Today I visit the St Helen’s Community centre in Glebe not quite sure what to expect in the advertised “relaxed breathing” class. At best I guess it will be a lesson in something like pranayama. I have practised different types of meditative breathing techniques before but I think this is still a “new” experience for me as it’s in a new place with a new instructor amongst other new friends so it ticks all the right boxes.
I walk in and find Warren, our instructor, and another student, an expat from France. We shake hands and introduce ourselves and it is all very upbeat and pleasant. Warren is 70 years old and retired and shares with us that he practises this Nitaai breathing method for at least two hours every day. I have listened to podcasts where people have taken time off of “normal” life to meditate and focus on themselves in such a way. I’m sure the reward is a priceless one but do we have the time and freedom to embark on such a journey?
I try to discern from him what the relaxed breathing method is and if it similar to pranayama but Warren says it is completely different. Nitaai is a form of resonated breathing. The relaxation comes from the sound being repeated in a chanting fashion for as long as the practitioner wishes to maintain it.
Warren shares that while visiting India and on a beach in Kerala he was approached by some locals who offered to teach him this method of relaxation. They asked him to practise daily and if he enjoys it to please share it with others.
He indeed found many benefits to his ritual of daily breath work including a reduced appetite, better sleep with fewer hours required, a sense of calm and happiness and a clear and focused mind. Warren so genuinely believes in his results that he has gone to great lengths to set up a business here in Sydney in order to pass it on to others. The bureaucratic land that we live in required him to formally start a business and hold liability insurance in order to breathe for free with us. It is a testament to his beliefs in the method and thoughtfulness to share his time in order to help others. His kindness is genuine and I am drawn to him immediately.
Nitaai is the word we repeat as we breathe. It has a short “Ni”, a long “taa” and a short “i” as it is pronounced. We are instructed to inhale normally through our nostrils and then to exhale and say “Nitaai” in the way described above. Warren sets a timer and we breathe in this meditative way together reciting Nitaai with our eyes closed. It feels weird at first and I can’t help but wonder if everyone is watching me. I remind myself that no one cares what I look like chanting with my eyes closed. Several minutes go by and I feel an energetic connection to the others in the room. I love it. It feels refreshing and peaceful.
I am mortified when I hear we will next sing together as a group. Warren says he’s not much of a musician and usually makes up a tune on his guitar on the spot to sing along with. He fumbles a bit trying to find the right notes. I feel self-conscious of my singing abilities and yet I absolutely love the practise. It’s such an invigorating feeling to share in this energy with strangers. Again, the connection with my companions in the room is strong. With our eyes closed, we sing together for 15 minutes to two different tunes Warren creates. I am transfixed.
Warren is such an authentic character, he doesn’t pretend to be someone he’s not. He is abrupt at times, kind, and painfully honest. One woman arrives 20 minutes late to our hour-long workshop. He welcomes her but is curt and not at all interested in repeating what was mentioned before her arrival. It feels awkward to all of us in the moment. I wouldn’t call him a teacher except in the most basic meaning of imparting knowledge onto others. His lack of warmth and patience is in sheer contrast to any of my favourite teachers that I have known. His lesson is such a simple one today though and his message positive so it really doesn’t matter. I love the idea that someone is giving information away for free and not asking for anything in return. His motivation is joy and time is on his side.
We prod him for a bit more information about what the word Nitaai means in Hindi but he claims he doesn’t know. We ask for more details about the method and again he is curt. “Look, if you practise it every day and you like it, keep doing it. Pass it on to others once you see the results.” It is very simple. Frustratingly too simple for minds who want to understand more.
You can’t fault someone for being this direct. There was no bullshit to cut through. Warren is flawed like the rest of us and I find his self-confidence refreshing. Maybe that’s something that comes over time? I’m still working on it each day.
After the talk, I am able to chat with the other members of our group. I share with them my goal of trying something new each week and they are intrigued. They seem to know one another from other workshops and I have a thought that it is all very reminiscent of Fight Club. The scenes relating to the characters attending self-help meetings and the attraction to the benefits they receive while bonding with others in a deeply personal way. It occurs to me each of us is doing this. It’s infectious and it makes you want to continue. I smile to myself. This whole “new” experience each week thing may be more about the connection with others than the thing itself. I get it. We all want to feel connected. It’s such a natural instinct and a deep desire to want to belong. I came here to learn to breathe and I walk out with so much more. I feel light as a feather. What a gift!
According to the Anti-stress Foundation: Nitaai Sound Yoga is based on the following universal meanings of the Nitaai sound: (1) “Ni” = nature or Nisarga, Nitui or bloom, mindfulness; (2) “Taa” = Harmony Taadaatmya, tactus or feel, peace; (3) “I” = Senses or Indriya, Ingenium or Innate touch, bliss and love.
The foundation lists the benefits of this sound breathing as “Nitaai music meditation promotes mindfulness, wellness, balancing, healing, harmony, centering and productivity. It also reduces stress, anxiety, worries, tension and depression. It enhances the digestion of what we eat and improves sleep quality.”
For more information, check out the Anti-stress Foundation’s website here.