With mental health issues now on the rise, several therapists are using spiritual techniques such as pranayama, breathing and meditation as tools to cure mental health disorders. At a mental health conference that I attended in the capital, there was a session on ‘Guru as Therapist’. In it, various methods that have been helping people get rid of their stress, anxiety and depression disorders were discussed.

A psychiatrist even remarked that the medical fraternity cannot ignore the benefits of such practices, any longer. Unfortunately, not everyone in the medical fraternity believes in these practises and instead take the easy way out by prescribing pills for treatment of mental health disorders. These can be very damaging in the long run and make things worse.

Reena Singh

The good news is that controlling the breath and alternating short and deep breaths in a pattern of inhalations and exhalations has been proven to increase endorphin production in the body. This is known to  alleviate stress, besides relaxing the nerves and improving the mind’s ability to handle stress. Breathing exercises have the effect of disciplining the mind.

Once you learn to discipline the mind, it means that you have the power to apply the brakes when negative thoughts tend to flood your mind. In such a case, you can, at will, imagine something positive and change the tenor of your thoughts.

Almost all spiritual gurus have patented their brand of yoga and exercises for breath control. The Art of Living (AOL) has its internationally known Sudarshan kriya, while Sadhguru has his special Isha Yoga. Yogi Ashwini of Dhyan Foundation has the Sanatan Kriya that is guaranteed to bring the modern, busy man into a state of balance.  

AOL’s patented Sudarshan Kriya combines three sets of breathing exercises and light yoga exercises that elevate your mood and help you to think of the lighter and brighter aspects of life. The effects of this kriya have been studied at NIMHANS and AIIMS, besides foreign universities. The NIMHANS study in 2000, showed that a daily practice of Sudarshan Kriya helps patients get off their medication as well as effectively treats severe cases of depression.

The kriya shows that breathing is an art—and if exhalation and inhalation is done the right way, it can heal the sick and the stressed. Anger and anxiety, besides depression, affect breath. Sudarshan Kriya regulates the breath and uses it to stabilise emotions. The ins and outs of respiration—sometimes fast and sometimes slow done in a particular pattern is able to regulate moods. According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the ultimate aim of yoga is Samadhi—union of the self with the higher power. It is a series of steps to improve your physical and mental wellbeing.

If you cannot do physical yoga, you can try chair and desktop yoga. Use your hands first to massage the scalp, then pinch various parts of the face to improve circulation. Do this under supervision first, and then you can do the exercises on your own. 

Breathing exercises release the tension in your spine and kill stress. Asanas balance the rajas element in the body, and pranayama regulates our prana shakti that is essential for our mental and physical wellbeing.

Reena Singh has more than 37 years’ experience in senior editorial positions in The Times of India (TOI) and Genpact. She was Deputy Editor with TOI’s spiritual newspaper, The Speaking Tree, where she spent nine years.