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+ From a ‘Human Doing’ to a ‘Human Being’

This is the story of an anguished Mom whom I mentored over 4 months to help her reestablish the broken connection with her teenage daughter who was engulfed in frequent cycles of intense, and nearly debilitating emotional suffering at a very crucial time in her life (1). After aggressively trying so many other ways, which were proven ineffective in resolving her various family problems, up against a brick wall, her desperation lead her to be open to modalities of healing from any source. She trusted me enough to try out a multipronged approach of healing. Whatever I suggested and when found useful, she made it a part of her practice. She was a voracious reader and tried to evolve herself in spite of the prolonged traumatic life experiences. She was so primed and ready to leap to a higher level that with a little spark, understanding, emotional support and a few directional arrows she could come out of the mental hell she was in. On my request, she described her journey during which she used many resources. Her writing talent shows up. I am yet to see another client of her nature. I hope this description inspires others. I added the numbers in brackets and linked notes with related information.

One remarkable feature of this case is that though the daughter was supposed to be the dysfunctional one to be fixed, I never got to even see her or talk to her. I worked only with the mom and when she changed, the daughter’s behavior changed! This proves the saying “When I change the World changes.”

Here is her story.

” Before My Journey Started
My mind was constantly busy. I could not shut off my mind. I was never at peace even when I was sleeping. Waking up first thing in the morning, my mind was already at full speed, while still laying in bed. Many useless thoughts, negative thoughts, constantly analyzing the same things over and over again. At times it felt like there were loud screaming monkeys in my head. Pema Chodron uses the term “gibbering monkey” (2) . Eckhart Tolle uses the term “incessant thoughts”. Anger, despair, frustration, impatience dominated the state of my mind and emotion (3). The most frightening part was that I wasn’t fully conscious of my reactive emotions.

It all started with a typical story of a single parent trying to do the “right” thing, to launch their college bound child to the future. I thought I followed suggestions from teachers and guidance counselors. I thought I was doing the same things most other parents do. In the midst of teen dating, teen anxiety and depression, full time job, a household to run, and another younger child to take care of, things didn’t go well. Parental encouragements were perceived by my children as pressure. College application process did not progress all through Summer and Fall. Family dinner became a rare occasion, a life situation worse than marriage dissolution. I was on the verge of losing my relationship with my child. Coming home from work at times felt dreadful. If only one could go to an electronic store and purchase a remote control that could turn the mind on and off!

Then CS Came Into My Life
A friend referred me to the man who teaches people how to count breaths, CS (short for Suryanarayana Chennapragada) (4). I had nothing to lose by spending one session with him. On the other hand, what can you expect out of a guy who teaches you how to count breaths? (5). The first lesson I learned from him: “HAVE NO EXPECTATIONS”. After learning my background and evaluating my disposition, CS suspected that all of us, my kids and I, suffered from some sort of trauma. There are a few methods of therapy for trauma using talk therapy but they take too many years. Our experience of talk therapy for my children post divorce with 4 other previous therapists only took care of some of the symptoms but never got to the root cause of the problems, something I kept asking these therapists. None of them gave me clear answers. None recommended me to get help with therapy for myself. None even mentioned the word trauma at all! CS was the first person who mentioned the word trauma and strongly recommend that I build some solid emotional foundation for myself. That was a prerequisite to enable me to effectively help and support my children’s effort to become emotionally and psychologically healthy and strong.

I took up his suggestion in pursuing EMDR therapy based on his reading and understanding of EMDR (6). I went on and sought help in this therapy about which I never heard of, administered by an EMDRIA certified therapist, as quickly as I could. Well, finding one locally in Albany who would take insurance, has availability for the proper age, pronto, was impossible. It sometimes takes a few trials and errors to find a therapist with matching chemistry, the right fit. I finally found a therapist for myself on self pay. With her exceptional and amazing psychotherapy skills, she administered the first EMDR session on me after 3 evaluation and preparatory visits. The EMDR therapy helped me jump start rewiring my brain in forming a new habit of processing life situations and regulating my emotions. It’s all scientific. It’s biology, yet it feels like a miracle. Based on my experience, I think EMDR is a catalyst. There are many schools of thoughts among certified EMDRIA therapists. With insights into this field, CS helped me evaluate and assess the quality of the therapy throughout the entire process, a very important factor in our healing efforts due to the amount of time and cost commitment.

As miraculous as it sounds, EMDR is not a silver bullet. It does help dig up and dissolve thick layers of unrealized, painful  memories lodged improperly in our brain. But life goes on filled with events, situations, moments that need to be dealt with, many can be quite unpleasant. At this point in my life, parenting is the most challenging endeavor I have to take on. I spent the majority of my life fighting for good education, good career, relationship, marriage, and child rearing to prove my self worth. Though it did bring many good fortune to our lives, it wasn’t for free. I suddenly realized the long term cost of the good fortune: lack of inner peace and serenity in everyone in my family. Since the birth of my first child, I’ve always identified myself as a Mom. Well, a roaring machine would’ve been a more accurate description of my old self.

The Beauty of ‘Meditation on Breathing’
We apply the practice of physical care to our daily lives for better mental hygiene and stronger immunity. When we are sick, we go to the doctor to get help to get better. Our mental wellness needs the same amount of care. Dalai Lama uses the term mental immunity. Daily practice is the keyword. My daily practice of breathing meditation turned out to be one way I nurture my mental hygiene. The beauty of the breathing meditation that I learned and practiced is that you don’t have to dedicate a huge block of time which is the stumbling block for most aspirants like me. There is no pressure on my schedule, and I don’t feel like I ever miss a day of meditation. I can do it throughout the day (7). Some days I can only afford 10 minutes before bedtime. I started forming a habit of snagging the few seconds or minutes of focusing on breathing while walking, while driving, warming up my lunch in the microwave, etc. CS cleared out so many misconceptions around the meditation practice that brought me back to his page “Who said Meditation is difficult? (8). To sum it up: no pretzel legs required, don’t strive for anything, drop the word “should”, no formality, all casual.

Getting It Off My Chest by Writing
James Pennebaker discovered the connection between expressive writing and wellness (9). I discovered that expressive writing, as encouraged by CS, had been a useful tool in helping me navigate through my emotion and help me gain clarity on the true reality of my experiences. Writing letters to my children to address some critical issues is a powerful and effective tool I used to connect and reach out to them at a much deeper level. Writing emails or texting with CS about updates of the healing work we did apparently was also therapeutic. It gives me a sense of cleansing work. Ideas keep pouring out as I type. Of course not everything I typed made it out of my mobile device, so for those who don’t find it easy to open up about their personal and emotional struggles to others, expressive writing is worth trying. Yes, the books recommend that you use paper and pen, but for so many reasons, those prerequisites would just give me another excuse for why I won’t feel like doing it. Improvise, make it easy. We are all busy.

Audio Books
I started reading a few self-help books a few years ago. Having a coach like CS adds another dimension and depth into my understanding and ability to apply the concepts I learn from these books. No, I do not have time to sit down and enjoy good readings. Thank goodness for modern technology and CS’s persistent encouragement, I’m hooked on audiobooks now. I look forward to driving nowadays as I use the precious time alone for listening to audiobooks and focusing on breathing. Today, I have more than 15 audio books in my library (10). It is amazing how thirsty my mind is for good life lessons on nurturing and healing our emotional pain and suffering.

Parenting Skills
For the first time in my life, I have someone teaching me parenting skills. A luxury I never thought of even wishing to have since both my parents were deceased before my first child turned three. CS stayed by my side through frequent dialog via phone calls, text, and emails, as I could not find time for counseling visits. A fundamental lesson I learned is to understand the true meaning and the misconceptions around the term unconditional love and boundaries. Applying all of these with compassion makes a difference in supporting my children’s struggles and efforts to navigate through many aspects of their life challenges. Raising successful individuals which could generate lots of stress and anxiety is no longer my goal of parenting. Helping my children with increased awareness to develop into wholesome individuals is the new goal.

Many of us are skeptics when it comes to the notion of spirituality. We associate it with the metaphysics world, or even religion. Those of us who were raised in Western education environments cling to the idea of scientific proof. Well, there have been an explosion of scientific research activities all over the world on the neuroscience of breathing meditation; which I could have cared less about, except that the result of my own practice proved some of the theories drawn as conclusions from this research. In the very short period of time, I have had exposures to the fields of neuropsychology, quantum physics, the science of meditation, and the anatomy of human mind and emotions. I found newer and deeper meanings in the words compassion, hope, love, and many others.

The Transformation
Fast forward 4 months. some of my friends, and  my own children noticed the change in me. Calmer, happier, more mellow, are the words I heard which were used to describe the ‘New me’. One used the word light and floating. CS described me as a ‘tigress’ on the first day he saw me. “You can’t change others, but you can change how you respond to others” was one of the first lessons I learned from him. There is a good chance that others will change in response to your changes. Sure enough my children are changing with me.

The journey has just begun. Glimpses of inner peace and serenity started appearing more and more throughout my days. The thick, heavy blanket of toxic emotion has started to lift off, little by little. “Light”, as in ‘”not heavy”, is the closest word I can think of to describe how I feel nowadays. Sure, frustration and disappointments are inevitable but I can now stop the emotional flow from turning into anger. The need to seek help from my therapist on a weekly basis starts to wind down. I am becoming more and more capable of dealing with challenges in my life with grace.

Today, my children and I are travelling together on the path of recovery to healthier relationships through collective awareness. I realize that this is a life long learning process. Having a person with such positive vibes who models compassion alongside of me makes learning so much more effective and fun!

CS may not give you the straight answers to every life problem you face. However, I receive many pointers as listed above, as well as suggestions on readings about and using essential oils. One time I unintentionally called him GPS!  He stated the teachers are literally everywhere. All around us, at any given moment, ready for us to learn our life lessons. Some attribute this quote to the Buddha: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”.

Are You Ready?

Mom V2.0 ”

(1) The daughter was an accomplished teenager with high achievements in academic, sports, music, and art. With more than a decade of dysfunctional family condition riddled with hostility and violence that ended up in her parents divorce, she developed into an unhappy adolescent full of anxiety, depression, and phobias. The habit of coping mechanism through emotional shutdown cause her to fail to see and appreciate acts of love and kindness. She trusted no one in her life, and animosity toward everyone in the family was very strong.
(2) Pema Chodron
(3) Eckhartt Tolle
(4) Programs
(5) Focusing on breathing
(6) EMDR
(7) Daytime practice
(8) Who said Meditation is difficult?
(9) James Pennebaker
(10) My List of Inspiring Authors and Books

Eckhart Tolle: The Power of Now
Brene Brown: Rising Strong, Daring Greatly
Pema Chodron: Making Friends with Your Mind, Coming Closer to Ourselves, The Pema Chodron Audio Collection
Marianne Williamson: A Return to Love
Don Miguel Ruiz: The Four Agreements
Douglas Carlton Abrams, Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu: The Book of JOY
Mark Manson: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
Kerry Paterson: Crucial Conversations
Mark Goulston: Just Listen, Talking to Crazy
Michael A. Singer: The Untethered Soul
Susan Forward: Toxic Parents
Harriet Lerner: The Dance of Anger
Francine Shapiro: Getting Past Your Past, EMDR
Wayne Dyer: The Wayne Dyer Audio Collection
Paulo Coelho: The Alchemist
Julie Lythcott-Haims: How to Raise an Adult
Cynthia Kane: How to Communicate Like a Buddhist
Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish: How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk

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@ 9th Grader with ADHD improves

Prakash (not his real name), a 9th grader with ADHD attended 8 of my classes over 5 months (1) . He has been attending special classes at school. His class performance was reported to be very good. His mom was averse to medication and wanted to try ‘focusing on breathing’ and related techniques to help improve his symptoms (2). He is my first client with ADHD. 

Prakash, his mom and younger brother in 6th grade jointly attended first 5 classes. Then he continued with solo classes.

What were his problems?
Anxiety, Anger, Impatience, Stress, Lack of focus, Nervousness, Frustration, Uncontrolled laughter and Lack of eye contact.

What modes did he practice?
First I introduced the regular modes of ‘focusing on breathing’. He liked them but the restless movement of his body and uncontrolled laughter ware not showing much reduction. On a hunch, I introduced the ‘Dynamic modes of ”focusing on breathing’ as an experiment (3). He liked these techniques a lot and practiced them on his own with very little prompting from his mom.

When did he practice?
Bedtime, Waking up, waiting, Stressed, Walking, Tired

His mom’s assessment of his improvements.

Anxiety: Reduced by 60%

Impatience: Reduced by 50%

Focus: Improved by 70%

His younger brother in 6th grade wrote his own impressions with the permission of his mother during the evaluation session.  

Anxiety: Decreased a little   

Before: He couldn’t wait
Now: He entertains himself doing the 911 mode and enjoys it.

Before: He couldn’t make eye contact. His head always faced the window.
Now: This is slowly decreasing.

Before: When he was mad, he was yelling and out of control.
Now: This is slowly decreasing.

He does some chanting/ prayers taught to him by his grandma. He has been taking 1000 mg of EPA+DHA per day in the form of Fish oil on my suggestion.

I added waking up  routine and simple stretching and moving based on Yoga to his daily routines (4).

(1) ADHD – Page from National Institute of Mental Health 
(2) How can I focus on breathing?
(3) Dynamic modes
(4) Waking up routine    Loosening exercises – Yoga

Feb 9, 2014: His mom said that in he recent PTA meeting with Prakash’s maths teacher, she said his focus improved and he could be put in regular class instead of the special class next year.

April 19, 2014: During the class 2 weeks back, his mom said his behavior was sometimes out of control at home. He was in the habit of pinching her and his younger brother and apologizing soon after. But he did nothing of that kind at school or outside. I told her privately his out of home behavior showed he had enough self awareness and self control with other people. I advised her that if he pinched her next time she should immediately tell him firmly “I don’t like to be pinched”. She should not get angry or blame him or comment on him at all.

Today when I called her to know how this new response to his pinching was working she said it had drastically reduced and she was happy for this improvement.

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@ “Easy and Effective. It works! “

I thank Chaitanya Mudivarthy Ph.D (1), my nephew, for posting this recommendation for me in Linkedin.  I am delighted that he highlights the most important aspect of the techniques – that it suits today’s busy people who can’t spare time for Yoga and such practices.

“CS Rao (Suryanarayana Chennpragada) is an excellent yoga practitioner. He is one of the few who realized the problem with current generation – impatience and lack of time to put yoga into practice in their daily routine. His solution to this is simple and practical – ‘counting breaths’ (2). This technique works!

I have been practicing this technique since 2006 with great results.

I have suggested the technique to numerous friends with ADD, anxiety disorders, and depression. One thing I hear back is how easy and effective the technique is.

Above all, CS Rao is an excellent human being with tremendous knowledge in general in the fields of science, medicine, and spirituality.”

(1) Chaitanya Mudivarthy – Linkedin Page
(2) ‘Counting breaths’ is an ancient technique devised by the Buddha 2500 years back. My adaptations of this technique to suit busy beginners are two. One is using the fingers. This practice leashes the mind far more effectively than just counting the breaths in the mind. The second adaptation is for beginners to practice lying in the bed at night and morning to make the practice ‘excuse free’ and get them hooked on it. These have  made this ancient technique available to people of all ages and cultures.

The ‘focusing on breathing’ practices presented in this site are radically different from Yogic breathing practices. Yogic breathing practices require you to change the current pattern of breathing, to conform to the given guidelines. We are warned to learn those practices from a trained teacher, to avert potential harm from wrong practice.

In contrast, these breathing practices do not suggest any pattern for breathing, except in one mode. We passively watch the breaths, like watching the actors on a movie screen. These practices are totally safe whatever way you do them, even for children.

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* Breathing breaks in the class room

This is a report from Lynn Schuster, a dedicated and innovative class teacher for grades 2/3 in Robert C. Parker School, Wynantskill, New York State (1). On my request, she shared with me how she developed the basic  technique of ‘focusing on breathing’ (2) to suit the needs of her students and herself in the class room. It is a wonderful model that has brought out the immense potential of this simple technique!

“I was introduced to ‘Counting Breaths’ along with my 2nd-3rd grade students four years ago. I watched my students, and felt myself, relax tremendously within a matter of moments as C.S (Suryanarayana Chennapragada) taught us the technique. The practice is now an essential part of the daily life in my classroom. We begin our ‘Morning Meeting’ each day, by “going into our silence.” Students are asked to “unplug” from their friends and to give themselves the opportunity to breathe quietly. We sustain this silence for at least three minutes. This year, I conclude this silence with what I’m now calling our five magical breaths. I count and students follow as we breathe deeply, a minimum of five times, together.

Even children who find quieting down extremely challenging can achieve silence through the peer influence that comes with group practice. I sometimes have to be patient and wait until we’ve all quieted down. In the afternoon when focus can be difficult, I usually have to add in soothing words of encouragement and very deliberately lead them through our counting out a minimum of five deep breaths. I will roam the room, praise individuals and the class. Everyone comes around.

This year, I’ve consciously incorporated breathing breaks throughout our day—at every transition and before starting anything new. This translates into a minimum of 5-6 breathing breaks a day. This year, I also committed to pausing what we are doing when I see even one student getting antsy or moody. In the past, I would have plowed through my agenda and put up with interruptions or a less-than-focused atmosphere. It has been proven to me through my commitment to taking breathing breaks that these breaks do only take a couple minutes. BUT their impact is profound and can carry through big chunks of time. Breathing together brings almost every child immediately into a relaxed mindset. I feel impatience and stress wash away too. We become a community again, working together.

I must thank YOU for teaching me to pause, breathe and help my students relax. I used to think the fun and laughs we had–and the connection/trust I strive to create with each student–would ensure focus when the time required it. But from your guidance and teaching, I saw that I needed to do something more. You’ve changed the way I live in the class and made me pay closer attention to what’s really happening in front of me.”


I am grateful to Lynn for developing this great class room model of the technique. She helped me realize the dream I have been nurturing since the year 2002, ever since I realized the great potential of this technique in helping children calm themselves and focus.  I am  also grateful to Meg Taylor, Head of the school who let me, an uncertified and unlicensed person, experiment with this technique, unknown in the educational field and for creating an environment that lets such innovations flourish. I am happy they both let me publish their names.

I dream of more teachers drawing inspiration from this model and developing their own versions. They will be helping their students develop self awareness, the ability to calm themselves whenever they become aware of their anxiety or stress and act with self control. I feel these skills are more fundamental than reading, writing and counting and will be of immense help to them throughout their life.  Parents can also use this model at home to reinforce the class room experience. I feel when these children grow up, they will become better moms and dads with this additional technique in their parenting tool kit.

When I was working in a paper mill in India, I used this technique when I conducted small group meetings.  We all breathed together for a couple of minutes in the counting mode. It helped us focus better and be good listeners.

(1) Robert C. Parker School
(2) How can I focus on breathing?

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Relevant pages
Endorsement by Meg Taylor – Head of sdchool

Parent page: Training children in ‘Focusing on breathing’

* Feedback from the seminar at the East Greenbush Community Library

The fourth introductory seminar at the East Greenbush Community library was on May 4, 2011. 26 persons registered and 19 turned up.

Scanned images of the completed feedback forms  PDF

Their feedback is summarized below.

The seminar was …

  • Excellent –    15
  • Very Good – 4
  • Good –             –
  • Not useful –   –

I will use this technique to relieve my (concern)

  • Stress –                  11
  • Insomnia –             6
  • Anxiety-                 5
  • Quality of sleep – 2
  • Tension-                  1
  • Muscle aches due to Fibromyalgia – 1
  • Heart disease –     1
  • Road rage –            1
  • Impatience –         1
  • Hypertension –    1

Comments/ Suggestions (if any)

  • Relaxing
  • I really like it – 2
  • Stress
  • Would like to take another class
  • Very informative and effective
  • You did a super job in explaining the techniques
  • Thank you!  Very helpful
  • Great! Please come again
  • Very good
  • Very pleasant and enjoyable

E-mail message from the Library

“Dear CS,

I wanted to thank you for bringing your ‘Focusing on Breathing’ program to our library.  The excellent comments from those who attended show how valuable this technique is.  Thank you for sharing your knowledge and your enthusiasm with our library patrons.

Lois Papp
Head of Adult Services
East Greenbush Community Library

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