I suffered from anxiety and depression for most of my life. At one point in my life I couldn't even get out of bed. I didn't want to exercise, or hang out with friends, or family. I felt trapped in my own mind. I spoke with my doctor who prescribed anti-anxiety medications. One of the side effects from my anxiety medication was teeth grinding, which led to chipped teeth and thousands of dollars in dental bills. A friend of mine told me about pranayama (breath control, or breath exercises) and I thought "an exercise that doesn't require me to move. why not".
Pranayama is a Sanscrit word meaning "breath control". Prana meaning "Life Force" or "Energy" and yama meaning "to control" or "restrain". I started with a technique called
, or equal part breathing. Where you count as you inhale, pausing at the top of the inhale, and count as you exhale. Matching the inhale count with the exhale count. At first I was easily distracted and often frustrated, but over time I counted higher without becoming detracted. The results of equal part breathing had a very calming affect on me. Counting my breaths gave me something to focus on other than the over-whelming chitter-chatter of my thoughts, or what Buddha called the "Monkey Mind".
I was able to listen to my feelings, thoughts, and emotions as they presented themselves to me and instead of getting carried away by them I worked through them with my breath. Eckhart Tolle calls this "the silent observer". I started to see I was more than my thoughts, my feelings, my emotions. That I could actually observe them. There were years of trauma I had held on to like a shield, and it wasn't protecting me, it was stifling me. Using breathing techniques, like the equal parts breath, allowed me to work through emotions, thoughts, and feelings with a sense of control. It empowered me to face uncomfortable feelings and emotions; my fears, shame, and guilt. Through conscious attention and control of my own inhales and exhales (and lots of loving kindness) I was able to cultivated a safe space to direct my anxious energy. I felt better after I practiced Pranayama and I started becoming more active. Practicing Pranayama gave me the initiative to take better care of myself. I sought more help. Seeking therapists who directed me to more mindfulness. I also found counselors, healers, teachers, massage therapists, and friends who encouraged healing.
Learning more about how the breath work influences our thinking and physiology I learned that the respiratory rhythm, directly and indirectly, affects the central nervous system. Shallow breathing activates our sympathetic nervous system,or our fight-or-flight response, producing stress hormones that are intended to help us outrun a charging saber tooth tiger, but we no longer have saber toothed tigers to worry about. Instead we have bills, deadlines, and expectations. Our new saber toothed tigers. And these new-age saber toothed tigers charge at many of us daily, hourly, and/or moment-to-moment. Constantly engaging your Fight and Flight response can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, ulcers, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Pranayama techniques like Sama vritti, or Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) counter the fight-or-flight and activate our parasympathetic nervous system, or our rest response, producing hormones that help us relax and recover from a long day of outrunning all those saber toothed tigers.
I offer Pranayama as a free class at my studio every Sunday @12:30pm. I offer it as a free class because it was given to me by a friend for free and because i believe it is a tool that anyone can find useful. I believe it saved my life.
Many of us struggle through bouts of depression or mild anxiety, others live with these conditions daily, hourly, moment-to-moment. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety or depression. I am by no means saying Pranayma can cure conditions like anxiety or depression. I am saying that mindful breath work like Pranayama can be a way to work with these conditions and work through them. It is a tool you can use to help manage your anxiety and depression.
There is help out there. Don't be ashamed to seek help. You deserve to be happy and healthy and it shouldn't have to cost you your life savings or your health to do so. You don't have to constantly worry about saber tooths. For me therapy was a great deal of help but Pranayama was my baseboard to recovery, and a way for me to live with my saber tooth tigers.
Thank you for reading.
Special thanks to Lori LaBundy for helping me edit.
For more Information to read on the topics discussed in my blog click one of the links bellow.
Anxiety statistics : https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics.
Sama Vritti technique: https://www.verywellfit.com/sama-vritti-equal-breathing-3566764. The calming power of our breath according to Patanjali's yoga sutras: https://www.elephantjournal.com/2018/07/the-calming-power-of-our-breath-accordingto-patanjalis-yoga-sutras/.
How breathing influences the nervous system: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6070065/.
How stress affects the body: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987