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Listen to these voices on the lockdown:

  • I was expecting to have joined work by this time. Now, I don’t even know if my job offer still stands: The new graduate waiting to enter the job market.
  • I was supposed to be choosing universities to study this year. But I have not even finished my final exams: The 12th grader waiting to embark on life in a university.
  • I have to get back out there and train; I can’t afford to stay at home for so long: The sportsperson waiting to train for competitions.
  • I have to start my film shooting. I can’t afford to pay my crew indefinitely without any scope for revenue: The producer of a film 
  • With contracts getting canceled, inflows have plunged. I will have to let go of 3,000 of my staff: The HR manager of a big concern

The fear and anxiety are palpable in the working population of the world as economies have been hit badly by the coronavirus pandemic. Are you experiencing lockdown blues too? How can you deal with lockdown anxiety? Is there a solution to this terrible predicament we are in now? Yes, you have to keep your mind calm during the lockdown – and stay put at home. 

Easier said than done, you think? How can you stay calm during the lockdown when your education/job/health/future is at stake? This is where yoga asanas and pranayamas can help you. 

The best thing is that you don’t have to go out, and worry about masks and social distancing. Right at home, you can find a way to stay calm, think rationally and composedly at this lockdown time when it seems almost  impossible – just by using your breath!

How pranayamas can help reduce anxieties

Though we don’t have external remedies, we do have in-built weapons – a robust immune system that  has disease-fighting cells – the White Blood Cells (WBC). And the strong and powerful mind which can propel us into a state of invincibility. To activate these two weapons, we need to first attack the source of our troubles – the fear of contracting the virus. 

This is how the breathing practices of yoga called pranayama can help you. When we are nervous or tense, it is our breath that is most obviously affected. So, if we learn to control our breath, we can  manage our fears. The breath has amazing recuperative powers. If we consciously control our breath, we can alter the state of our mind! How?

How you can control your mind through your breath

Breath is closely connected to the state of our mind and emotions creating a breath-emotion loop. That means that our thoughts and emotions affect our breath patterns or breathing rhythm. So when you are anxious, your breath becomes short and fast. On the other hand, when you are engaged in a pleasant conversation or are in a happy space, your breath becomes slower, longer, and deeper reflecting your relaxed state of mind.  

Similarly, the breath also influences your mental and emotional state. When you consciously breathe more slowly and deeply, your mind also becomes calm and relaxed. And this happens very quickly. You can regain control over your mental and emotional state in a few minutes! So you have the reins to activate your body’s innate ability to relax in the form of conscious breathing! This is pranayama.

Benefits of pranayamas:

Pranayamas can boost your immune system, and make you clear-headed enough to make informed decisions and act quickly, while they help you manage your anxieties. It

  1. slows and regularizes the breath
  2. engages a part of the nervous system called the parasympathetic nervous system that helps you calm down and relax. This system helps increase your resilience to face challenges and keeps your mind focussed and still. This calming mechanism helps build your immunity.
  3. links your hormonal, immune, detox, and nervous system
  4. can increase the capacity of your respiratory system, increasing the vagal tone and decreasing stress hormones and activating the lymphatic system which plays a major role in the immune system.
  5. controls the autonomic nervous system which controls essential functions such as the heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure according to research published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine. 
  6. can increase the number of natural killer cells – White Blood Cells (WBC).

The wonderful thing is that just a few minutes of breathing practice can make you strong and resilient, isn’t it worth it to make it your lifelong gift of health to yourself? 

Yoga asanas to prepare you for pranayama

We would suggest that to get the maximum benefit of pranayamas, you should first prepare your body with some yoga asanas. Here are some yoga asanas to help build your immunity:

  1. Hastapadasana
  2. Parivritta Trikonasana
  3. Ardha Matsyendrasana
  4. Bhujangasana
  5. Dhanurasana
  6. Naukasana
  7. Setubandhasana

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Simple pranayamas or breathing techniques to reduce anxiety

Each of these pranayama techniques will help strengthen your immunity:

1. Belly breathing

Choose a comfortable sitting position – you could sit in sukhasana (cross-legged) on the floor, with your feet on a cushion or on a yoga mat, or on a chair with your feet flat on the floor.

  1. Keep your back and neck straight and sit upright.
  2. Relax your body.
  3. Close your eyes.
  4. Keep your mouth closed and breathe easily.   
  5. Keep a general smile.
  6. Breathe comfortably for a few moments.
  7. Notice the quality of your breath. Is it shallow, fast, shaky, or slow? Simply observe. Do not judge.
  8. Place your right palm on your belly below your ribs and the other hand on your chest.
  9. Take a slow deep breath in and breathe out slowly. 
  10. Notice the movement of your body. Your abdomen naturally expands and contracts. 
  11. Continue taking slow, deep, and gentle breaths in and out.
  12. Make your breath slower and deeper, and breathe out slowly.
  13. Continue breathing in the same pattern. 
  14. Complete 12 rounds.
  15. Relax your hands. Place them on your thighs. Allow your breath to return to normal.
  16. As you do so, observe the state of your mind, the sensations in your body and your surroundings. 
  17. Gently open your eyes.

Now, lie down comfortably on your back with your legs stretched out and your feet in line with your hips. Repeat the same exercise lying down. 

2. Bhastrika Pranayama

Bhastrika Pranayama will enhance your lung capacity enabling you to breathe in more fresh oxygen and remove toxins and impurities from your system. 

3. Nadi Shodhana Pranayama

  • Nadi Shodhan pranayama helps with circulatory and respiratory problems. It helps you relax by releasing the accumulated stress from the body and mind 
  • It also helps purify the energy channels ensuring a smooth flow of prana (life force) through the body.

This will energize and compose you ensuring your immunity is strong and hence preventing illness.

Life is a balance of activity and rest. This is the time for rest. Time we should use productively, without becoming anxious. Nature has given us time to rest and reflect. Time to cleanse the heart, mind, soul, and society. Nature is telling you to value the life that has been given to you. Learning pranayamas like Ujjayi, Bhastrika, and Nadi Shodhana, along with meditation, can be very helpful in dealing with the mind. Sudarshan Kriya has elements of pranayama, yoga, and meditation incorporated in it and works on every level of the body.

~ Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

You can learn more about yoga asanas for boosting immunity here and watch a video on how to increase immunity by Dr. Ravi Onkari, Head of Corporate yoga programs – Art of Living Sri Sri Yoga here.

Based on ‘3 Best Pranayama for Anxiety & Strengthen Immunity’ by Dr. Nisha Manikantan, Senior Consultant, Sri Sri Ayurvedic College