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@ Yoga thoughts – From Alfred

See (1) to know about Alfred.

I have not missed a day of meditation yet which tells you that I am valuing it. On some days I am left with ideas which I call “Yoga Thoughts” which I write down and am sharing with you now.

Yoga Thoughts
  • Breathing is an endless spiral, breathing in (taking), pause (stillness), breathing out (releasing), pause (calmness)
  • It is simple and at the same time it is complex
  • One of block to tranquility is excitedly thinking about what you are going to do next. Thinking about your next meal, your next conversation with someone you like, the upcoming trip to the beach, all these block you from the present. When you have these types of thoughts while meditating, you are valuing the future over the present, like a child who whines that they are bored on a long car trip. Being happy in the moment is the greatest show of gratitude and the only way to access grace.
  • It is not profound every time you fill your car with gas.
  • Our thoughts tether us. If you are afraid of flying, hold that thought.
(1) Alfred

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* Calmed myself on a scary air flight

This is the first report of its kind. Emily Marynczak (1) shared with me how she used the segment mode of ‘focusing on breathing’ (2) to keep herself calm for about 2 hours, during a scary air flight.

“A year ago I was traveling back home from Ohio. The flight was scheduled to be about two hours long and the weather seemed clear. But shortly after take off, the pilot announced that there was some windy weather that we would have to contend with and he was going to keep the fasten seat belt sign on, until things calmed down. And then the bouncing begun. It felt like the plane would suddenly randomly drop down a few feet – taking everyone’s stomach with it. It felt like the plane was being tossed to and fro- and then up and down. We had non stop turbulence for the entire flight, it was terrifying. (I don’t like flying even on a good day!) It would have been truly horrific for me, had I not had the mental focus that came from ‘counting my breaths’ (2). When the plane first began to bounce, I had my book on my lap but with the first big bounce, my fear began to rise and I was unable to concentrate on my reading. I was starting to feel a bit of panic surface. It was clear that all the people around me were getting very afraid too. I could hear audible gasps with the bigger drops we felt. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to cope.

Then really from a place of desperation, I decided to try ‘counting my breaths’ (2). I needed to focus on something other than the scary thoughts about a plane crash.

I closed my book, closed my eyes and placed my hands comfortably on my lap. I started using the ‘segment mode’ of ‘counting breaths with my left hand (3).

As I finished, I was noticeably calmer. I realized that while I had given my mind the task of moving my fingers with each breath, my mind was occupied and therefore there was no time to worry about the plane falling from the sky. I was so focused on my breathing and my task of moving my fingers that I couldn’t even really take in the stress of the people around me.

I continued counting my breaths in this manner, for the duration of the flight. Every now and then, if the plane leveled off and the winds calmed, I would stop, open my eyes and take in my environment. I took great comfort from knowing that if the wind picked up, I would have a way to cope, something concrete to do that would really help. Sure enough, the winds would pick up and like my life depended on it, I would resume my breath awareness, always starting with my thumb going to my pinky at the top segment. Two hours later, we landed safely.

The passengers on the plane cheered loudly, as they released their stress. As we were getting off the plane, it was obvious that the other passengers were visibly stressed and shaken by this awful flight. But I had a unique sense of calm. I think my calm came from not only the meditative practice of concentrating on my breath and having an anchor for my thoughts with the movements of my fingers, but also from the peace that I got from just knowing that I had something to try, if I felt scared. I am forever indebted to C S (Suryanarayana Chennapragada) for sharing this powerful technique with me. I am forever empowered in my life, to cope with the inevitable stresses that will come my way.

This was the first time that I had really practiced the segment mode of counting breaths on my own.

In my work as a childbirth educator,  I practice this technique as I teach my students, once or twice a month. The version of the counting breaths technique that I had been using a lot, prior to the airplane ride, and still use several times a week, is the version of counting to three, over and over again without using the fingers at all, all in the mind (2).  I practice this technique whenever I want to go to sleep. Sometimes when I start off, I hear the voice of my inner cynic say- “this won’t help you fall asleep.” But I practice it any way and then in the morning I awake refreshed and happy. I know that counting my breaths to three really works. Incorporating the finger movements doesn’t work for me when my goal is to go to sleep. It’s too much effort to contract the muscles of my hand. But as I demonstrated in my airplane story, the extra energy of contracting my fingers in such a deliberate and focused way, was exactly what I needed to use up the extra energy created by the stress I was experiencing.

I am grateful to CS for teaching me these simple yet profound tools.

(1) Emily Marynczak, AAHCC and Bradley Method Certified Birth Instructor #(518) 478-0062. (AAHCC is for American Association for Husband Coached Childbirth)
(2) How can I focus on breathing?
(3) Segment mode’ of  counting breaths as she practiced: “I brought my thumb to the top segment of my pinky finger and with the next breath I moved my finger down to the middle segment of my pinky and with the third breath I moved my thumb to the lowest segment of my pinky finger. With the next breath, I was onto the ring finger and so on, until three segments of all ten fingers had been touched with their own breath.” Also read (2).

Related pages
Seminars and classes 

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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.”

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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’

“My back pain of 25 years standing is reduced by 80%”

Received this feedback from a person who attended my classes at the Albany Hindu Temple.

“I was suffering from back pain and sleep disorder for the last 25 years.  I was diagnosed with herniated disk and arthritis in L4 & L5.  Six years ago, I was hospitalized twice. I have been taking numerous pain relievers, muscle relaxers and narcotics for severe pain and spasms until last year.  I have been getting treated for 10 visits once in 6 months by Chiropractors and Physical Therapists.  Massage would make me feel good for a week. All  these would help for a week and then I would reach a plateau. I spent numerous hours and dollars at the pain clinics. Needless to say how much money was spent thru the Insurance Company.  I tried all kind of things from home remedies to old Grandma remedies to gain some relief without success.

A few months back,  I asked Suryanarayana Chennapragada (CS)  if he could teach me how to practice “SuryaNamaskar” (Sun salutations of  Yoga).  He mentioned about the ‘Focusing on breathing’ technique for relaxation and simple stretching exercises.  I had seen his brochures at the temple and other places.  I read them but never practiced.

I thought that I had nothing to lose, let me give it a try, may be this would work. I was meeting with CS every week, to learn the relaxation by breathing and stretching exercises.  After couple of weeks, I saw improvement in my sleep pattern and back pain.  I have been doing the breathing and stretching exercises for the past 3 months for about 30-45 minutes a day.  In this period, I did not take a single pain medication and had a good night sleep.  After mowing the lawn for about 3 hours, I would feel my back a a little sore but after a shower, breathing & stretching exercises I feel a lot better. After 30-45 minutes I am back to normal with no pain. Currently may pain is 20% of what it had been for so many years.

‘Focusing on breathing’  technique combined with the stretching exercises helped a lot with my back pain and sleep disorder. I  strongly suggest these techniques to everyone to reduce stress, back-pain and gain profound energy.  There is nothing to lose but a lot to gain, that too, without spending any Dollars.”

Related pages
How can I focus on breathing?
Relief from chronic pains – Success stories 
How to relieve chronic pains by ‘Focusing on breathing’ PDF

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