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.

neeta-meditating

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.

drkumar_smiling

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.

TYsummer_retreat

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.

 

Why teens (+ all) still need yoga in a mindful world

Teen yoga - boy and girl

Mindfulness has eased its way into modern life, from cleaning your teeth before work to strolling along a beach on holiday.

Children can learn to mindfully eat a raisin (or even a chunk of chocolate – ssh!) for their mental wellbeing.

Stressed out execs have an excuse to return to their childhood crayons to mindfully colour-in a drawing.

Even MPs are minding themselves in Parliament, though you may think ‘more work is needed’ on seeing Prime Minister’s questions.

So if mindfulness is so great (and it is), then why do yoga? And why introduce the practice into schools where mindfulness is spreading further?

Experts debated this at the Instill 2016 conference on education, yoga and wellbeing held in London this month.

What’s the difference between mindfulness and yoga?

Mindfulness came to prominence in 1979 when US emeritus professor of medicine Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the mindfulness-based stress reduction programme.

He says: ‘Mindfulness practice means we commit fully in each moment to be present.’

Yoga’s exact age is less clear but it is widely thought to date back 5,000 years. It includes posture practice, breath work, meditation and personal guidance/observances relating to qualities such as non-competitiveness and non-violence.

The sage Patanjali, who wrote the formative Yoga Sutras, said:

‘Yoga is a stilling of the fluctuations of the mind’ (or in Sanskrit: Yogas Citta Vrtti Nirodhah).

Teenyoga arms

But they still sound kind of similar?

Sat Bir Khalsa thinks so too. Dr Khalsa is assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a leading researcher in yoga therapy. He says traditional yoga, without a doubt, incorporates mindfulness.

He told the Instill conference, organised by the Teen Yoga Foundation, that the techniques of meditation are almost identical to mindfulness. ‘You focus your attention in a relaxed manner and mind wandering goes,’ he said.

Why bother with yoga at all?

Because people who just practice mindfulness have missed a trick – to engage the body. Dr Khalsa says the body contributes to cognitive functioning.

This view is supported by many including US leading neuroscientist and child psychiatrist Dan Siegel who believes the focus involved in mindful movement – or yoga – helps to integrate the brain and enable reasoned decision making.

While Dr Khalsa says the benefits of yoga include –

• improved respiratory function, coordination and balance
• ability to self-regulate emotions
• mindfulness or awareness
• Giving life purpose.

Teen yoga wheels

But can’t schoolchildren just do gymnastics?

It’s not the same, says Heather Mason, founder of the Minded Institute. She is leading a call to get yoga on the school curriculum – with over 400 letters sent to MPs urging them to support an early day motion on this. She has presented on this issue to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Indian Traditional Sciences.

The yoga therapist told Instill that mindfulness is an inherent part of yoga, as otherwise postures are just stretching (or gymnastics). She added that controlled breathing and movement helps students to sit in meditation. This allows more prefrontal cortex activation (the reasoning part of the brain).

So, mindfulness or yoga?

Both have their place. Yoga covers mindfulness too though. Or as Ingunn Hagen, a professor of psychology in Norway, offered to the debate: ‘Why focus on just our head? We are doing enough of that in our universities.’

Take mindful action

Write a letter to your MP supporting the call to get yoga in the school curriculum and the NHS.

Interested in teen yoga? I am an accredited teen yoga teacher – email me via ‘connect’ below for class details. Or find a teen yoga teacher via Teen Yoga, the UK’s fully accredited teen yoga and mindfulness training course.

Find out more about the Teen Yoga Foundation.

With thanks to Teen Yoga for the images.