Following is the full text of yoga teacher Jim Kambeitz’s talk titled “Pranayama: Extend Your Life by Extending Your Breath” at TEDxBismarck conference.
Jim Kambeitz – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT
What if I told you doctors have discovered a miraculous medicine that would allow you to catch yourself in times of stress, sadness, anger, anxiety or pain, and within moments, regain control of yourself, bring yourself together, stopping the suffering right in its tracks, all-natural, laboratory-tested and no side effects?
You’d probably say, “Hmm… how much is it?”
Most of you’d probably think, “Hey, sign me up.”
And the more inquisitive might ask: “Can it even help insomnia, digestive problems, arthritis pain, lower my blood pressure?”
You’re probably thinking, “It sounds too good to be true. Let me get this straight. So, it will make every aspect of my life better, and I don’t have to do anything but take this pill?”
Wait just a minute. I didn’t say you didn’t have to do anything. You have to do one thing every day.
“But you said it was just a medicine.”
It is, but it’s not in a pill form. This medicine is yoga, breath control, aka pranayama in Sanskrit.
The gurus believe if there is any physical, mental or spiritual disease that yoga cannot cure, than it cannot be cured. It is that powerful.
And do not fear: it is a proven science, not a religion, and anyone can do it, “except for,” as my teacher in India always says, “a lazy person.”
Now, at this point in the hypothetical situation, I would predict, if you are anything like me, you’re thinking, “You mean I have to do yoga? I can’t just take a pill?”
Well, that is exactly what I thought until one day, when I was hopelessly desperate and no longer able to stand on my left leg. I was convinced by the Western doctors who had done my knee surgeries ten years earlier, that the only way I could walk into old age was to get a complete knee replacement.
Now, I didn’t feel this way at the time, but I was sure lucky to be so desperate because changing ourselves is so difficult, and there are only two ways we can really do it.
One: be miserably desperate, have no other options, and two: being inspired.
So, as I look out in the audience today, I sincerely hope that many of you are miserably desperate and the other lot of you are inspired by some part of this story to consider adding meditation, yoga, conscious breathing into your daily routine.
Now, I didn’t always feel this way. Here’s me in high school: football player, wrestler, 20 pounds heavier, and if you would have told me that in another 20 years, I’d be spending most of my time dreaming about my next trip to India and doing yoga every single day, I’d have said you were completely crazy.
SO HOW DID IT COME TO THIS?
Well, let’s rewind the tape eight years, living in Poland, slowly losing my ability to walk, when I went to see a Ukrainian physical therapist who’d studied in India. He pressed on some points on my knee to get the right muscles and tendons to relax, thoroughly examined it, and, to my surprise, for the first time in a month, I was able to stand on my knee.
He said, “There’s nothing wrong with your knee except that you are hurting your knee. You are walking wrong, eating wrong, standing wrong. Your body is out of alignment. And if you want to walk, you need to start doing yoga every single day — lengthening your hamstrings, imprinting the proper alignment onto your body with this practice — right away.”
Thinking about what he said on the tram home, I was really confused. Because this went against all of my core beliefs about my health.
I’d been convinced that because my parents had knee problems, then I would have knee problems. That every day a person gets older, their health just gets worse and worse.
That my knee was destroyed from years of sports and that the only way that I could ever heal was to cut out my knee, and I was seriously planning that.
To accept that I was unknowingly injuring myself would mean that I would have to be responsible for my own healing. And if I couldn’t walk in the future, it was only because I was lazy.
For the next two days, grumpy but scared, I did yoga first thing every morning, imprinting that proper muscle alignment on my body, and I could walk.
Woah! First time in a month, I’m walking.
So the third day: “Hey, I’m healed. This is great. This yoga was awesome, two days, healed me. I’m done.”
I started walking, and I was great, saying, “Yeah, it’s really true. I don’t need to do this.”
By the end of the day, knee started locking up, my old muscle memory returned, and I couldn’t walk. At this moment, I was livid. I said, “You mean I have to do yoga every day if I want to walk? Aaagh.”
Not happy, but desperate, I did my yoga. I started out with sun salutations, about 30 minutes of Vinyasa yoga, and that’s just flow — just means you flow with every breath.
After a few weeks, I wanted more; I needed more. So I started doing half of the Ashtanga yoga primary series. Ashtanga yoga is a really beautiful form of yoga where you turn your whole body into a breathing machine, and you do that for about 90 minutes through a series of poses, and at the end, you are in bliss for the rest of the day.
Nobody, not even the taxi drivers in Warsaw, can make you angry.
And at that point, I had to admit the Ukrainian was right. And that was when I got inspired because not only did my knee heal, but all these other changes started happening.
I was never a morning person, but all of a sudden, I’m waking up at the crack of noon to do my yoga. My asthma, that I’d struggled with all my life, completely disappeared. My stomach pain — gone. I had chronic stomach pain, non-stop; I was always walking around like this. And most baffling of all, I remembered where I put my keys.
So I started studying everything I could about yoga, and I wanted to know more, which led me to all the deeper things behind yoga. I needed more than just the physical practice. So, we call the positions in yoga asanas.
And I had to go beyond the asanas. Before, you see, I used to think yoga was just these physical poses that you’d get in and hold your breath in for a while. And then I realized, wow, the rest of yoga has all these subtle breathing practices.
And the only reason why we do the physical yoga is in order to heal our bodies first because we can’t sit in meditation and bathe in the bliss of life if all we’re thinking about is how bad our back is killing us.
I started discovering all these practices, and it was so exciting. I was like a kid in a candy store, just blown away by the simplicity.
Then you come to the Sanskrit language, and it’s so beautiful too; it’s so logical and so powerful. Let’s take the word pranayama for example. It describes a lot of different breathing practices, and I feel it really sums up the essence of yoga and why we do this.