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Responding to What Life Throws at Us: Pranayama and the NYC Earthquake

Park Avenue, near Wild Lotus Ayurveda office.

Have you ever noticed how your mind and body react to the things that happen to you?

Earlier this month, New York City experienced an earthquake that was said to be the first of its size in 140 years. 

While my apartment shook, I noticed that my blood pressure was rising rapidly in response.

“This can’t be happening!” I said out loud.

Logically, I could tell by the feeling that this wasn’t a huge earthquake (having grown up in Japan, I could even guess that this one was around a magnitude of 4!).

But my brain still told me, “There’s never been an earthquake of this scale in New York; maybe there’s an air strike going on, or an accident at a nearby power plant!” 

While looking up at the shaking walls and listening as the building rattled, I noticed that some of my senses were reacting with panic, but my breathing was calm and controlled. 

My body was naturally responding to the earthquake with anxious behaviors, but my brain was remembering to stay calm using pranayama, a stabilizing breathing technique I had been practicing since I began studying Ayurveda.

The brain responds the way it was taught…

Yoga philosophy teaches that conscious breathing can help us manage our mental and physical responses to events. Through stabilizing routines, like controlled breathing, we can tame our panic and anxiousness, and replace these hindering reactions with calm and logical responses. Pranayama can be dangerous when learned wrong, but there are many things we can do to calm our rattled senses when we are in a stressful situation. These routines are different for every individual and hard to generalize, but the important step is to first be aware of our immediate bodily and mental reactions to a stressful situation.

A person whose unconscious region is generally positive will have a positive reaction to any event. Inversely, if the unconscious region is stuck on past fears, anxiety, etc, the mind and body will react with panic and anxiety as a default. 

Once your brain learns to react to things in healthy ways, the rest of your body will follow.

We can practice our responses to stressful events by noticing our automatic reactions.

Here’s what a stressful event can look like without any special awareness:

⭐️Stressful event occurs

① Immediate bodily response

② Mental judgement occurs

③ Usual response is demonstrated (panic, confusion, etc)

④ The cycle repeats

Now, how can life look when we pay special attention to our natural responses?

⭐️Stressful event occurs

① Immediate bodily response occurs, but is kept under control with calming techniques

② Mental judgement occurs, but with stabilized body and mind, thinking is calm and rational 

③ Though we are aware of the stressful event happening, we can keep our body and mind from being overstimulated and panicked, and instead find healthy, rational solutions for the problem at hand


Bhramari Pranayama

As mentioned earlier, generalizing methods for controlling our physical reactions can be difficult. 

However, here’s one that you can try at home. All you need is your hands and a few seconds. 

Brahmari Pranayama method 

With each hand, gently:

  1.  Place your thumb on your tragus (to close your ear canal)

  2.  Place your index finger under your eyebrow ridge

  3.  Place your middle finger just under your eye

  4.  Place your ring finger next to your nostril

  5.  Place your little finger on the corner of your mouth

  6.  Keeping your 5 fingers in place, lower your chin and make a loud "mmm" sound, making sure you feel the vibration in your body 

  7.  Breathe deeply through your nose

Doing this may remind you of a bee’s buzzing! 

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