HJ: Oxygen is the fuel for higher life forms on this planet and it is also the ultimate medicine. We often take it for granted as it is simply a fact of life and this is further enforced by the fact that breathing is largely an unconscious process for most people. However, when we become of conscious of the process of breathing and begin to work with the breath using powerful ancient practices such as pranayama (described in this article), we can experience profound personal transformation and the healing of even supposedly ‘incurable’ diseases. Most people live in a constant state of chronic oxygen starvation due to a prevalence of unconscious, shallow breathing. Just stop right now and observe your breathing. Where you even aware of it? Now take a deep breath. Now don’t stop taking deep breaths. You could actually live like this. Sure, it would take some getting used to as we have entire lifetimes of shallow, unconscious breathing habits to reverse, but I promise you this: the benefits of doing so are beyond your wildest dreams. Awareness and expansion of breath is a very powerful route to personal transformation of the mind, body, and spirit in one fell swoop. Write yourself notes and set reminders. Learn how to breath deeply, always.
Joy’s story below is just one illustration of the profound power and healing potential of conscious breathing in accordance with ancient pranayama practices.
How an Ancient Science of Breathing Healed My “Uncurable” Disorder
By Joy Sydney Williams | JoySydneyWilliams.com
The last thing I remembered was staring at the needle that was filling up with my own blood before everything went black, and I slipped into a dream-like state. I had passed out in the doctor’s office during a simple blood test, and I felt extremely weak and embarassed. At 13 years old, I received bad news from the doctor’s further examination: I had a heart arrythmia, an irregular heartbeat that could be caused by many things. He didn’t see the need for more tests since I was otherwise healthy, but that day was a warning for me that my body was not as strong as I believed it to be.
Within a year or so from that day, the first attack struck me on my way to school. I was in a hurry because I was worried that I was going to be late for my first class, and I had to walk nearly 3 city blocks to get there everyday. I had been under a lot of stress from moving across the country to a new school where police officers were in our cafeteria and friends attempted suicide during school hours – things that were unheard of in my previous, small, private school. Added to that was a tense home environment, and I was trying to push myself to excel anyway in the middle of it all. I was half walking and half running when suddenly the world came crashing down onto my heart. I stopped walking and bent over because it felt like I couldn’t breathe. My heart was pounding so hard that it created pain in my chest, and I wondered if it was possible that a teenager could have a heart attack. After much effort, I was able to catch a few sharp breaths to stop myself from blacking out. There was nothing I could do but wait, breathing slowly and carefully, hoping my heart would slow down again, and after five minutes it finally did. When I told somone about it later, they thought it was just a minor panic attack and told me I shouldn’t worry about it, so I tried to forget it. But that didn’t make it go away.
For the next 6 years I lived in fear, because every time I felt that I was in a highly stressful situation my heart would go on a rampage, beating uncontrollably and stopping my breath. I learned to manage it by forcefully holding my breath until my heart ran out of steam, since without sufficient air to fuel it, my heart couldn’t beat anymore and it was forced to slow down. I would feel my heart “slip out of gear” painfully this way, and I hated it…but it worked. My hope was always that each attack would be the last one, and that maybe if I ignored it, then it would go away on its own.
At age 22, I saw a psychologist for various problems I was having. One day the subject of my panic attacks came up, and when I described them to her, she diagnosed it as a type of post-traumatic stress syndrome. She explained there was no cure, but she suggested I take medication for it; I refused, even though the attacks were growing more frequent, because of the extra expenses involved and possible side effects. It sounded like this problem was just another thing I would learn to live with.
My life took a turn for the better when in the next six months, I began taking yoga classes with an excellent, certified Iyengar yoga teacher in India. I loved the way I felt after class; an inner strength began building up inside of me as a result, although the panic attacks still happened ocassionally. My yoga teacher was very happy with my progress and invited me to come and visit the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune. The most exciting part of the trip was meeting B.K.S. Iyengar and reading in his library this revolutionary information: heart arrythmias and PTSD have been cured through the practice of pranayama alone. There was a cure- and it had been tested on others!
“Pranayama” refers to a wide variety of ancient yogic breathing techniques, and I’d learned beginner’s pranayama in a few classes; however, I hadn’t practiced pranayama daily. In the Iyengar tradition, first one reclines on a bolster and pillow to open the chest and promote relaxation of the breath through belly-breathing; it’s a preparation for more advanced breathing practices. Only after practicing yoga postures are students introduced to pranayama, and everything is done under strict supervision since pranayama can be harmful if done in the wrong way.
With my new inspiration to heal myself, I religously practiced my basic beginner’s breathing practices everyday as I’d been taught. With just 20 minutes a day, I reached new levels of relaxation and my breathing throughout the day became easier as I learned to breathe more completely. In just one month the symptoms reduced and attacks became less frequent! After one year, I had only 1 mild attack in the whole year. The following year I realized that I was finally free! Supported by an hour of meditation and yoga postures daily, my attacks are now a fading memory – the incurable was cured by the healing power of prana alone.
How is such healing possible?
“Prana” is a Sanskrit term that refers to the fundamental force that creates and sustains all life in the universe. The relationship of prana to our bodies is described well by Ayurvedic doctor David Frawley:
“…prana or vital energy is a modification of the air element, primarily the oxygen we breathe that allows us to live in the physical world. Yet as air originates in ether or space, prana arises in space and remains closely connected to it. Wherever we create space, there energy or prana must rise automatically. Air and space, energy and space, and energy and mind, which is a kind of space, remain closely linked and cannot be separated.” (excerpt from “Yoga & Ayurveda” by David Frawley)
Indian Ayurvedic science also explains that we have several sheaths, or energy fields, around our bodies. The “pranamaya kosha” is the subtle sheath around our bodies that links our body and mind, where emotions can be stored as well. It’s the vital connection between our physical and higher subtle levels of existence, and this sheath gets purified and healed through the breathing techniques of pranayama. Any changes in the pranic fields of a person automatically affect the health of the phsyical body as well, and many alternative healers from traditions around the world can attest to this fact.
In both schools of traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic thought, the lungs can store sadness, grief, and other emotions that contribute to depression. By controlled, thorough emptying of the lungs, the residual air inside the lungs is released along with some of these stagnant emotions; therefore, a liberating feeling of lightness is created inside the body. Certain pranayama techniques have been proven to stimulate the brain’s release of serotonin, one of our body’s “happy chemicals,” naturally. The benefits are profound, and they can vary depending upon which pranayama technique you are doing. Ayurvedic doctors I have met describe all kinds of impossible conditions becoming cured through specific, remedial pranayamas: asthma, hypertension, elevated blood pressure, cancer, thyroid disorders, and many others. Due to my experience and research, I believe that these simple breathing practices still the overactive mind and lead the way to finding peace within ourselves. When we begin to touch a source of happiness inside of us, we can begin to free ourselves from the cycles of negative emotions and attachments that create disease in the first place.
It is my sincere wish that science continues to monitor the healing results of pranayama practices. Please note that it is never advisable to try to learn pranayama techniques alone from a book or video because you can accidentally harm your nervous system. Ayurvedic pranayamas are generally safer for beginners to practice than yogic pranayamas, but always seek advice directly from a professional before starting these powerful practices. Under the supervision of qualified teachers, may everyone discover healing pranayamas that awaken the divine healing powers inherent in our own true nature.
About the Author
An American author and freelance writer, Joy Sydney Williams lives in India as a student of the ancient, Vedic sciences of yoga and ayurveda. Previously, she studied at the College of Santa Fe. For more of her publications and book reviews, please visit www.joysydneywilliams.com or follow her inspirational tips and quotes at: twitter.com/steps4happiness.