What was it about Pranayam that first got your attention?
Yossi Dayan: The first thing I noticed about Pranayam was the power and the depth of its impact. How it opened my inner vision.
Tell us about how you learned and studied Pranayam.
Swami Shyam and Yossi Dayan
It was all in India. I’ve been living there for 25 years and I learned from my teacher. His name was Swami Shyam and he was the most amazing being I’ve ever met in my life. He was a very powerful teacher so I studied from him and later on as I got more into the practice I started my own research.
Pranayam is actually an ancient practice. I was studying the ancient scriptures as well as many interpretations and commentaries. I practiced many varied different techniques of Pranayam. I practiced for many years.
My teacher was a super master. He was one in a billion and he took the yoga and the vision of Oneness to a different level that was very difficult to find anywhere else. That’s why I stayed with him for so long. His teachings were the key because he actually developed my understanding.
Pranayam is a great practice and you receive many health benefits. Ultimately through Swamiji’s teachings I came to realize why I’m doing Pranayam, and what is the end result. That is realizing my own true nature as being immortal and blissful, perfection, peace and love. That is why I practice it.
Most of the people who are practicing Pranayam or yoga or meditation are coming from the point of view that if you practice this or that, maybe one day you will become free. My approach is I am already that. I don’t practice in the hope that one day something will happen to me.
This is our true nature and through my master’s teachings I came to practice from the point of view of knowledge and not one of anticipation that something was going to happen.
It was a very powerful realization. Breathing opens your understanding. When you do Pranayam your mind is clear, assisting you both in study and meditation.
Why did you choose to study Pranayam?
As human beings we are made of energy, which is Pran, and consciousness. Consciousness is the mind and Pran is coming through our breath. So breath and mind are the two most essential elements of our existence. That’s why through both of them we can understand who we are. Both of them are very closely linked.
I chose Pranayam because it speaks to me. I’ve seen a lot of people trying to understand who they are and I saw how difficult it is. My master always said to me, “You have two ways. You have the mind and you have the Pranayam. You choose which one you like.” I chose Pranayam.
How does controlling your breath help you control your mind and why is it beneficial to be able to control your mind?
Swami Shyam and Yossi Dayan
The mind and the breath are intertwined so they affect each other all the time. Usually it is the mind that dictates how the breath is. It’s in control. If you are agitated, for example, your breath will be short and erratic. If you’re at peace your breath will be long and smooth and easy.
So it’s like an equation. If you breathe in long and deep and steady, your mind will follow because of that connection. Mastering the mind is always good. The mind is very useful for humans to live in the physical world but when one is looking for something deeper than that, the mind can be a hurdle. It will always take your attention to this, to things and forms and objects and relationships.
In meditation you’re looking for that which is unchanging. Our true nature is unchanging. Everything else is changing. This body is born and one day it will go but that which I’m seeking, and I know a lot of people are seeking, is the unchanging reality of our existence. And the mind will always be a problem on that path.
That’s why when you control the breath, you control the mind. And when the mind is under control it will be easier for you to experience and to know your true being.
Do you think Pranayam could be helpful especially with how hectic the pace of life is these days?
Yes I think the world is very overwhelming. I see all kinds of people from all walks of life that are totally engrossed with their physical existence. There’s nobody to blame for that. This is our life. But at any time it’s good for people to take a moment and take a pause from everything and just watch. People find it very hard to take a pause. People used to say, “Don’t just stand there, do something.” Now they’re saying, “Don’t do something, just stand there.”
Pranayam and the mastery of the breath will help you to take that pause and to help you to meditate.
So just standing there, or just taking a pause from the activity, is giving us the chance to look within and to experience our true nature which is peace and perfection without competition and without stress.
What kind of people would benefit from starting Pranayam even at a beginner level?
First of all I think that everybody can benefit from Pranayam. Everybody can benefit from being aware of their breath. Pranayam is just a technique but the main point is our breathing. Breath is life. Everybody knows that if you don’t breathe you don’t live, so breath is life. Therefore the quality of the breath will be the quality of your life. So if you breathe poorly like most people do, shallow and erratic, your life will have problems.
“The quality of the breath will be the quality of your life.”
I’m not trying to say that your life will be poor. Of course you can make money and live in a nice house or something. But if you know how to have quality of breath your whole well being: physical, mental, emotional, clarity of thinking, everything will be balanced and your life will be better.
We don’t really need much technique because breath is life and breath is the one thing that accompanies us all through our lives. From the moment we’re born until the day we’re gone we’re always breathing. This is the closest thing to us. Even closer than our mind. For example when we sleep our mind is not there but we’re still breathing.
The breath is always there and the breath is always ready to help us if we know how to do it. We only need to know a few exercises and practice them. The emphasis is on practice. I’ve encountered a lot of people that were interested in Pranayam and have studied it and know a lot about it but they don’t practice it. If you don’t sit and practice it, all the knowledge in the world isn’t going to help you. It might make you feel better when you read it because you think, “Oh wow this is amazing.” But if you don’t practice every day, even five minutes, you’re not going to get the benefit.
What will happen to someone who starts practicing Pranayam even for five minutes a day?
I think anyone that starts practicing Pranayam, or any kind of breathing exercise, the first thing they’ll notice is calm. They will feel less stress and be able to handle their life much more effectively.
I think anyone who starts practicing it will immediately see the results. First of all, just having the ability to sit for ten minutes and practice, because a lot of people can’t do that. The concentration level, the peace of mind and clarity of thought as well as making your immune system very strong, these are the physical and therapeutic effects. You’ll feel easy and comfortable and your life will be much better.
Pranayam is an ancient practice but can you tell us some of the ways you’ve developed your own interpretation of it?
Pranayam is an ancient technique and I found a lot of those techniques were practiced with quite a rigid attitude, in a way that it is always trying to gain something. If you do it correctly, according to the rules, you will go from one stage to the next and so on. It was very traditional, structured, controlled. I started to do Pranayam in this way, according to all the rules, but with the help of my teacher who was the coolest guy on the planet, I started to practice it in a peaceful way. Not that I would practice to become peaceful, but that I am peaceful. I’m practicing to remind myself that I’m peaceful. Therefore the whole practice is done with ease and comfort and not too many attentions to less relevant details. I don’t think that really takes you anywhere. Most of the benefits come from the attention and the awareness.
“It’s all about peace. It’s all about freedom. It’s all about perfection.”
To develop that, you don’t need to practice it exactly like this and the next day exactly like that. It’s open. It’s all about peace. It’s all about freedom. It’s all about perfection. Freedom and perfection will not come from practicing rigidly. It will come from practicing in peace and freedom.
I think my approach is easy and accessible. Anybody can do it and no one will be intimidated by some of the more challenging parts of traditional Pranayam. If the approach is simple then it’s easy and more attractive for more people. If it’s easy people will practice more and the benefit will be just as good.
Sometimes in life it’s hard to stay in control when things happen that are out of your control. Is Pranayam a tool that help us stay in control?
It is a very powerful tool to get control of yourself. I can speak from my own experience because I’ve been doing it for 25 years. Pranayam is definitely a tool that anyone can use because when they get in touch with their breath they can see the effect of breath on their nervous system, on their emotions. You have to see that and make that connection.
With just a little practice every day you can see the effect and you’ll be able to use it to help you deal with any situation that comes. And with time you don’t even have to do it consciously. It will be there all the time and it will change the way you act and react.
When you lose control or you’re in a bad situation, your breath is always with you. And if you know through Pranayam that before you became who you are you were peace and freedom and perfection, through your breathing you can connect to it immediately. If you’re losing control you can turn your awareness towards this knowledge and you will become less agitated, less aggressive, more compassionate and more understanding. The world needs all the help it can get.
How has your long practice of Pranayam changed who you are?
Being alive is a beautiful gift but I think one needs to understand what life really is. Being at peace is knowing that life is not only this, the physical level. A lot of people are afraid of dying but if you know that what you are, life itself, is immortal and is never going to die and is blissful then your whole approach to your physical life changes.