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The Body-Breath- Mind Connection
by Swami Saradananda

Swami Saradananda is an internationally-renowned yoga and meditation teacher. She has taught yoga for more than thirty years and is the author of several books.

Swami Saradananda

Have you ever stopped to observe the state of your body when you are under intense pressure? What is your breathing like when you feel stressed out, fearful or worried? If you are like most people, your muscles tighten. Simultaneously your breath speeds up and becomes increasingly shallow. This instinctive "fight or flight" response makes it difficult, if not impossible, for you to breathe fully and deeply.

The pressures of modern life may be causing you to frequently feel stressed out, yet it is often not possible to run away, nor is it a good idea to be fighting with those around you. Instead you may find yourself relieving your tension in other ways, not always healthy ones, which enable you to take a deep breath. How you react often depends on your personality. For example, you may begin to shout, or you may feel so frustrated that you start to cry, or you may reach for a cigarette.

The best advice is the old adage to "just take a deep breath." Yet, if you are unaccustomed to breathing deeply when you are not stressed, deep breathing becomes increasingly difficult when you are faced with stressful situations.

The fact that your body, mind and breath are intimately connected is now a scientifically accepted fact. Learning to control your breath is the best possible form of stress management.

Many yoga texts describe this body-mind-breath connection using the analogy of a lake or ocean. When the weather is rough, sediment is churned up and the water becomes murky. But when the wind dies down, the mud gradually settles and the water becomes clear. In a similar way, the faster you breathe, the more you churn up distracting thoughts. As you relax, your breath deepens and lengthens, and your mind becomes more lucid and clear.

Learning to control your breathing enables you to gain conscious control of the energy moving through your body. It can connect you with your suppressed emotions, help you to free yourself of your own restrictive beliefs, and enhance your self-image and self-confidence.

Meditation on your Breath - Calming your Mind

  • Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight. It is best to not lie down during meditation, as you will tend to fall asleep.
  • Close your eyes and take a few exaggerated deep breaths. Then let go of your breath. Don't try to control it, but let it come to a comfortable, natural rhythm. Let it be as deep or as shallow as it likes - as fast or as slow as is comfortable.
  • Don't try to control your breath, but begin to watch it. Notice how it rises and falls. Do not try to change or slow your breath, but just observe it.
  • Experience your breath as it enters your nostrils; feel it going past the back of your throat. Picture the path of the air as it moves down your trachea into your bronchial tubes, then see it entering and filling your lungs.
  • Note how there is a slight halt, a momentary holding, as your in-breath turns around to transform itself into your out-breath.
  • As you breathe out, be aware of how your lungs are emptying themselves of air. Visualise your breath as it moves up and out of your body.
  • Notice the slight wind that your breath produces on your upper lip. Then there is a pause. Your breath stops for a moment and transforms itself into your in-breath.
  • Visualise yourself joyously drawing in life with each inhalation.
  • Release pent up emotions and impurities with each exhalation.
  • Gradually see your mind calming; note how it slows with your breath.
  • Watch your breath. Listen to your breath.
  • If your mind drifts off, keep bringing it back to your breath.

Try to sit for 10-20 minutes with your mind completely focused on your breath. Then stand up, stretch your body and notice how calm you feel.


Cultivating Saucha in Everyday Life
by Swami Saradananda

"When your body is cleansed, your mind purified and your senses are controlled, you experience the joyful awareness that enables you to realise your inner self."

Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 2-41

In his classical text Yoga Sutra, Maharishi Patanjali takes every opportunity to remind you that your body is the essential vehicle of your soul on its journey towards perfection. To maintain good physical and mental health, he strongly suggests the practice of "saucha," i.e. purification of your body, mind and environment.

Saucha is purification on all levels. It includes the physical cleanliness of bathing your body, maintaining an orderly home, eating healthy food and drinking clean water. It also involves mental clarity and speech that refrains from emotionally-charged obsessions and addictions. Saucha is a pre-condition for experiencing the fullness of life and enjoying inner peace.

The practice of saucha enables you to select wisely from the many choices of food, emotions, and thoughts that are waiting to enter into your body and mind. As your body becomes purified, you will probably notice that your health is improving. As your mind becomes purified, you will most likely find yourself feeling increasingly clear, friendly and cheerful. Saucha is not only the foundation for health of your body and mind; it is also an essential doorway to deeper states of meditation.

Saucha assists your physical and energetic bodies, enabling them to better release accumulated tensions, toxins and waste materials that hinder the healthy flow of blood, oxygen and prana. A pre-requisite of good health is good circulation. Similarly, the regular practice of purification of your mind and emotions lessens psychological and sensory distractions. You become better at letting go of the mental clutter that has come about through your attachments to past experiences, demands of your body and anticipation of future events.

Yoga postures, performed with a conscious relaxed breath, have a cleansing effect on your body and mind, whilst calming your emotions. You can further purify your mind through regular meditation and ongoing study.

Purify your karma by establishing a regular practice of yoga and meditation. This enables you to "burn" your karma more quickly and efficiently. Cleanliness and order lift your self-esteem, reinforce your knowledge that you are worthy of good experiences and improve your self awareness. Your intentions are clearer, unencumbered by gross and subtle imbalances.

The reverence you bring to your daily life and the cleanliness you practice reinforces your sense of sacredness. It is no coincidence that Gandhi worked so hard at sanitation efforts in both South Africa and India. Without purity of body and mind, spiritual clarity tends to elude you. The immensity and luminosity of your true self and your connection to spirit and to others becomes clouded. The transparency you cultivate by the practice of saucha enables you to reflect the divine more completely in all your relationships. It is worth the effort to find time each day to practice the observance of saucha and to express gratitude for your ability to do so.

Some suggestions for integrating the practice of Saucha into your daily life:

  • Learn yoga kriyas (cleansing exercises), such as neti, from a qualified teacher. Practice them on a regular basis.
  • Make a resolve to straighten your desk/ kitchen/ work area each day before you leave it.
  • If your living space is overly cluttered, prepare a bag for the charity shop. Every day, put one item into it. When the bag is full, drop it off at the charity shop and prepare another bag.
  • Resolve to clean out at least one drawer or cupboard each week.
  • Each week, eliminate one potentially negative item from your diet. Daily note the effect (if any) on your body and mind.
  • Resolve to say what you mean. Watch yourself, your thoughts as well as your actions, as though you are an objective observer. Notice how transparent you are.
  • Start a Journal. Choose one or more of the following questions to work with. Write each question at the top of a separate page in your journal. Each morning, sit for at least 10 minutes and write down whatever comes to mind - don't be your own editor - just write! If you have a meditation practice, it is best to sit just after you have finished your meditation.

    • What do my home and work area say about the state of my mind?
    • How do I relate to my body?
    • Do I actually experience my body as the temple of my soul?
    • What eating habits could I change to make my mind more clear and light?
    • How could I better cleanse my thoughts and emotions so that my true self could shine through?
    • In what ways could I simplify my life?
    • How else might I enhance the practice of saucha in my life?

Not all of these questions necessarily apply to you. The opportunity to practice saucha arises every day. Regular practice clears and cultivates your physical, mental and emotional palate.

  Sheaths - Layers Purified by
1. Physical Body Annamaya kosha
Food Sheath
Asanas, pranayama, kriyas, pure diet, fasting
2. Astral Body 2a. Pranamaya kosha
Vital Sheath
Asanas, pranayama, voluntary silence
  2b. Manomaya kosha
Emotional Sheath
Pranayama, fasting, selfless service, chanting, meditation
  2c. Vijnanamaya kosha
Intellectual Sheath
Karma yoga, meditation, positive thinking, right inquiry, svadhyaya (self-study)
3. Causal Body Anandamaya kosha
Bliss Sheath
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