The psychic breath
By Shameem Akhtar
Apart from the physical breath, there is the psychic breath that heals and yokes, says Shameem Akthar
Before I started on yoga if anybody had told me that the breath had another movement apart from what transpired at the nostrils, I would have laughed at the person, and thought them mad. But today, after a matter of daily practice and teaching, I am humbled to realise how wrong I and my rational mind were.
It was right in the beginning of my love affair with yoga that I had attended a workshop with the Bihar School of Yoga on prana vidya. When I had one of my chronic bronchitis attack (which resolved as I advanced in my practice), I tried the prana vidya technique. It was one of those torturous nights, when the racking cough was all set to keep me awake. But when I started on the prana vidya meditation, after a while miraculously the coughing stopped.
In this meditation, you direct your breath, after connecting it to the higher source of energy from where the breath and everything else flows, to the area that requires healing. In this case, I directed it to my throat, and lo, the coughing stopped. I realised through my reiki practitioner friends, this was somewhat similar to what they do. It seems prana/ki/chi are just different names to the same form of energy that may be directed like this. And every Eastern healing tradition uses this psychic movement of the breath in an intimate and assured way to heal oneself or others. It is often, I realise, what I am required to do in a class – connect with the group in front of me, and therefore have them experience the magic of yoga, as a matter of transmission – on the wings of a connecting psychic breath – rather than verbalisation. The prana/breath may thus be directed by a matter of awareness. Often, you can resolve a conflict in a similar manner, by the intending of it rather than any argument over it. This way of directing your energy should be harnessed intensely in asana and pranayama practice too. You will find that seemingly difficult practices may be transited rather easily by such psychic breath awareness. The breath becomes released when the mind becomes intensely aware of everything in the present moment. When the mind stays in the moment, the breath will be relaxed. Of this, only a fraction is the actual physical breath at the nostril. The rest of it is the cosmic one. To lose sight of this psychic aspect of the breath is to lose the goal of why you come on the mat in the first place.
Apanasana (Downward flowing energy pose):
Lie on your back, as shown. Place one hand, or both on the belly. Fold legs at the knees, keeping feet flat and close to the hips. Inhale to a count of four and exhale to a count of six. This is one breath. Continue in this fashion, shifting awareness between the ratio, the breath count, and the movement at the belly. Do up to 50 breaths (inhale and exhale making up one breath). Eyes should remain shut throughout. If you lose track of counting the breath, start all over again!
Benefits: This is the safest of the pranayamas. It may be used to heal any major, minor or chronic ailment. It has the least contraindications of all practices. It is intensely relaxing and soothing to the mind. Used in treating those with anxiety attacks, cardiac and blood pressure problems, and insomnia.