Our body is like an advanced version of a self-driving vehicle e.g. Tesla. The natural evolution process has trained us to create autonomic systems in our body that can take care of itself. As with every driver-less vehicle running on autopilot, there is also a capability for the driver to manually operate the vehicle. In our case, the mind, also termed as a monkey in Buddhism, is sitting on the driver’s seat managing the vehicle. We are the passengers on a journey, with the monkey on the wheels handling an extremely advanced vehicle, our body.
This was selected as the topic for one of the knowledge calls within the organisation I work, on how we, the passenger, can train the mind, the monkey, to manage autonomous responses in our body, the Tesla, using different breathing techniques.
Our body has a control system in form of autonomic nervous systems (ANS) that acts largely unconsciously and regulates bodily functions, such as heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, etc. The ANS has three branches, of which two are known as sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system provides response in terms of flight or fight, whereas the parasympathetic nervous system works on rest and digest i.e. activates when the body is at rest. The parasympathetic nervous system is complementary to the sympathetic nervous system, and they both are required for us to survive and live a healthy life.
The sympathetic nervous system gets activated in panic e.g. let’s say a tiger is after you then it is about flight or fight, pushing all the energy in our legs so that we can run as fast we can. This action deprives other areas of the body, as the larger share of energy is provided to a selective part of the body based on the circumstances. This is fine, if the encounter is going to last for a short duration but it is not sustainable, if we live 24 by 7 and 365 days of the year in dominance of sympathetic nervous system because of the work pressure.
This is where breathing exercise comes to our rescue to help train the monkey that is about to hit the panic button. The breathing exercise triggers the parasympathetic nervous system and applies brakes to bring us back into the rest and digest state. Research in recent times have shown that heart rate in itself may not be a good health indicator, whereas Heart Rate Variability is a better measure to track well-being i.e. consistent and regular change of state from flight/fight mode to rest/digest and vice versa.
There is a controlled breathing (Pranayama) technique in Yoga known as Anulom Vilom. It involves holding one nostril closed while inhaling, then holding the other nostril closed while exhaling. The process is then reversed and repeated. Alternate nostril breathing is said to have many physical and psychological benefits, including stress reduction and improved breathing and circulation. There’s scientific evidence that supports some of these claims.
Practising anulom vilom breathing first thing in the morning may help start your day from a better place and serves as a great relaxation technique to provide a sound sleep.
I have recently emerged from a very rough experience of Covid. At one point, at 2am in very cold December, when the oxygen levels were going down, with heavy breathing and heart rate completely out of control, I thought I am not going to make it. Sitting next to a radiator and seriously concerned about the welfare of my family, I did Pranayam and Prayers to calm my nerves, and left it to my belief system and faith in Him to sort it out. At that moment the only thing I wanted was to see through the night and look for the first rays of the morning.
Fortunately, I made it and have completely recovered. This blog has been written to help friends and colleagues working in different organisations and geographical locations, and are currently going through stress either due to lock down or other health challenges.
I am currently working as Principal Enterprise Architect, leading on Enterprise Architecture for British Telecom’s Data Analytics Transformation.
The concept of Me, Monkey and Tesla has been taken from The Keshav Way by Vinay Sutaria.