Pranayama Breathing, a primer for those without a shimmer and an introduction into the incredible…
The following article focuses the relief from back pain – particularly lower back pain – on an incredibly simple method of breathing, whose name is Pranayama. The Harvard University Medical School, some years ago, undertook to bring a number of Pranayama breathers into their research labs to see what the fuss was all about. The results of their studies astonished everyone: first of all, Harvard doing such a study at all was remarkable and next, the results were even more so: the examining physicians concluded Pranayama was “the platinum credit card of health”.
I am going to pass along a shimmer, the briefest outline of how to change your life with the repetition of a single syllable, it is actually three syllables, since the first two are ones you say while you are exhaling and the last one is a sound you imagine you are saying, but cannot really, because you are inhaling through your nose while you think of yourself as uttering it. Though there can be no actual utterance while one inhales through one or both nostrils, the sound is very much present in the minds and bodies of those who breathe in this way. The three-part syllable is the ‘sacred’ syllable, Aum!
Yoga, by all those who misconceive it as a mystic practice — at worst as humbug, and at best a screwy set of self-hypnotic thoughts leading people to believe things are getting better when in fact they are getting worse – you are getting old and will die! Yogis know and respect this too, but there is more. Go on, surprise me… What I have to say concerning this is that yoga is quite simple, highly physical and very effective.
The problem I have with a poo-poo mode of thinking about yoga breathing is my practical experience with it: saying Aum has made it perfectly plain to me there is no mysticism involved at all. Pranayama is a physical manner of breathing, one that brings all of the outrageous benefits with it that the yogis claim it has. It does!
What I have written here so far is a simple fact: to breathe while saying Aum in the manner detailed below will change your life for the better and what is more, the more you practice this sort of breathing with a passion shaped by your own lively intelligence, the more obvious it will becomes that enlightenment is an inevitable event for the whole of mankind if only people would stop to bend, breathe and listen.
Starting with the subject in the title: Not only do lower back pains disappear as you align the vertebrae from the base of your spine to the nape of your neck but so do all the rest. The nadir of your exhalations are as effective in making you whole as are the peaks of inhalation. The skeleton is newly shaped and made; what had been a spine with pinched nerves becomes the Sushumna – the product of a stream of breath that replaces the natural body (cranky, filled with aches and pains, lumbago, you name it) with a body quite as physical as it was before but now integrated fully as a functioning whole, enlightened, luminous: without the practice of enlightened breathing, the Sushumna, quite simply, can never come to be. In this sense, then precisely, it is mystic.
Okay, I promised myself to keep this simple, so I will! What follows are some brief instructions. They are the beginnings of how to breathe in such a way as to experience what the yogis call “Samadhi”, the super-conscious state. What makes it super-conscious is not only does one notice things most people let slide but one’s very breathing itself becomes a conscious process; rather than one’s autonomic nervous system controlling one’s breathing one, as it were ‘leaps in’ and becomes a part of the operation so that one’s breathing is breathing and a new form of consciousness all at once.
Lie on your back on the floor. If the floor is of wood or stone, put a four-folded blanket down to cushion you. If it is summer, you can lie on your back in the grass and, after having inhaled as fully as you can, start exhaling from your belly and let it fall as far as it will go. When you do this, what is happening is that your diaphragm rises to the top of your solar plexus. When your belly can fall no further and the diaphragm has reached the limit of its ascent, switch over to your chest muscles, contracting them to compress your chest continuing the process of compressing your lungs. Let your belly and your chest compress completely. What results from these coordinated independent actions is your lungs have contracted until virtually all the air they contained is gone. Hold the air out for a moment or two, keeping your chest fully contracted.
Now, to let air back in, keep your belly compressed and let the air enter your chest first. Your chest will rise from the top to let in a fresh draft of air. When your expanding chest muscles stretch your ribcage out as far as it will go, the process of inhalation will cause your diaphragm to sink and, continuing to expand your chest, you will feel like the cobra Mucilinda spreading its hood; you will feel the air inside you forming a firm column. Once you get past the creaks you feel in the beginning, this turns into a very enjoyable experience! Exhaling from your belly again, you proceed in the two distinct steps (belly contracting first, your chest next and last) until all the air is all expelled from your body. Then you repeat the cycle.
In the beginning, you will notice a “hitch” when you exhale, a kind of stop in the flow of breathing out. What this is, is the transition from your abdominal muscles to your chest muscles pressing the remaining air out of your lungs. It is an unaccustomed muscular transition except when you are panting so hard your concentration is on catching your breath with no attention left over for how you should do it. The stop, the hitch in this muscular transition will disappear with practice; at first, it will drive you nuts until you get the hang of it. The way to smooth the transition from contracting your abdominal muscles to contracting your chest muscles working smoothly together to force the air up and out of your lungs, is to say, “Aaah” when you pull your belly muscles up and in, “Oooh” (pronounced like “you” but without the “y”) when you start adding your chest muscles to the push, down and out from your belly to the top of your chest. Then, with the syllable “mmm” in your mind, let your chest relax as air rushes back into your lungs from the top of your chest to the bottom of your belly, expanding as widely and as far as it will go. Do not worry! Practicing in this way will allow you to breathe fully; it is a definite improvement over taking superficial gulps of air into your chest. Why do this? Why not just breathe unconsciously?
The first effect of breathing this way is it eliminates lower back pains from your life forever! Why? Lower back pain is the result of a passive relationship superficial breathing forces you into with respect to your lower back (the lumbar region). When you breathe fully, exhaling from the belly, you put subtle pressure on the spine starting at the bottom of your spinal chord and ending (when you have mastered this sort of breathing) at the brain stem, also known as “the brain’s brain”. Deep breaths, in other words, massages the spine completely with every breath you take. When you have exhaled completely and then stretch your spine upwards, you will discover that the bones that were out of line in the spinal column will automatically slip into place. Not only are lower back pains history, so are pains in the rest of your spine up to and including your neck. Imagine! Full cycles of breathing massage the spine. They activate and serve to regulate the autonomic nervous system. Such respiration stimulates the spine and all its nerves. The positive results of this are easy to imagine.
You can breathe in this manner anytime you like, any time you have sufficient leisure: in the train, driving a car, sitting in a boring meeting. With steady practice, unnecessary pains become outdated with a nervous system that has come to life.
Breathing is well worth celebration. It is what your secret self did when you smoked only now you can do it openly. Celebrate, but please not with a cigarette!