The Bhagwan played his sitar for about 20 minutes. Most everyone left for home during that time. When he looked up, he seemed surprised to see that there were still eight or 10 people sitting in the audience. He asked if there were any more questions.
“Thank you Bhagwan,” a female student responded. “I have trouble sleeping because I often wake up with worries on my mind. Then I can’t get back to sleep, which causes me to get up exhausted. I’m not an unhappy person by nature, but this makes me cranky. Is there a way to stop this cycle?”
“I understand. You’d like to get back to sleep as soon as possible because you have a busy day planned, but you can’t because your subconscious keeps filling your head with unwanted thoughts.
You can’t override these worries with positive thinking. Fear easily overrides the other emotions and you’ll soon be back to the negative self-talk.
Panic is a reaction from a primal fear center buried deep within a primitive area of the brain stem called the amygdala. Unfortunately, the amygdala can’t distinguish real from imagined threats, so even if the scenario was only a nightmare, your amygdala will implement the fight or flight response. Then you wake up in a sweat and breathing hard.
You can defeat this response with the movement of your diaphragm. The amygdala perceives slow, relaxed breaths as a signal to stand down.
This is why yogis often emphasize the importance of breath control or pranayama. You can neutralize the panic response by doing what gurus from the East have taught for thousands of years: control your breathing. Westerners seldom take this practice seriously because they don’t understand how a simple, physical exercise can change a person’s emotional state. However, studies using brain scans have produced empirical evidence for the effectiveness of pranayama. As a result, it is gaining respect in the Western world.*
The technique is actually quite simple; you can try this as I speak:
– Close your eyes and fill your lungs with air. Rather than taking one large breath, take two shorter breaths with a half-second delay in between. Make sure you fill your lungs completely.
– Now exhale slowly through your nose. Use your vocal cords to slow down the rate of your exhalation. This will cause your vocal cords to hum, ooooooohhmmmmmm. You’ll find that the sound and vibration of the humming helps to relax the mind – like a purring cat.
– For as long as you are humming, slowly move your eyes behind your eyelids from the extreme right to the extreme left. Then hold your eyes in the extreme left position until you’ve filled your lungs again.
– As you exhale, slowly move your eyes from the left to the right while exhaling, and hold them there until your lungs are filled again. Repeat over and over again.
Some people use imagery to facilitate this process. The one that seems to be most popular is to imagine your eyes following a ship as it slowly pulls into the harbor while humming in tune with its air horn. At the next exhale, your eyes follow another ship as it pulls out of the harbor in the opposite direction while humming in tune with its air horn.
When you first try this, you’ll find that your breaths are faster than you’d like, but if you persist, your bloodstream will saturate with oxygen and you’ll be able to slow your breath considerably. You’ll also be able to take longer pauses in between breaths.
By slowing down your breath, you’ll find yourself slowing your heart rate, which will reduce your anxiety. When your anxiety is under control, you’ll sleep well.
Another reason this practice works is because when your mind is occupied with breath control and eye movements, it is not focusing on your fears or problems. Breath control works much like a Koan, it shuts down that endless stream of consciousness which keeps you on edge.
This technique makes it physically impossible for your mind to remain in a state of high alert. You can do this any time you feel anxious: before an exam, waiting for the doctor or dentist, at a long stop light, in a grocery store line, etc. It has a remarkable calming effect and practiced regularly, will drop your resting heart rate and blood pressure.*
Pranayama can take your mind into a theta state – when the subconscious is most subject to suggestion and reprogramming. You are in a theta state under hypnosis, just before you doze off at night, just as you wake in the morning, when you’re zoning out on music, or anytime you are so completely engaged in what you are doing that you lose track of time. Those are the times when you should feed yourself positive affirmations, i.e.: I am popular, loved, respected, I am a good friend, spouse, employee, golfer, etc.
By practicing pranayama, you are taking control of your thoughts. Once mastered, your subconscious mind will no longer be able to control your behavior as the programming of your “hard drive” controls the behavior of your “computer.” You must learn to take control of your “hard drive” and reprogram it according to your wishes, or you’ll spend a lifetime being controlled by your conditioning and fears.”
Another student put up his hand. The Bhagwan nodded. “Sometimes when I go to bed at night, my muscles are so tense my body feels like it’s vibrating. Do you know of an exercise to alleviate that?”
“You’ve got a bad case of hypertension, son.” The crowd chuckled. “You’ll need to sort that out before you develop health problems.
If your muscles are relaxed, it’s impossible for you to be hypertensive. So, use your imagination to pretend that your whole body is made out of iron. Just lie there and think of each of your limbs, your head, your torso – made of solid iron. Once you’ve convinced yourself of that, imagine a giant electromagnet underneath your bed. Then throw the switch, which pulls your body so strongly into the mattress that you can’t move a muscle. This will signal your musculature to relax.
For those who are uncomfortable with electricity, think of your body as being made out of lead so heavy you can’t lift your limbs.
With practice, this will become a potent relaxation tool.”
Another student asked, “Bhagwan, I’ve heard that chakras can help us deal with life. How can we make them work for us?”
“Chakra simply means energy field. There are seven of them in the yogic tradition. Western science has recently confirmed that the human body is surrounded by an energy field. It’s strongest around the head and that is the origin of the halo image in religious paintings. But in fact, the entire body is surrounded by energy fields – which expresses in different colors. It’s too late to go into chakras now, but the important thing to know is that a bright white aura reflects optimum physical and mental health. How does this help you?
You can use the power of your imagination to influence your energy field. If you convince your subconscious during the theta state that your entire body is surrounded by a bright white aura, like the rays of the sun, your subconscious will react in a manner consistent with that image. It works much like a spell check on your screen. Incorrect words contrary to the programming of the subconscious will be automatically rejected. Disease and failure will be automatically rejected; witness the power of the placebo. What most distinguishes high achievers is their ability to direct their subconscious mind to generate only the desired result.
I know all this is a lot to take in, and some subconscious minds here may have already rejected it, but this system works, and it’s becoming more accepted as modern science validates these ancient yogic practices.”*
A student stuck up her hand again to ask another question, but the Bhagwan waved his hand.
“It’s late, and I’m sure we are all tired,” the Bhagwan responded, “so I suggest we end our session here.”
With that, the Bhagwan picked up his sitar and walked into his Airstream, followed by his two assistants.
I looked to Melody. “Wow, that’s a lot of information. I’m glad I got it on my recorder.”
“I’d like a copy of that.” She smiled and asked, “Why don’t you follow me back to the trout pond? I’m sure we’ve got a cabin available.”
*For more on this subject, see the YouTube podcasts of Dr. Andrew Huberman, Stanford School of Medicine associate professor of neurobiology. – Ed.
Header image courtesy of Pexels.com/Natalie.