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Parsis, yoga and pranayama

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Parsis, yoga and pranayama

Roj Marespand Mah Meher, 1379 Yz.

Today’s fast paced and chemical-laden life has brought, in addition to the comforts and conveniences of the modern age, new and varied illnesses and disorders that plague most of us. Physical wellness and being fit is high up on most persons’ wish list. This desire for wellness and a disease free existence has spawned a large industry which thrives on people’s insecurities and is the main reason for the introduction of a number of methods and fads which aim to bring wellness and balance in the modern person’s hectic life, for a price of course.

Doctors advise that a daily regimen of some form of exercise or aerobic activity should be an integral part of our life. Keeping in mind the negative effects of modern medicine, the ancient science of Ayurveda, along with its adjunct Yoga, has enjoyed a surge and revival. Several Yoga Acharyas have received worldwide fame and respect for their ability to use this ancient science to cure our modern day illnesses. Even in the western world, Yoga is a hot item and numerous institutes and centres have sprung up to take advantage of this growing interest.

 

In India, Yoga has been a part of Hindu culture from times immemorial. However, in recent years, there has been a distinct decline in the traditional guru-shishya parampara and a massive increase in the commercial variety of Yoga, including television-friendly Masters who claim to have a cure for every illness enjoying a near cult-like following. Many Parsis have also been attracted to Yoga and there are several Parsi instructors too. In an earlier posting, a reference was made to Ustad Saheb’s prohibition for Parsis following the practice of pranayama. Some readers have asked me to explain this point further and this article tries to go deeper into the phenomenon to understand the basis for this prohibition.

First of all, it is necessary to really understand the meaning of Ayurveda, yoga and pranayama. Ayurveda is a system of health care which originated more than 5000 years ago in India. The Vedic word Ayurveda has two root words–ayu and ved. Briefly, ayu means “life” and ved means “science.” Thus, Ayurveda means “the science of life.” Yoga is the other side of the same coin. Ayurveda brings to Yoga an understanding of how to remain physically and emotionally healthy while on the path to enlightenment. Yoga brings to Ayurveda a deeper purpose for remaining healthy, that purpose being to attain enlightenment.

Pranayama, the yogic art of breathing, comes from the root words prana and ayama. Prana means “life force” and ayama means “expansion, manifestation, or prolongation.” The practice of pranayama therefore is the practice of expanding personal prana so that it harmonizes with the universal prana. This results in oneness or merging of a person’s own consciousness with universal consciousness. Pranayama is breath control on the physical level and prana (life force) control on the subtle level. This is achieved through conscious inhalation (puraka), exhalation (recaka), and retention (kumbhaka) of breath along with focused attention on some particular part or area of the physical or subtle body, such as the heart or sixth chakra (the so-called “third eye”) at the middle of the forehead. These definitions have been taken from [http://www.ayurvedacollege.com/articles/drhalpern/Pranayama_Yoga_Ayurveda]

It is therefore evident that the practice of pranayama is an exercise of manipulating the normal, unconscious breathing into a conscious elongated or prolonged style. This is where the crux of the problem lies for Parsis. The Zoroastrian religion has given a detailed explanation of time – the personal time of an individual, the time periods related to our earth as well as universal time. There is a detailed calculation of man’s personal time in our religion, the fundamental unit of which is called ‘Dum’ – one breath of a normal, healthy person sitting at rest. Multiples of Dum give rise to other units called Swanya, Dakika and Hathra. 18 Hathra make up one day of 24 hours as we know it today.

Every person, when he is born, is allotted a fixed number of Dums which determine his longevity and the age at which he shall die. This number of Dums is immutable and unchangeable. It is of course understood that we do not breathe at a constant rate through the day. The intensity of breathing changes based on the activity we are doing. At rest, a normal, healthy human takes between 12 and 20 breaths per minute. This changes when we undertake any physical exertion such as exercise or labour, or when excited or stimulated. Similarly the breath slows down when a person sleeps. Thus the combination of exertion-related fast breaths and comfort related slow breaths even out the breathing pattern through the 24 hours. Again it must be remembered that this breathing is unconscious and un-manipulated.

However, the practice of pranayama requires an individual to be conscious about his breath, and to regulate it in a particular fashion. Certain exercises require the breath to be inhaled through one nostril and exhaled through the other. Other exercises concentrate on elongating the length of one intake or outtake. Thus a conscious manipulation, elongation or prolonging of the breath is the very core of pranayama. The elongation of breath in a conscious manner has the effect of enhancing the life span of a person and hence goes against the tenets of the religion. But there is a deeper reason for this prohibition.

While the conscious regulation and prolonging of the breath brings valuable physical benefits, (for example prolonged deep breathing is an effective tool to lower high blood pressure instantly), Ustad Saheb has warned Parsis that following these exercises causes immense spiritual regression for a Zoroastrian soul. What is the reason for this? Ustad Saheb explained that the inhalation and exhalation of breath is not merely a physical exercise. Along with the breath we take in and breathe out, there is a Divine Spiritual Energy which accompanies every such breath, which is known as Ushtan – the Divine Life Force. The Ushtan descends from the higher regions of the cosmos and includes the very breath of our Prophet Zarathushtra.

Every Parsi, when he undergoes the Navjote ceremony ties his personal Ushtan with this universal Ushtan of Prophet Zarathushtra. The sacred instruments of the Sudreh and Kusti are the apparatus needed to catch this Ushtan and channelize it into our inner bodies. This is the greatest gift of our Prophet to Zoroastrians. In the same manner, Prophets of other religions have established institutions and methods whereby the life breath of their religion is taken in by the followers of that religion using certain methods or ceremonies. Pranayama is the method designated for followers of Hinduism to assimilate their own Vedic life breath into their personal bodies. As such it is a deeply personal and religious exercise which is meant only for followers of that faith. This is the main reason why in the earlier days, the science and secrets of pranayama were closely guarded and given to disciples by their Masters only after years of practice and training. A Parsi following the practice of pranayama creates disorder within his body by mixing the life force of an alien religion with his own Prophet’s Ushtan.

While the physical breath pumps in the required oxygen into our body and enables life as we know it, the Ushtan which enters the body along with the physical breath causes the progress and spiritual development of the non-physical and spiritual parts of our body. As readers are aware, the human body is composed of 9 parts: 3 physical, 3 ultra-physical and 3 Divine. The flow of Ushtan varies throughout the day and there are certain spiritual exercises which regulate the flow of Ushtan in our body. But the practice of pranayama causes great imbalance in the flow of Ushtan for a Zoroastrian soul. This causes havoc in the 6 non-physical bodies which reside within us and in turn leads to the dilution of the Zoroastrian Khoreh or divine lustre or aura which every Parsi possesses to some extent. These imbalances and dilution in Khoreh cause immense spiritual regression to the Zoroastrian soul which is struggling to achieve its final goal of Frashogard – salvation within the lifespan allotted to it. It is for this deep and very important reason that our late Master Ustad Saheb Behramshah Shroff strongly disapproved of Parsis following the practice of pranayam.

Ustad Saheb advised that the performance of Yogic asanas or exercises in which the various parts and limbs of the body are postured in a particular manner may be followed by Parsis for health reasons. Yogic asanas are well known for providing relief for physical ailments of many kinds, if performed under the constant guidance and supervision of a qualified master. However, Ustad Saheb cautioned Parsis against using pranayama or any form of breath control while performing these exercises or using the Om chant or any other on-Zoroastrian name or Sanskrit manthras or phrases accompanying certain Yogic exercises.

Ustad Saheb further revealed that a person born at a particular time carries with him the influences of certain planets which may be beneficial or malefic. These influences (which change in accordance with the age of the person and the changing positions of planetary influencers in his horoscope) cause the various trials and tribulations which mark our lives. These malefic influences can also manifest themselves in the form of various ailments, diseases and disabilities. For each such difficulty there are specific cures available in the Zoroastrian religion and there is no need to look elsewhere. The practice of Zoroastrian Tarikats and the praying of specific Manthras for relieving the malefic influence of specific planets will cause substantial ease to the affected individual.

But in case a Parsi attempts to follow the religious practices or manthras of any other religion (which may even prove effective in the short run), he will cause substantial disorder within his own body and the Ushtan flow within his sacred bodies will be disrupted. This spiritual regression can take a very serious form, the results of which will become evident to the soul only after death. Ustad Saheb has given a detailed explanation of the plight of souls of persons who follow such un-Zoroastrian practices, which I am unable to pen here.

Thus the maintenance of the Ushtan flow, preservation of the Aipi (subtle atmosphere around our body) and maintaining the Zoroastrian Khoreh are the prime requirements of a Parsi. This is the main reason why our religion has detailed rules regarding what to do when we sneeze, yawn, hiccup or pass wind – there is a particular Nirang or Baj which is to be prayed (for advanced persons) while normal persons are instructed to recite a silent Ashem Vohu prayer after these occurrences! Why would a sneeze or yawn require a Nirang or Baj? Because the excess breath forced out during such occurrences causes an imbalance in the Ushtan flow at that time, which is remedied by the powers of the Baj Manthras.

Similarly the flow of Ushtan becomes almost one third when a person goes to sleep. This diminution in the flow of Ushtan encourages low level evil entities to try and attack the sleeping body and take over nervous system of the sleeping individual. This is manifested in many persons as bad dreams, talking in the sleep, sleep walking and other such undesirable activities. It is for this reason that there is a specific Nirang which every Parsi is required to recite before going to sleep, as well as on waking up. The flow of physical breath and the Ushtan is overseen by three specific Yazatas – Rashne Yazad, Meher Yazad and Sarosh Yazad, who also look after the Zoroastrian soul when the person is asleep.This is also the reason why we have an age-old tradition of performing the Kusti before going to bed and to recite the words ‘Sarosh Yazad Panaah baad!’ just before closing our eyes.

Ustad Saheb had detailed and intricate knowledge of the science of breath analysis – Ilm-e-Nafs. Through this Ilm, Ustad Saheb could calculate the number of Dums expanded by various exercises, such as push-ups, crunches, wrestling, swimming, running etc. as well as physical activities such as drawing water from the well, ploughing, grinding wheat, etc. Based on these calculations and the person before him, Ustad Saheb would prescribe certain exercise and prohibit certain acts to the individual. Alas, we are without his guidance today! But in general, Ustad Saheb has left behind some excellent advice, which has been preserved for posterity by Hakim Rustam Sola Doctor in the Ustad Saheb Memorial Volume.

According to Hakim Rustam Sola Doctor, Ustad Saheb advised that the best exercise for a Zoroastrian soul was the practice of horse-riding. Ustad Saheb explained that when a man rides a horse, the breath and Ushtan flow of the Zoroastrian is immensely aided by the subtle energy forces which emanate from the hair on the neck of the horse. These subtle energies mingle with the Ushtan and breath of the person and not only strengthen the physical breath but also provide excellent support and exercise to the heart, lungs, spine, waist, intestines and kidneys. The combination of benefits available to a Parsi by this exercise is not available in any other form of exercise. Ustad Saheb further revealed that by riding on the back of the horse, the constriction and compression of the pubic areas also regulates and strengthens the functioning of the 13th Chakhra which is situated in that region.

It is for these reasons that the practice of horse-riding and archery were the first skills which were taught to a Zoroastrian child in ancient Iran, along with the practice of speaking the truth – at all times and at all costs.

Dear readers, there is great depth and knowledge in our religion, which is based on the most intricate of sciences far advanced than the physical science we are so proud about today. Unfortunately we Parsis love to mock our own religion and look for cheap and short term alternatives elsewhere. Hordes of Parsis line up in front of temples, mosques, churches and dargahs, or flock to so-called holy men, whose eyes are fastened on the wallets of their ‘devotees’ and physical lust rather than any real spiritual power. Recent events reported in the press of such perverted ‘babas’ should make us aware of the rot which exists in these circles. At the same time, our Agiaries and Atash Behrams remain deserted or witness low traffic. We have a treasure trove of Manthras, Nirangs, Bajs and ceremonies for every ailment and every disease, but we are not ready to follow the strict rules of purity which are essential for the success of any Zoroastrian Tarikat. Then we moan and complain that our prayers have no power! They have the most amazing power – we just do not know how to harness it properly!

Our Prophet Zarathushtra has shown us the way and method to achieve great spiritual strength and physical, mental, financial and spiritual prosperity. Let us come back to our religion and its Tarikats so that we may reap the rich rewards that await a true Parsi soul. In the next post we shall try to understand Ustad Saheb’s advice on the Zoroastrian method of regulating the Ushtan flow and overcoming physical ailments.

Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram

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Discussion

  1. Percy Patel  March 16, 2010

    I did read yr article on Yoga N Pranayama with deep interest. I also appraised myself of the fact that in the Z religion too there are Z mantras/nirangs for the cure of various diseases N illnesses for which our revered forefathers had specific nirangs for deliverance for such ailments. Unfortunately the same R almost lost N/or R extremely difficult to find/locate/procure. I for one am a bad case of heart disease N feel am alive N ticking today only because of hatha yogic exercises, the BKS Iyengar way.
    WOuld U be able to guide me as to what nirangs/prayers need to be recited for the cure of diseases like heart, sugar, high BP, clorestrol, etc etc etc.?
    I shall be grateful for yr early response & guidance. BRgds/Percy

  2. Dadi Bhote  March 17, 2010

    Thank you. A real eye opener.

    This is the kind of information we need to circulate among our own.

    Some more details would be appreciated.

  3. ohmi  March 18, 2010

    hello, your article is interesting. Ours is a very interesting take on controlled breathing.
    I am more interested where you mention that in our religion “there is great depth and knowledge in our religion, which is based on the most intricate of sciences far advanced than the physical science we are so proud about today.”
    Would you be able to give some practical examples of this statement along with reference and how it is more advanced?
    Also, what would you recommend replacing “ohm” with; i usually repeat the phrases “Ashem Vohu” or “yatha ahu vairyo”. If you have a recommendation what is it based on?

  4. Burjor Bharucha  March 18, 2010

    Yoga has been acclaimed the world over as one of the greatest art for maintaining good health for the young as well as seniors. To club it with religion is in my opinion is not right as their are thousands of zoroastrians who are regularly practicing yoga on a regular basis and gaining tremendous benifit from the health angle.
    The belief that pranayam imbalances the number of breaths destined in ones life by Ahura Mazda does not seem logical as if you take any exercise viz. weight lifting or wrestling or free hand all of these result in a change of rythym in breathing. By degrading yoga from the religious angle could have detrimental repurcussions as many weak minded zoroastrian may give up this healthy practice and lead towards weakness and sicknesses kept at bay by yoga.

  5. Vispi Jokhi  March 18, 2010

    This is unacceptable teaching. Nothing is sacrosanct. Yoga is universal for each and everyone. There is no religious sanction for or against it. Every soul has the same physiology and breath and regulating is it something we do at all times. Asanas cannot be divorced from Pranayama. Aum is a universal primordial chant. There is not much difference between vedas and our own scriptures. Please practice religion the way u wish to but do not mislead others.

  6. JEROU  March 18, 2010

    I completely agree with both :Burjor Bharucha as well as Vispi Jokhi.
    The reason given by Ustad Behramsha could be due to the sudden raising of the KUNDALINI Power by inexperienced acolytes and their equally self-acclaimed Yoga GURUS/teachers, which can result in dire consequences viz madness.
    Pranayama taught by a true knowledgable “Gnyani can be most effective panacea for any disease under the Sun.
    Our Zarthoshti Prayers undoubtedly are extremely efficacious I absolutely agree but how many of the present day Zarathoshties know the various Nirangs, Nyaesh ,Yashts,etc. Do most of them even remember their Kusti prayers after they grow up let alone the meanings of what they rattle off compulsively and inaccurately.
    When the Zarathoshti Souls passed through different phases of evolution they had to conform to various different modes of living, eating, exercising,transporting,clothing,etc. Beliefs change according to enhanced knowledge, environment, circumstances as well as experiences. One ought not to negate nor combine Yogic practice or exercises with religious tenets.Walking briskly in fresh air for long distances in the past was considered most efficacious, but in these days of rapid pace of life,how many have the time or inclination for it?
    Physiologically speaking a tortoise is known to live upto 400 years because it breathes only once a minute where as our lifespan is only 75 years. it has been proven that with the same number of breaths that we have been allocated at birth according to our past-life Karmas,we can also live a longer and healthier life if we breathe slow long breaths. When one is angered one tends to breathe short fast breaths, but when one
    starts to breathe slow long breaths by counting or by putting oneself in the other person’s place by reasoning , one automatically cools off., which helps the person to
    be free of stress thus preventing any disease.Surely Ustad Saheb had no objection to meditation? it is medically proven as also by Bio feedback that slow long breaths can cause ‘Alpha rhythms’ resulting in meditative states during which the body can repair itself, increase ones energy, help to achieve whatever one is out to achieve etc.
    Religion teaches one the ‘Way of life’, that is what the tenets are for. No religion teaches anything Negative.
    PRANAYAM must not be learnt from books,videos etc but from a learned YOGI who can slowly and effectively raise ones KUNDALINI without any untoward incidents. Posture during Pranayams is very very important as all seven Chakras should be aligned or else there may be untoward results. For this very reason i.e. absolute correcness of the procedure not being available to all, our far-sighted Ustad Saheb Marazbanji may have prohibited Pranayams., which are indeed extremely efficacious beond ones expectations if done CORRECTLY and have no NEGATIVE effect on any religion.

  7. Farzana  March 20, 2010

    If you remove your blinkers and look around, there is only one race – Human race and only one religion- Humanity.

  8. n  March 21, 2010

    Dear Er. Marzban,

    Apart from the courage shown by you and a few others, in leading the way from far ahead and spreading the knowledge of Khshnoom, the teachings of Ustad Saheb Behramshah Shroff (God bless his soul), consider this as well – that on the way, there’s going to be hospitalization and police roundups – former for the leader and the other for those who follow.

  9. minoo daruwalla  March 21, 2010

    Interesting,thought provoking, but controversal.One should stop constructing new Z.religious places instead distribute horses to z.brethern,SO THAT WE CAN RIDE THEM TO OUR WORK PLACES.
    AMEN!

  10. Delnaz T  March 21, 2010

    Thank you Ervad Hathiramji for this information. I truly believe in Ilm-e-Khshnoom and without any argument would like to absorb the knowledge and facts mentioned in this article. I have seen the miracles of our Avesta prayers on one of my very close relative. He is suffering from a common disease for which he takes his regular course of medicines and injections. He truly believes in all the teachings of Khshnoom and tries to follow all the tarikats to the best of his capabilities and prays from the Avesta as much as he can. No doubt, he is living with the disease, but he experiences satisfaction, happiness and joy in his life.
    As per our Zoroastrian religion,we have so many tarikats to follow, but people in our religion easily find an excuse for not following the same. They dont follow themselves and even try to demotivate others who try to follow by making fun and saying,”We dont have time”. These articles are the hidden truth, but nobody wants to accept it.
    I completely agree with Respected Ervadji that unfortunately we Parsis love to mock our own religion and look for cheap and short term alternatives elsewhere. We should respect all religions, but should be true to our own religion and should follow it wholeheartedly. Once again, thank you very much Ervadji for this eye-opening article, i do not find it controversial and argumental at all!! Looking forward for many more such articles!! Sarosh Yazad Panaabad.

  11. Hoshedar  March 24, 2010

    Hello.
    First of all Thank You Ervad Marazbanji for trying to be a pioneer in helping people re-establish faith in our own great Zoroastrian religion.
    I entirely agree with Delnaz T. I entirely believe in our Zoroastrian religion to an extent that I believe anything is possible if done with the help of our prayers and a clean mind/heart. I have experienced the miracles of our prayers on my own self. Unfortunately, people of our religion want a shortcut for everything. They do NOT want to follow the many Tarikats mentioned as a rule in our religion. How many Parsis do we see now who really want to do a single Kusti prayers on a particular day?

    I myself believe in Humanity and that all should follow and respect all other religions but that should not make them go to a path entirely different from our own Zoroastrian religion and should not be used as a lame excuse to differ from our religion and its Tarikats. The so-called leaders of our community themselves donot know what our great religion is or how miraculous its powers are. The so-called busy people who do not find time for praying get all the time in the world to visit a club or sit and watch TV.
    All I would say to all those Parsis is Please follow our Tarikats and have faith in our religion and then enjoy the miracles and blessings in life.

  12. Hoshedar  March 24, 2010

    How rude and disappointing that a learned person is trying to enlighten others with the teachings of the Master and the reader namely ‘n’ has the nerve to threaten others with hospitalization and police round-ups. I reckon he/she is trying to use his/her materialistic power to fulfil his/her own selfish motive. I pity this person and pray to God to guide him/her to the right path ! Ushta te

  13. kfkeravala  March 29, 2010

    Horse therapy

    The almost mystical relationship between horses and autistic people has been documented for years. A recreation program for riders with special needs at Happy Trails explores that bond
    By Joanne Laucius, The Ottawa Citizen
    March 27, 2010

    http://www.ottawacitizen.com/health/Horse+therapy/2733627/story.html

  14. Ratheshtar  April 1, 2010

    Very enlightening!!! I have full faith in what our Ustad Saheb has said.

    As for the detractors,it is rightly said ‘Don’t cast pearls before swine’ ;)

  15. Mehernosh A. Patel  June 5, 2010

    Dasturji Saheb,

    This is one marvellous article that you have penned down………hoping many more will follow.

    Hamazor.

  16. khursheed  March 11, 2011

    Respected Dastoorji,

    Truely marvoleus is my personal comment. As a staung Kshnoomfidai I already knew that pranayam was forbidden n Ustadshaheb had advised against it but this eleborated insight was much much helpful. Can’t thank u enough as i was constantly advised by people to practise pranayam for my Thyroid problem which i never did but could not explain why. But now i can justify why, thanks to u.

    Please keep on writing such articles for the likes of us who crave for such knowledge. And for others i can only say that “GHADHA KYA JANE JAFRAN KI BAAT”

    Khursheed

  17. Merzush Mistry  June 29, 2011

    Dear Ervad Saheb,

    Please advice for a remidy to counter/control bad temper?

  18. Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram  June 29, 2011

    I have sent a reply to your email.

  19. Hutoxi Irani  June 13, 2013

    Respected Er. Saheb,

    What a beautiful article, a true eye-opener. Thank you, thank you so much. Have just started learning pranayama and you rescued me just in time. I have a lot to learn still and you are my teacher. Thank you again.

    Hutoxi

  20. AmirPejman  June 28, 2014

    People IN Iran need your wisdom