Friday, July 31, 2009

A beautiful prayer

Watch it here. The video has both visual and audio appeal.

The lyrics go:

Asatoma Sadgamaya
Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya
Mrityurma Amritangamaya

Meaning (my interpretation added):

May I move from untruth to truth, from lack of clarity to clarity, from illusion of life to reality of self.

May I move from darkness to light, from negative thoughts to positive thoughts, from fear to love, from worry to peace, from stress to relaxation, from depression to joy, from resentment to gratitude. May I move towards a fuller appreciation of life, towards a celebration of life, towards a greater understanding of this grand journey, towards this grandoise unravelment of the self.

May I move from fear of death to the truth of my own immortality. May I find my true self that resides within me and know that it resides within everyone and everywhere. May I with this realization spread the word of love,peace and truth through my actions, through my thoughts, and through my words.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti hi

Peace Peace Peace.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Overcoming Panic Attacks

CAUTION: This article contains some not so pleasant details. Use your discretion in reading it.

I vaguely knew what a panic attack was, when I had one back in 2007, August. Over the month of July, I had been worrying a lot about my future. Things were not working out well with my current advisor. I was looking at my options: Quit department, change department, change advisor same department, quit university, quit Phd. Different people were giving me different opinions and that was adding to my worries. My big worry was funding, will I get funded next year or not? This worry was literally eating me up.
It started as a pain in my chest region, I wasn't sure why that pain was there because I was healthy otherwise. But the pain seemed to be slowly growing over the month of July.
One fine night in August 2007, I was biking back from my department through the school to my home. At some point I became aware that I was becoming short of breath. I stopped riding, got off my bike and went to the side of the road. Then it happened.
My heart started beating fast and soon it was pounding hard in my body, I had hot shivers go through my body and I was having a hard time standing. It felt like I was having a heart attack.
I took a lot of deep breaths and sat down on the curb till I could muster courage to get up and ride the bike back home. That night I had two more panic attacks and it was worse.
I knew two things about what was going on:
a) Whenever it happened, I was short of breath,and I felt like I was heart attack. I reasoned that I was too young to have a heart attack.
b) As if it were not enough that I had a heart pounding hard in my chest, my mind also joined the game and started zipping between places at an insane speed.. Infact I thought that at that insane pace, my mind was going out of control, which could only mean that I was going insane!

Dark night of the soul
That night, through the panic attacks, I prayed beside my mind.. My mind was having its own gibberish thoughts at insane speed, but I was also able to use the mind in between to pray to God. God, what's going on, what's happening.. My heart is pounding, I feel like I am going insane, help me. Please help me...I was totally frightened and overwhelmed by all the drama happening within my body and mind. It is the most frightening and intense experience I have ever had in my life.
From my senior high school years (when I started practicing Shavasana), I knew that the mind-body connect was definitely real. Relax the mind, and that relaxes the body and conversely; relax the body and the mind will become more relaxed too.
At this point at 3 am in the morning, once my panic attack subsided, I had only one option:
Do as many rounds of Shavasana as possible to fully relax the body and hope that the mind would calm down enough for a night's sleep.
I had trouble going through the Shavasana suggestions, since you need to atleast be able to focus the mind and say, 'Relax toe', but my mind was just zapping away carrying me with it.
I would try again and again.. Before I knew it, I would be at the toes again, working my way up.
Finally, after about an hour and many half-rounds of Shavasana, I was able to work my way from the toe to the head in one round.. This was an indication that my mind had calmed down..
I fell asleep while I was doing another of these relaxation rounds...

Daybreak and acceptance
I hardly managed three hours of sleep that night.. And I woke up many times during those 3 hours to observe my mind chattering away.. I had to figure out what was going on.
I googled my symptoms and lo and behold, I figured I was having panic attacks. Thank God, in this day and age, we live just one click away from instant answers.
I read that once you have a panic attack, it's very likely that you can have a few more, since you just need to get worried that you will have another panic attack and that will trigger one.
Panic attacks get perpetuated by panicking!! The way out? Stop panicking... Which is not at all easy, with a mind that goes out of control during panic attacks. I remember walking to Safeway that day, and there was this tall guy at the corner of the building, smoking weed and talking to himself. Looking at him brought out my fear of the insanity that I was going through the night and this set my heart pounding faster, because I was worrying about that!
I read about some strategies to reduce the risk of another panic attack.
The first thing I needed to do was cut out all of my conscious worrying that I did.
I had a copy of 'Conversations with God' by Neale Donald Walsch. I browsed through it and came across this phrase in the book, 'What you resist, persists'. I decided to adopt the attitude of 'acceptance'. Let me just accept my situation, however bad it may seem. Let me let go of my worries. Coupled with these perspectives, I relaxed my body as much as I could during the day, so that my night would be a little more peaceful.
The next night wasn't as intense but I still did have a panic attack. I did my Shavasana rounds and managed to catch some sleep.
That whole week, all I did during the day, was just walk around the campus, enjoy the scenery, relax, read a book, pray to God, and just accepting my situation and being grateful that I am alive: Things I had been postponing due to my worrying habit. And during the night, I relaxed my body as much as I could through Shavasanas.
Every night got better than the previous one.. My panic attacks stopped after 3 days, but I would still be short of breath and my heart would start racing all of a sudden frequently, but the thoughts in my mind started mellowing down, which was a great relief for me.
I continued my Shavasana routine every night for the next one month, and thankfully, I was able to put the Panic attacks behind me and get a new perspective on life: 'Nothing, really, nothing, is worth my peace of mind'.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

A powerful relaxation technique: Shavasana

I. Introduction
My first exposure to yoga was in my fifth grade. I started going to yoga classes nearby in the morning. We first started with some basic stretching exercises.. Having warmed up, we sat down for breathing exercises including Anuloma-viloma, Bhastrika (Bellows breath), Kapalabhati (skull shining breath), etc. After that, we would do the Suryanamaskar(Salutations to the Sun exercises) and then take it easy for a while before getting onto asanas(Yogic postures). Towards the end of the asanas routine, we would do the shavasana or corpse-posture.
The idea is to make the body go limp or flaccid just like a corpse. Shavasana is one of the most peaceful relaxation techniques I have come across.
After a while, I stopped going to Yoga classes.
I was reintroduced to Shavasana when I was in my 10th grade by my maternal uncle, when I was prone to getting tense often. This technique helped me keep calm during those stressful years, where I had to focus well on my studies to get into a good college.

II. Shavasana Technique
Here's the technique I use(usually before going to sleep):

1) Lie down on your back or to your side (whichever is comfortable), preferably on a firm or not-very-elastic surface.
2) Close your eyes. Now, mentally relax each part of the body beginning at the feet and ending at the top of the body. The relaxation happens through suggestions in your mind to relax a part of the body. Once you practice this technique a few times, you can realize the relaxation that happens by this auto-suggestive process very tangibly.

Below, I give the exact details of how I go about doing my auto-suggestion for relaxation:
I begin with the right leg, then my left leg, then my upper body, then my neck, face and finally the head.
I try to go into as much detail(body parts) as possible. Here are the details:
i) Right leg:
a) I repeat in my mind, 'Relax the toes' and feel the toes becoming lax.
b) 'Relax the ankle joint' and feel the area around the ankle joint relax.
c) 'Relax the calf muscles' and feel it relaxing.
d) 'Relax the knee joint'.
e) 'Relax the right thigh muscles'.
f) 'Relax the right quadriceps'.

Similarly, I relax the different parts of my left leg.

ii) Groin through upper body:
a) 'Relax the groin'
b) 'Relax the small intestine'
c) 'Relax the large intestine'
d) 'Relax the pancreas'
e) 'Relax the liver, lungs'
f) 'Relax the heart'. The heart has four chambers. I go into those details too:
'Relax the left auricle', 'Relax the left ventricle', 'Relax the right auricle', 'Relax the right ventricle'.
g) 'Relax the bronchial tubes or the wind pipe'
h) 'Relax the esophagus or the food pipe'.
i) 'Relax the throat - Relax the larynx and the pharynx (voicebox)'.
j)'Relax the teeth and tounge'.

iii) Neck through top of the head
a) 'Relax the neck,cheeks'
b)'Relax the eyes, ears, eyebrows(!),forehead,nostrils,nose,ears'
c)'Relax the brain - Right and left hemispheres. Relax the cerebrum,cerebellum and medulla'.
d) Relax the skull.

This is one round of Shavasana for me. You can see just by looking at the details above, there are a lot of places to relax the body, a lot of places where small pockets of tension could be released just by imagining and suggesting that it be relaxed. By the end of one round of Shavasana, I am significantly more relaxed than before.
I use this technique on a day to day basis to get my body fully relaxed before going to sleep every night.
I have also used this method to effect in many situations and periods of my life to great effect.
This technique has been a saving grace to me through panic attacks(that I had for about a week in 2007) and Obsessive compulsive disorder( that I had during my highschool/college days,though I actually overcame OCD through mindfulness meditation).

Ofcourse, you don't need to have panic attacks and OCDs to realize the benefits of Shavasana.
The average person these days gets stressed out often. To realize that stress is an intrinsic mechanism and isn't strongly related to circumstances is a powerful thing to know. That you can be at peace irrespective of where you are, what situation you are in is a powerful thing to know.
Shavasana is one step towards that knowing. It can get your body relaxed quickly with practice.