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* I wish I learned this in my teenage.

Testimonial from a person in New Jersey with whom I worked by phone and e-mail. See his previous reports at the end.

“Before I learned ‘counting breaths’, I used to run in the gym. But even after running, I was not able to remove my stress. By learning counting breaths from C S (Suryanarayana Chennapragada) I have been able to de-stress. ‘Counting breaths’ is slowly becoming part of my DNA. I have become a much calmer person. I highly recommend C S’s ‘counting breaths’ class.

I only wish I had learnt this technique in my teenage. It might have completely changed my life. C S is the best Guru I ever had, with lots of patience, extremely humble and always willing to help.”

His previous reports

Related pages
Relief from stress – Success stories

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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’

* You are a God sent messenger for me

E- Mail message from a person in New Jersey who found this web site when he searched on-line desperately for managing his stress. We have not met in person. I have been advising him over the phone since early January. Read his previous messages at the end of the post.

“Let me thank you for being with me through this crisis. I have deep faith in God and you are a God sent messenger for me. My wife is much improved. She says she is practicing breath counting. I have not bugged her about the practice, as you advised. She wants to go back to work. I am worried what to do. My daughter is sleeping much better. She is counting breaths, in fits and starts. I am practicing counting breaths which I need to do more often. Without your help, I would have been nowhere. Thank you.”

His previous messages
I am now able to manage stress Feb 4, 2012
This meditation has saved my life Jan 14, 2012

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* I am now able to manage stress

Feedback from a man in New Jersey who is under extreme stress, due to his wife’s mental illness (1).

Before knowing ‘Focusing on breathing’
My wife refused to see reason due to her bi-polar problem though she has been under medication. I did not know of any way to convince her. I used to get excited and angry at her, aggravating stress for both of us. It was unbearable.  Under such situations, I was going to the gym and workout, for at least 2 hours. Even then, I was not getting relief from the stress. I used to wonder if I had to work out whole day.

Now
I do not run to the gym or go crazy. I respond to her unreasonable behavior without losing my cool. I am able to argue with her calmly and patiently, trying to convince her. This is defusing the situation for both of us. My life has become bearable, thanks to the breathing technique.

I am now introducing this technique to my wife at bedtime, as she does not have good sleep. She is not able to practice the technique on her own. When she needs to sleep, I sit by her side  and help her practice the ‘Tip mode’ (2). I hold her fingers and give verbal prompts, at each step of the practice. She accepts this help and is now able to sleep peacefully, thanks to this technique.

(1) His previous feedback “This meditation has saved my life”
(2) How can I focus on breathing?

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* This meditation has saved my life …

Feedback from a man in New Jersey whose wife is undergoing a great disturbance due to change in the dosage of medication for her Bipolar problem (1). They have a 7 year old daughter. He was under great stress due to this situation.

” Your meditation technique has saved my life. It has helped me survive the crisis I have been going through.”

He explained that he was practicing the technique at night and other times, due to which he was able to withstand the severe stress.

(1) Husband and wife living are living in New Jersey. The husband found this web site when he searched on the internet for a solution to his unbearable stress. He contacted me by phone from the contact information in the web site. To start with, I am guiding him with phone support while he is practicing based on the documents in this web site. Once he gains confidence in the practices, hopefully he can train his wife.

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* Thoughts are like balloons without air

We constantly get thoughts in the mind – mostly negative ones and rarely positive ones. Most of them are random thoughts and vastly vary in content and rarely relevant to the task on hand. Often we get carried away by the content and message of such a thought without questioning its validity. We don’t raise the question “Is there any truth in this thought? Do I believe it?”

A thought has no impact on our mind or behavior unless we believe it.

I can visualize thoughts entering the mind like limp balloons landing on my desk. I don’t know where they are coming from. I don’t have to blow air into every balloon that lands on my desk. I can take a look at each balloon and decide which one I like to keep. Then I can spend my energy blowing air into the chosen balloon.

Similarly, we can decide which thought arriving in our mind has significance to us at this moment, examine its validity and decide whether to believe in it and act on it. Believing in a thought is like blowing air into a limp balloon, giving it an attractive look and utility. Not believing in a thought is like leaving it limp, lifeless and insignificant, as good as dropping it in the trash can.

Related article: Is it a snake or rope? on the importance of correct perception, in saving one’s life and in not missing a potential opportunity.

Parent page: Thoughts are like………

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* It happened suddenly!

As a maintenance engineer in a continuous running plant, I had to face sudden stoppages of continuous running machines due to mechanical defects. I had to answer the management for the consequent losses to the company. The persons responsible for avoiding the unplanned stoppages of the machines would tell me that the machine was running fine yesterday and even a little while back and it failed suddenly. They claimed they could not have detected and prevented the failure. Of course this is not true for mechanical parts. But how to drive this point home without arguments? I used to practically demonstrate what might have been happening this way.

I pick up a paper weight and place it in the middle of a small table. The table is clear of any objects form the paper weight to the clear edge. I move the paper weight intermittently in steps of a few inches. After the first move I stop, look at them and say “Nothing happened!”. Again I move it a little and say “Nothing happened”. Again I move an inch and say “Yes, nothing is happening”. I keep on moving the paper weight inch by inch till it falls on the hard floor with a thud. Then I shout and say “The paper weight has fallen suddenly. It was OK a few seconds back!”.

People watching this demo invariably smile and admit that something adverse or unusual was happening gradually before the failure that they were not observing carefully. Or they were seeing some unusual symptoms but felt they were harmless, not worth any corrective action. The gradual deterioration from the healthy condition has to lead to total failure some day, there can be no escape.

This could apply to many aspects of life – sudden burst of reactions of people, sudden crisis of some kind etc. We ignore the preceding symptoms and underestimate their significance. These accumulate over a period of time and one day result in a (sudden?) failure of some kind.

If we keenly observe what is happening around us in things and people and know what is a normal and healthy situation and what is a significant deviation, we can predict where this gradual negative change will ultimately lead to and what could be it’s consequences.

If we take corrective actions in the early stages when we see the adverse movements taking place, the adverse event can be aborted. The so called sudden developments can only happen when we close our eyes and minds to what is  happening gradually or choose to underestimate or ignore their significance.

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* I rebuilt my broken spirit

This is a testimonial from Eva (not her real name) who attended 8 of my classes over 5 months (6). It illustrates many lessons in getting out of the grip of a verbal or emotional abuser, not a physical abuser.

  • It is a dramatic model on how a person can break the spell of the abuser  and lead a stress free life. Daily contact with that person may be unavoidable. The abuser may be abusing verbally or emotionally.  The abuser may be a boss, spouse, parent, friend or any other.
  • It proves the saying  “You can’t change others. You can only change your response to their behavior.” and the related one “When I change myself, the World changes.”
  • It proves the spiritual saying “When the student is ready the teacher appears”
  • And surprise! The abuser may turn around!

See more of my comments at the end.

The report
“I suppose it was the end of May 2011 because the 10 foot high snow banks at the end of the parking lot had finally melted. I think it was a Monday or a Tuesday. Back then, I didn’t really focus on real- time. I simply prayed to get through each day. Each and every new morning presented itself with tremendous anxiety, demanding self-preparedness to battle with my verbally and emotionally abusive boss. I had been dealing with his relentlessly abusive behavior over the last two years. I was daily confronted with humiliation, degrading, argumentative, embarrassing control tactics, accusations, and lies. Me responding with anxiety, fear, tears, withdrawal, disgust and frustration. I was losing sleep, and it felt like I was constantly spinning.

I was treated by my physician for severe panic attacks and sleeplessness. My dermatologist was treating me for the red blotches, itching and welts on my face. Rock bottom came when a coworker made an unkind comment to me, back on that Monday or Tuesday. It broke my spirit to the core. I went out of the office, to the end of the long unused hallway, sat on the floor with my arms wrapped around my knees. I soaked from my tears. What was happening to me? How do I stop this monster of a boss from making me feel like this?

I figured I had two choices – fight or flight. I pulled myself together and went back to the office. I prayed to the angels to please give me some kind of a sign.

A few days before, I planned to attend the seminar by C S (Suryanarayana Chennapragada) on ‘Focusing on breathing’  at the local library, but I couldn’t make it. On coming to know about my interest from my coworker, CS offered the classes at his office. I saw CS that day.

He patiently let me unload everything that was making my life miserable. He taught me the different breathing methods to control stress and help with relaxation (5). He made me practice the techniques briefly sitting in his office.

I experienced a sense of calmness almost immediately. I could feel my tense shoulders drop. In his weekly classes he shared with me his own life experiences and some healing thoughts (1). I began to understand things in a whole different way. I knew I was 100 feet under water but after a few sessions with CS, I knew I had crawled up by 10 feet, inch by inch.

I had a long way to go but I knew I was on the right path. I practiced the techniques every day and several times a day when things got bad. I could thus create my own calmness to some degree. I created sanity in my work space by including things I love and a few ‘props’ from C S, to insulate me from further emotional trauma (2).

After several months and many visits later. I can honestly say that I am ‘riding the waves’ instead of drowning underneath them (3). I have learned so much from the relaxation techniques and guidance from C S,  that now I recognize the bad behavior before it comes to me. I learned how to respond to it in appropriate ways, to throw “IT” (the ‘bug’, meaning the abusive behavior) back and put the fire out before it burns me (4).

I had a revelation not too long ago inspired by the experiences C S shared with me. It became clear to me, that I was causing my own frustration because I was expecting my boss to change into someone he could never be. I realized that I could only change myself. I had to only keep my mind clear without confusion and my heart clean without any negative intention or attitude. I am now stronger, more confident and more aware of my own being. I am a better person now. When confronted with difficulties and bad behavior at work, I know I am going to get even better. I have eliminated all expectations about him! I feel can do this! I keep a small sign on my desk with a chant that CS introduced to me. It reminds me frequently that my boss’s abusive behavior is not because something is wrong with me. The sign has the letters “koerauoyavE”. It does not make sense to any other person. I am the only one who knows that reading it backwards, it gives me the healing message “Eva you are OK” (I am OK, it is my boss who is suffering from the ‘blame bug’).”

The report ends happily here!

Some unexpected developments
My boss realized that I was not cowering anymore when he behaved intimidatingly. On the other hand, he saw me replying to his accusations calmly, boldly and factually, looking into his eyes, all the time. He then changed his behavior dramatically. He started behaving like an immature child and making jokes, trying to make up with me! Unbelievable!” “A few days back, at the end of the day, I asked him “Doc! are we closing the office?”. He replied “You tell me.” I said “You are the boss. You are the one to decide.” He said “No. You are the boss!”. Imagine this one coming from the micromanaging and intimidating boss who used to say in all petty matters of the office “I am the boss. You have to follow whatever I say.” What a transformation!”

***

My comments

Eva is an unique personality, unlike any others with whom I worked so far. In her past career she always had kind and caring bosses. This abusive boss was a great shock to her.

She instantly grasped the concepts and techniques I shared with her, internalized them and used them right away, to manage the situation on hand. She benefited remarkably from the stories and articles that I shared with her in the classes.

After a few weeks of practicing the breathing and the new thought processes, she discarded her previous practice of wearing the green smock to the office, like a medial staff. She wore the normal office dress like a receptionist, with pride. This small step boosted her morale, one notch.

(1) She quickly absorbed the messages of these stories/articles and ideas and practiced them in real life.

  • “He insulted me” on how we can refuse to receive the insult being thrown at us or internalize it.
  • “The walker who laughed at A, B and C” on how we think we have some problem, instead of the abusive person.
  • “The blamer is hit with the blame bug” due to which he can’t help displaying the symptoms of blaming disease.
  • “My brother Ramu dies at the age of 10” describing how my unrealistic expectation was the cause for my suffering.
  • “We do not see the first parts of people’s lives” making  judgments of other people, based on their current behavior, without knowing the experiences they were subjected to till that point of time.
  • “To speak or not, to act or not” illustrating that as long I have a clear mind without confusion and a clean heart without negative emotions, I can speak and act appropriately without being afraid of any one, including GOD.
  • Unrealistic expectations sap our motivation and abort our attempts at making small forward moving changes in our routine. The president of an African country was asked by a journalist to describe the achievements of his government. He said ”My dear friend, I am not in the happy position of seeing what heights I have reached. I only see from what depths I am coming up!”. The personal change process is such that we may not experience any waves of happiness even after many many years of practice. The few daring people that attempt this process have to sustain their efforts and draw deep inspiration from the tiny reductions in their daily suffering.

(2) I helped Eva in creating reassuring and calming props, right in front of her, while sitting in her chair, in spite of any objections by her boss. This was also to break the spell of controlling and being controlled, under which both her boss and she lived, for more than two years. She also had to demonstrate her right to arrange her undisputed physical zone as she liked, without being challenged by her boss.

  • I described the story “He insulted me” using my pen for practical demonstration and at the end, gave her the same pen to take with her and place it right in front of her on the desk. This pen would remind her of the message of this story during the abusive interactions of the day, thus protecting her from distress.
  • I used a piece of crumpled paper to represent the bug in the story “The blamer is hit with the blame bug” and asked her to keep it on her desk, to remind her that her boss could not help behaving abusively because he was having the blame bug in his head.
  • I made a card in the shape of an inverted V (like a name sign used in meetings) and wrote “koerauoyawE” on it with a colored sketch pen. This was the message “Eva you are ok” written backwards as one word, so that only she could decipher the hidden message. Whenever her boss made a statement putting her down, she looked at this card lying on her desk, reminding her she was OK and it was her boss who had the bug (problem). Looking at this message helped her shake off the negative messages about her that her boss was trying to inject into her mind. Her coworkers saw the card and asked what was the meaning of that word. She quietly smiled in reply.
  • I asked her if she had any plants or flowers on her desk or around her, to look at and care for, as her own. She said her boss did not like any such things. I said this is a very good chance to assert her right by bringing some flowers from her garden or buy a small plant in a pot and keep it on her desk. She followed these suggestions.
  • She heard western classical music being played in our office when she came to the classes. She remarked that it was very calming whereas the music channel in her office radio blared hard drum sounds and disturbed her as well as the patients sitting in the waiting room. I asked her to change the station to classical music. She was not sure he would allow it but she made the change anyway without his noticing it, to her great relief. Listening to this soothing music all the time also contributed to reducing her stress.

(3) A spiritual teacher said that the meditative techniques like ‘Focusing on breathing’ do not eliminate the problems which are a part of life. But they help us manage them without getting distressed. He said  “You can’t avoid the big waves coming at you. But you can use the meditative techniques as a surf board and ride over the waves”.

(4) Her boss was throwing the blame (bug) at her and she now learned how to throw it back at him, instead of getting infected by that bug. She protected herself from being infected by the blaming disease that her boss was suffering from.

(5) Six different modes of ‘Focusing on breathing’

(6) Seminars and classes 

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