Have you ever heard about Descartes? René Descar-tes was born on March 31, 1596 in France. After studying the classics, logic and traditional Aristotelian philosophy, he came to the conclusion that the only subject which was satisfactory in his eyes was mathematics. In 1637 he wrote a treatise on science called Discours de la Methode (Discourse of the Method), where he came up with the famous precept: Cogito Ergo Sum, ‘I think, therefore I am’. This statement became the foundation stone for later philosophical movements such as Rationalism.
Descartes, although many of his mathematical theories have been proved wrong today, has had a profound influence on European thinking, particularly in France. Yet, there cannot be more of an untruth than in the precept, ‘I think, therefore I am’. Indian philosophy has known all along that man is not the thinking man, he is the consciousness, satchitananda. Sadly, today Descartes still partially rules the Western thinking world. Man explains everything by what is logical to his mind.
Enter pranayama — the art of breathing devised in India more than 5,000 years ago. “Our first act upon coming into this world is to breathe in, while emitting a cry… and our last, is to breathe out, upon expiring. But in between, we completely forget to breathe,” says Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who has revitalised pranayama in India and the world. And it is true: not only do we all neglect breathing — whereas it is the very basis of our existence — but have you ever noticed how when we are angry our breath becomes so laboured? And how when we are in sorrow or nervous about something we hardly breathe at all? No wonder many of us end up with blood pressure problems or heart attacks!
“Pranayama is such a simple everyday practice — and you will derive so many benefits out of it,” says Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. And in truth, these daily 30 minutes, which my wife and I have practised for 20 years, are so very precious, because they wipe out the previous day’s stresses, set the pace for the coming day and give us the right rhythm which carries us through any tiredness or hassles for the next 24 hours.
Pranayama is probably the best suited Indian yogic discipline for the West, because it is so down to earth, so scientific — there are no miracles, no levitation, no smoky mysticism and everything can be explained in a very rational way.
In India, it is known that prana not only circulates in the whole body, but that it is also in the air which surrounds us, in animals, in nature, and even in the mineral world. It is also found in food: today, one speaks of vitamins, proteins, calories — but one does not understand that it is actually the prana in the food which gives us energy; and the quality of this prana depends on the sort of food we are taking. Thanks to pranayama the yogis are not only capable of mastering their emotions, but also have control over their bodily functions. Some yogis are even believed to be able to slow down their breathing to such a tiny thread, that one may think they are dead!
Once my wife and I taught the Art of Living course to 40 French doctors who had come to discover India. During the first sudarshan kriya session, which forms the core of the Art of Living workshop, many doctors had wonderful experiences. The next day half of them, specially those who had strong experiences, did not turn up. Why? Because their minds could not understand what had happened to them. Because they thought it was some black magic. Descartes all over again!
Yet, there are many scientific explanations about the wonders of sudarshan kriya. Scientific research on this kriya has been conducted at centres of excellence such as at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and the National Institute for Mental Health and Neurological Sciences (NIMHANS), on its benefits. Not everything can be explained by the mind, reason and logic.
Life is a miracle, our breath and the way it works is one of the greatest of these miracles. Man likes to think that miracles are an inexplicable, mysterious phenomenon. “But God,” writes Sri Aurobindo, “works all his miracles by an evolution of secret possibilities which have been long prepared, at least in their elements, and in the end by a rapid bringing of all to a head, a throwing together of the elements so that in their fusion they produce a new form and name of things and reveal a new spirit.”
Are miracles then only a rearranging of forces, a harmonising of levels that have gone into dis-harmony just because of some event, reason, or impact? For me the greatest miracle is the change of human nature, because that is probably the most difficult.
Go home Descartes.
Source: Deccan Chronicle