(B. Someshwar Rao)
Whether yoga mudras, pranayama and meditation are ‘Hindu’ and spiritual is a hotly debated issue. Some Islamic clerics have declared them Hindu and therefore ‘haraam’ for Muslims, while others feel they are mere methods for maintaining health and are not Hindu religious practices.
Studies in the West have found them to be highly beneficial in ensuring good health, as is intermittent fasting. Meditation, studies in the US found, benefits the nervous system and reduces blood pressure, one of the most common problems of elders.
Fasting on Monday by worshippers of Shiva, on Tuesday by those who have regard for Hanuman, on Saturdays for Venkateswara devotees or on every Ekadashi day may be religious, but the fact is that Hindu customs give a religious color to such practices only to ensure that they are followed.
All Hindu rituals have scientific basis and ritualization robs them of meaning. It is better if the practices are followed with understanding.
The debate could have been laid to rest with the United Nations Organization declaring in 2015 June 21 as the “International Day of Yoga” and its being celebrated in many countries across the world, but it continues Wikipedia describes Yoga as ”the mental and spiritual practice which originated in India.”
But, it continues because people confuse spirituality with religion. And an Indian custom with Hindu.
In the USA and Europe almost every city has a ‘Yoga Studio’ or several of them to commercially teach Yoga and it has become almost a fad, with thousands following it. President Ramnath Kovind has said Yoga is not associated with any religion, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who performs yoga daily, was at the forefront of the Yoga Day celebrations.There are several Yoga apps also available for guidance on Yoga.
Meditation and mindfulness have also been recognized by the West and there are also many apps on Google and Apple play-stores to help with meditation like ‘lnsight Timer,’ which was chosen ‘app of the year’ by Time magazine and also provides meditation and sleep music. There are others like Headspace, Let’s Meditate, Calm, Atom, Simple Habit, Mindfulness With Petit Bam Bou,Oshio, Medito,Buddhify, Sattva, MyLife Meditation and several others.
One of the best such apps, however, is ‘Waking Up’ of Sam Harris, a renowned thinker. There are apps of sleep inducing music which can be used with a sleep timer. For Hindu religious guidance ‘Dandapani’ app and several YouTube channels provide discourses by eminent persons (pravachankartas).
A part of yoga and equally important for maintaining good health are ‘pranayama’ or breathing exercises and ‘yoga mudras’. They can be understood from several books and compact discs (CDs) like those of Baba Ramdev whose demonstrations of the same have been attracting lakhs of people.
One such book is ‘Pranayama and simple Yoagasanas’ by Prahlad (www.omyoga123.org) published by Om Yoga Pratishthana based on the original work of the sage Mahasrhi Patanjali, ‘Yoga Darshan’, which also explains various ‘Mudras’ which activate vital functions of the body, thereby ensuring good health. Pranayama and Mudras are exercises of breath control, affective only when one observes the other five Yamas: non-violence, non-stealing, truth, celibacy and selflessness.
The books tell the benefits of each mudra as the general ones are for good health, with speicifc Chikitsa Mudras or therapeutic ones aimed at specific ailments.
To practice ‘Pranayama’ one closes his/her eyes (to keep out visual distractions) puts three fingers on the forehead with thumb and little finger on either side of the nostrils. When the little finger touches the left nostril one breathes though the right nostril only and similarly the thumb closes the right nostril. Just touching either nostril with the thumb or little finger would do and there is no need to press. One takes a deep breath through one nostril exhales through the other, inhales again from the same nostril deeply, closes it, and exhales through the other one.
This is repeated for five,10 or 15 minutes. Once you start Pranayama you realize that five minutes is a very long time. The deep inhaling, holding the breath for some seconds and deep exhaling after it reduces the number of breaths per minute. It is seen that normally a human breathes 15 times in a minute and human life span is 100 years. Shata ayushman bhava in Sanskrit or sausaal jiyo in Hindi is the normal blessing among Hindus (the Bible puts life-span at ‘three score and ten’ i.e. 70 years for humans).
An amphibian, tortoise, (also kurma the second avatara or incarnation of God – which coincides with the second stage of human evolution –the amphibian– according to Charles Darwin) has a normal life-span of 400 to 500 years. Ancient Indian sages were believed to have lived for hundreds of years with breath control and Siddha walking –i.e. walking clockwise on a line drawn as two touching circles in the shape of ‘8’ from north to south for 15 minutes, and anti-clockwise from south to north for the same duration.
Seeing the line and walk exactly on it ensures concentration or focus, keeping out stray thoughts. If it is in sun light it also fulfils the task of daily exposure to Sun for Vitamin D generation.
There are several types of Pranayama. Besides the ‘aalomvilom’ described above, there is ‘Bhramri’ in which the fingers are placed on the eyes lightly, closing them to avoid visual distractions and the two thumbs in two years to shut out distracting sound and the same deep inhaling and exhaling practiced. The third, often demonstrated by Ramdev, involves exhaling in a whiff suddenly and moving stomach muscles from side to side, called Kapala Bharati.
It is desirable that the mudras and Pranayama are practiced under the guidance of a Guru or teacher. Sitting in a ‘padmasana’ pose on a yoga mat on the ground is preferred, but as it is not always possible in modern days one can sit on a chair or sofa, but hanging the feet freely without crossing them. Besides activation of ‘Chandra naadi’ in left nostil and ‘suryanaadi’ in right nostril, Pranayaama also reduces the number of breaths per minute, (To be continued) (The author is a veteran journalist and these are extracts that we are reproducing from his E-book)