My Pranayama journey

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A cure for a cure for cancer?

First of all, a disclaimer. I have no medical qualifications nor do I claim any scientific evidence to this exploration and outcome.
I am simply re-telling my experience and have in effect been my own guinea-pig in this experiment.
Better qualified readers may well dispute my findings. All I can say is that these techniques worked for me, and continue to work after more than 25 years of practise.
The history: 30 years ago I was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkins Lymphoma otherwise known as lympthatic cancer. The good news was (and is) that this type of cancer is well treatable with excellent percentage recovery prognosis.
However, the treatment required is quite a blunt and damaging weapon. I endured 6 weeks of daily radiotherapy at Adenbrookes hospital in Cambridge. This treatment blasts the cancer cells, but at the same time damages “good” cells, despite them being masked. As a consequence, I was left with extensive scarring on my lungs and restricted breathing. No more marathons for me (I had recently completed my first). But hey – I was alive and grateful for the treatment.
I was sent away with a steroid inhaler on repeat prescription, with the expectation that this would be part of my life forever.
But coincidentally, I had recently started my yoga journey. Although the teachers would reference breathing, it was mostly all about learning the asanas, and since I took to Ashtanga, the series of postures. But now I had to precise differently. I did try slower forms of yoga, but wanted to return to Ashtanga. And like most things in life, there are ways of turning a negative into a positive. The teachers taught “listen to your breath”. That now wasn’t so easy as it was rattling around in my lungs! Those waves coming in and out were now positively tidal. But I persevered and forced myself to examine breathing techniques.
I went to a few classes vaguely titled pranayama, but didn’t really get on with them too well. I then started attended daily lunchtime sessions in “Mindfulness’ of Breathing” at the London Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green. This help me to develop a greater awareness of my breath, with the counting technique and mind-clearing proving particularly effective.
I started practising daily counted pranayama with breath retention (kumbhaka). Although less regularly nowadays, I still use the following short routine:
• Mindful long inhale and exhale though the nose counting each to 5 – 5 times without retention
• Inhale counting to 5. Retain Breath at end of inhale for 5. Repeat 5 times
• Change retention to end of exhale. Repeat 5 times
• Retain breath at both the end of the inhale and the end of the exhale. Repeat 5 times.
This relatively simple technique helped me to learn how to breath more deeply and how to control my breathing.
I now precede this routine with Nadi Sodhana (alternate nostril breathing) in order to ensure that my breath is equally moving through both nostrils prior to starting full breathing exercises.
What this meant is that I was able to ditch the inhaler, which I never had to use again. It also meant I could further develop my Ashtanga practise, having no problems with intensive sessions in Mysore and elsewhere.
Getting deeper into breathing has led me to other techniques such as:
• Uddiyana breathing
I practise this every day as a precursor to Nauli (stomach churning). To practise – standing with feet a little more than hips distance apart and hand resting on thighs, inhale fully then open mouth exhale (pushing hands against thighs for extra leverage). Without inhaling, scoop in and up on lower abdominal muscles (uddiyana bandha) and hold for a count of 5. Release and inhale. Repeat 5 times
• Bhastrika or “bellows” breathing
As the name suggests, this is a method of forceful breathing. Inhaling and exhaling a little faster than normal, emphasis drawing in and pushing out the diaphragm.
• Kapalabhati (“Shining Skull”)
This is one of the Shatkarmas or six cleaning techniques. Similar to Bhastrika, although more importance placed on the exhale, and lower breathing.
A combination of these pranayama techniques have helped me avoid any return to the inhaler, and extend my yoga practise without worrying about lung functions.
Although pranayama has historically been the preserve of yoga devotees, western medicine is now catching up.
The NHS recommends different breathing techniques for different ailments, some of which are detailed on the NHS website.
I’m a firm believer in trying to heal ourselves using our own bodies. I’m still grateful for the medical treatment I received, but am happy to continue that treatment in a more natural way all on my own.

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