“Your breath changes with your emotions,” Brinda Sivaramakrishnan explains. “When you’re sad, it’s choppy; when you’re angry, it’s really fast. That’s true anywhere, in any country, any place.” With her worldly endeavors and ongoing pursuit of Pranayama yogic breathing techniques, Brinda’s life has presented her with many opportunities to observe such universal patterns.
Born in New Delhi, India, Brinda has lived in the Northwest United States, and now resides in the Northeast. She notes the impacts that these locations have had on her: “India is a really spiritual place… That culture of seeing the divine in other beings is there.” She moved to the United States at the age of three. “The freedom of American society is amazing. So, I’ve had the best of everything in the early part of my life.”
When she first came to the U.S., Brinda lived in New Haven, Connecticut, with her family, then moved out to Seattle, Washington, in 2000. Growing up in the anywhere, in any country, any place.” With her worldly endeavors and ongoing pursuit of Pranayama yogic breathing techniques, Brinda’s life has presented her with many opportunities to observe such universal patterns.
Brinda attended Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington, continuing her involvement in social awareness by working with a needle-exchange volunteer program in addition to her interdisciplinary studies. “It was really unique. I’ve never seen a program like that,” Brinda praises the needle-exchange program, in which volunteers would gather provisions, arrange them in a cart, hitch the cart onto a bicycle and ride around Olympia to donation sites. In 2008, after finishing college, Brinda enrolled in the Art of Living Program, where she focused on the knowledge of Pranayama yogic breathing techniques, a practice for people to house life-force energy. As she continued this practice of spiritual inquiry, Brinda traveled to New Delhi, India, where she conducted a brief, but very memorable, public health internship working with waste collectors.
Like many developing countries, India has an informal waste-collection system, in which workers do not have a fixed salary, or even basic safety amenities like gloves. These people are often refugees or immigrants from other countries who have fled due to disasters like flood or famine. Waste collection is an under-the-table job for those who do not speak Indian languages, and it is often the only option of livelihood available: “It’s the worst job. The living conditions are horrible. You have to live right next to the dump because there’s no transportation. Busses don’t stop there because it smells so bad. They can’t afford a bicycle, they can’t afford a scooter ride. In many ways, it’s the worst living condition you can find in India.”
Afterwards Brinda visited family in South India, and then enrolled in six-day silent meditation program at the International Art of Living in Bangalore. Through this program, she had the opportunity to meet participants who came from over thirty different countries, including Japan, South Africa and Argentina. Brinda has only positive memories of this international immersion: “It was amazing, meeting all those different people from different cultures.” Being in the presence of others from a variety of backgrounds, people would talk about the universal effects of the breathing techniques and the positive changes these would entail for their home cultures.
In addition to worldly exposure, Brinda reflects on how the meditation experience affected her as an individual. Sometimes, one must step outside of a given mindset to comprehend the dynamics within: “We don’t know how much… stress that we pick up, and how much clutter it makes in the mind until we’re silent for a day. Then it starts to come out.” Being silent through meditation, according to Brinda, really helps soothe and straighten one’s mental dynamics. “By six days, your mind is completely clean, like a fresh, new sponge. You’re ready to come back in the world, so much sharper.” Following the program, she recalls the subsequent week, in which she was unable to stop smiling.
In addition to clearing the mind and handling emotions, Brinda holds that countering stress will ultimately eliminate violence: “You can’t have violence in your mind when it’s calm. When you accept your situation, you accept the people around you. When your mind is calm and peaceful, you’re content. It’s only when you’re stressed out, you’re unhappy, you’re frustrated, that violence comes in the mind.” On a personal level, Brinda has continued practicing Pranayama techniques over of the past five years. She notices how she goes about everything in a much more active stance than before. “Small things in my life really bothered me. I was indecisive, and always second-guessing my choices. Just doing the practice, I’ve noticed that little things don’t bother me anymore. Huge decisions that I have to make don’t stress me out. They don’t keep me awake at night, they don’t cause physical or mental tension.”
Before Brinda was involved in Pranayama, she remembers, “A situation would happen, and I’d be like, ‘Why is this happening, I don’t deserve this!’” Brinda’s approach to such circumstances has transformed entirely: “Now, the question ‘Why?’ never comes.” Brinda now reacts to problems by thinking, “What can I do about it?”
Everything relates to universal aspects of humanity: “Everyone’s looking for a purpose, and when you clear your mind with the breathing techniques, it helps you find your own talents, it helps you find your own purpose.” In addition to enhancing and enriching oneself, according to Brinda Sivaramakrishnan, the Pranayama practice, “Helps you see the divine or the beautiful part of everyone else around you.”