Watch the Magic Breath

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Nothing is as important as our breath and the way we breathe. It is magical and that is why Yoga stresses on Pranayama and integrates breathing with movement. Yet many of us pay scant attention to our breath.There are three types of breathing, according to Yoga Vasistha by Patanjali Maharshi, the authentic text that all Yoga practitioners swear by.

The first one is the “upper” or “shallow” or the Clavicular breathing in which we use the shoulder blades and collar bone to inhale the shallowest breath. Though maximum effort is taken, minimum air is obtained. So it hardly sends in the required oxygen to the circulatory system and thus we are in permanent oxygen debt. The result is stress, strain and the resulting fatigue. It makes us feel breathless like when we climb up a flight of steps.

The “middle” or “chest” or the Intercostal breathing, the second kind, is mostly the everyday kind of breathing we do. In this kind of breathing we expand the Intercostal muscles which in turn move the rib cage. Though better than the first kind, this too is not enough to give us ample supply of vital oxygen. However, it keeps us alive and functioning. Each time our blood oxygen levels are low, we take in an extra breath to compensate.

The “lower” or “abdominal” or the Diaphragmatic breathing, the third kind is the most desirable, cleansing breath of all. Deep abdominal breathing is the most ideal because it brings air into the lower parts of the lungs. It helps us breathe deeply and slowly, pushing down the diaphragm. A breeze is not able to blow away the accumulated dust in the nooks and corners of a room. However a strong gush of wind can accomplish this. Similarly, through abdominal breathing all the dust, bacteria and carbon dioxide that remains in the lower part of the lungs are pushed out – hence the cleansing effect. When you breathe this way your belly will expand and contract like a balloon. When you blow air in, the balloon expands and when you release the air, it contracts.

We need to consciously breathe deeply so that our energy barometer shows the vibrancy and vitality of our life. And as we deepen the quality of our breath, we deepen the quality of our life as well.  Exhalation is much more important than inhalation as it enables proper elimination of carbon dioxide from the blood into the lungs and from the lungs into the atmosphere. Let’s start observing our breath. How is it – strained, shallow, short, sluggish, rhythmic, gentle or slow? Let’s learn the difference between it all – for each has its place! 

Be our own Alchemists: Six steps

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We are at the threshold of a brand new year. It is time to do some stock-taking and soul-searching. Did the dying year treat us well? If yes, good!! If the answer is no, looking inside us and behind the path we have traversed is imperative. Otherwise, we are going to make the same slip-ups and have a miserable year again. And NOW is the moment to introspect.

1. Ask, ask, and ask! Did the year bring about changes? Were you able to cope with or manage those changes? Ask ourselves a lot of questions. Invest time in finding out what worked and what did not. Why did we do what did? How did it affect us? What could have been done so that the outcome would have been different? Spend some quality time by ourselves so that answers come to us without too much effort.

2. Be Aware! Asking questions – both comfortable & uncomfortable ones – will invariably give answers. Write them down. This input is essential to move on to the next stage, which is being aware. Many a time it is the total lack of awareness and sometimes complete unconsciousness about issues that made us act the way we did.

3. Acknowledge! Once we are aware of how we act, how we react and how we respond, we need to acknowledge. This is very difficult for it is a slap to our ego and inner critic. Resistance is sure to occur as the mind will protest against its loss of power. Persist and move on. Accepting our failings and imperfections is a great shift to reach the next level of awareness.

4. Forgive! Forgiveness is a great thing. First, forgive ourselves, for, it is our birthright!! In fact, there is no substitute for forgiveness. There is a certain magic that happens when we truly forgive ourselves. It is the safety valve that helps us release the pain of negative emotions, past grudges, emotional baggage and mental stress. Once you forgive yourself, others automatically are forgiven!!

5. Commitment and willingness! Both play a huge role when we are making the choice to change our lives. It doesn’t just happen, and it certainly doesn’t happen while we’re waiting around feeling sorry for ourselves and waiting for our ship to come in. Eliminate negative thoughts, self doubts and begin to move forward. When we remove mental clutter, we have more space in our hearts for new things, worthwhile things. Change needs work; daily work and daily strength.

6. Gratitude! We all face adversity in life. However, it’s not the misfortune, but how we respond to it that will determine the joy and happiness in our lives. During tough times, do we spend too much time feeling sorry for ourselves, or can we, with gratitude learn how to dance in the rain? When we choose not to focus on what’s missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present, we experience heaven on earth.

Thus we become our own alchemists, transmuting ourselves from base metal into precious gold, transforming our suffering into conscious awareness, and misery and disaster into enlightenment. Signing off toasting to our success in the new year – Each day and in everyway may we become better and better! 🙂

The Parachute Paradigm

Parachutes have always fascinated me. Not because I love high adrenalin activities; far from that, I am acrophobic – I do have an inordinate fear of heights! What fascinates me is the fact that it works only when it is open. A closed parachute is a dysfunctional one. No wonder Anthony J. D΄Angelo says in The College Blue Book, “Minds are like parachutes; they only function when open.” What a brilliantly drawn analogy!

I read about a parachute story that is doing the rounds in the internet – of Charles Plumb, a US Naval Academy graduate, who was a jet fighter pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. Captured, he spent 6 years in a communist Vietnamese prison. On surviving the ordeal he lectured on lessons learned from that experience.

One day, when Plumb and his wife were at a restaurant, a man came up and said, "You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!"

"How in the world did you know that?" asked Plumb. "I packed your parachute," the man replied. Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude.

The man shook his hand and said, "I guess it worked!" Plumb assured him, "It sure did. If your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today."

Plumb couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about that man. He kept pondering what his saviour might have looked like in a Navy uniform – a Dixie cup hat, a bib in the back, and bell bottom trousers. "I wonder how many times I might have seen him and not even said good morning, how are you or anything else because, you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor."

Plumb thought of the many hours the sailor had spent on a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship, carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn’t know.

Now, Plumb asks his audience, "Who’s packing your parachute?" Everyone has someone who provides what they need to make it through the day. Plumb also points out that he needed many kinds of parachutes when his plane was shot down over enemy territory- he needed his physical parachute, his mental parachute, his emotional parachute, and his spiritual parachute. He called on all these supports before reaching safety.

Now, the analogy between the parachute & the mind as well as the anecdote from Charles Plumb’s life brings to fore three prime questions:

Are our minds like the functional parachutes? Are we keeping them open, so that we can absorb new information and think / respond differently? Experience has taught me that we need to keep our minds open and let in change, like a whiff of fresh air. The moment we stop resisting change, we get into the flow and groove of things. And things do fall into place, beautifully.

Are we acknowledging the little cogs in our wheel, those who pack our parachutes? It is not only the people, but each and every event, circumstance and tribulation is worth thanking. For, the more gratefully thoughtful and thoughtfully grateful we are, the more we make room for better things in life.

Are our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual parachutes in top gear? Do we exercise and take care of this temple of our body? Do we find time to relax and unwind and keep out mental faculties  sharp? Do we communicate effectively? Or do we bottle up our emotions? Do we do things that nurture our spirit? Do we get in touch with our higher consciousness?

We need to do all the three… to be wholesome people who can make a world of difference – whatever, wherever, whenever, however we can! 🙂

This Works For Me

One of the basic premises that we as human beings must nurture in us is that each day we grow and evolve into better people. That is why I simply love this affirmation – “Each day and in every way I am becoming better and better.”

It said that growth happens in spirals, working its way gradually into the deepest core of our beings until it finally becomes part of who we are. So very true. Now I am working at making this a part of me. Of late, the thought that comes to my mind when I really don’t know what to do or what not to do, is this:

"If this is what God wants, then this is what I want.
Whatever God sends my way is for my ultimate good.
He has my interests at heart much more profoundly than I ever can.
Therefore I joyously accept everything that You send my way,
for all of it is an instrument of Your grace to help me void of my karma,
and move me into eternal health and happiness."

When I let go and let God, I also enjoy a huge sense of expansion and relief. I also feel good that I am aware of my thoughts and focus and there is absolutely no tension / stress etc. I feel there is a shift in my consciousness and it is doing me a world of good.

I am learning the art of living… by living in the Now, the Present!! No wonder, present means gift … Somebody said, yesterday is history and tomorrow is a mystery. Let us therefore focus on today, the present, a gift … Better late, than never, right? 🙂