food and Wine, shares her recipes for successful summiting. I’d highly recommend them – yum!

Power boost bars

140g light soft brown sugar
3 tbsp golden syrup
140g butter
250g rolled oats
85g raisins
85g walnuts, chopped
50g pumpkin seeds
25g dried cranberries
50g dates, finely chopped

1. Heat oven to 160C/fan 140C/Gas 3. Put the sugar, syrup and butter in a pan over a low heat until the sugar and butter and both melted. Stir in the oats, raisins, walnuts, seeds and cranberries.

2. Spoon half the mix into a baking tin (about 20 x 20cm). Scatter over the dates then top with the remaining oaty mix. Pack down the mixture well (rolling a tin over works well for this – just whatever you have in the cupboard). Bake for 35 mins or until dark golden.

3. Leave to cool completely before cutting into bars.

Lucy and recipes

Energy balls

100g pecans
75g raisins
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp ground almonds
1tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp runny honey
30g desiccated coconut

1. Put the pecans in a food processor and blitz to crumbs. Add the raisins, peanut butter, ground almonds, cocoa powder and honey, and pulse to combine.

2. Shape the mixture into small balls and roll in the desiccated coconut. Put in the fridge to firm for 20 minutes.

Follow Lucy on Twitter @foodielucy or Instagram