There’s a line in the song “Mouthful of Diamonds’ by Phantagram that goes ‘you’re getting high on your own supply’.
Although the song wasn’t referring to the yogic breathing techniques collectively known Pranayama, it might well have been, as these techniques definitely are a fast and effective way of getting high on your own supply, and in the process shifting your mood.
And what a supply!
The word “Pranayama” is composed of two sanskrit words – “prana” and “yama”/”ayama”.
“Prana” refers to the animating life force that sustains all living beings, and is similar to the eastern concept “chi”.
“Yama” means restraint and “ayama” means a lengthening. Thus, very broadly, pranayama can be understood as either ‘restraining or mastering the life force’.
Either way, in my experience, practicing pranayama feels damn good.
And I’m someone who’s tried all sorts of means to get high, inevitably with very negative end results. By contrast, in practicing pranayama you are literally getting high on life and to date, I’ve personally found absolutely nothing that feels better than that.
In his book, “Light on Yoga” Iyengar strongly cautions against casual experimentation with this life force.
He writes: “pneumatic tools can cut through the hardest rock. In Pranayama the yogi uses his lungs as pneumatic tools. If they are not used properly, they destroy both the tool and the person using it. The same is true of pranayama” (p. 361)
When I’ve been suffering from the kind of depression that feels like the emotional equivalent of ‘concrete boots’, pranayama has provided a means for me to feel tangibly better and lighter, very quickly.
At these times, I rely heavily on Amy Weintraub’s wonderful practice
Breathe to Beat the Blues. She has put together a sequence of breathing exercises that is gentle but powerful. Her instruction is light hearted, even though her offering is deeply profound.
Her practice definitely facilitates an energetic clearance of some kind, that shoos away internal darkness. Even when I feel so bad that even as I’m practicing, I’m thinking “this can’t possibly work”, it’s guaranteed that a few hours later I will find myself smiling…and generally feeling much better.
I briefly met Amy Weintraub a few years ago. As she says at the beginning of ‘Breathe to Beat the Blues’, pranayama helped her to recover from a ferocious, life-force sucking depression. It was humbling to know that this diminutive, quietly-spoken person had created a healing tool of such power.
She described her pranayama practice to me as non-negotiable ‘mental hygiene’.
Whether you consider it ‘mental hygiene’ or ‘getting high on your own supply’, pranayama is one of the 8 limbs of yoga for a reason.
Even if you don’t suffer from depression, it’s certainly worth finding a good teacher or getting hold of Amy’s audio, and start learning how to interact efficiently with your life force.
And if you do suffer from depression, maybe take a look at her website: