The Practice of Deep Breathing
Sixteen breaths per minute is the normal rate of breathing;
It declines with perception and a little practice.
To begin with five or seven inhalation-exhalations,
The practice of deep breathing is capable of great extension,
Till one whole breath per minute becomes the norm,
Filling the mind with satisfaction and confidence great.
The process of breathing in and out, the pause and pranayama,
The indisputable beauty of breath-control!
When breath grows musical, rhythmic and deep,
Inward consciousness grows with complete self-integration.
Q.Breathing is natural to every living being, with each being inhaling and exhaling in a particular way. If mere perception of breath constitutes meditation, then anybody can become a practitioner. On the other hand, the process of meditation has been described as being very complex. Is there not an incongruity here?
Ans. There are many aspects of dhyana—some are simple, others complex. The process of deep breathing is very simple. Still many people fail to achieve it in the beginning of their sadhana, because they are used to taking short breaths. They have no practice of deep breathing. Even if it is suggested to them that they should breathe deeply they cannot do it in an orderly way. It is because their method of breathing is faulty. Normally, when a man breathes in, his abdomen expands and when he breathes out, his abdomen contracts. But those who feel their abdomen contracting while breathing in, should deliberately change their order of breathing. The sadhaks, whose breath-movement is right, make good progress. Because of its complexity in advanced stages, dhyana may be said to be a complex phenomenon. So, dhyana is both simple as well as complex, depending on the aspect under consideration. Looked at from the point of view of relativity, no incongruity is involved here.
Q.What is the nature of breath-perception and what are its results?
Ans. The number of breaths taken provides a standard for measuring our inner affections. ‘There are three possible states—natural breath, slow breath and short breath. All men breathe naturally. Whether one is conscious of it or not, one is always breathing. Breath is life. If breathing is stopped even for a little while, one feels suffocated. Breathing is more important for living than bread or water. Normally, a man takes 16 or 17 breaths per minute. If one starts perceiving one’s breath, its movement becomes slower. The number of breaths taken decreases from 16-17 to 12-13. With greater concentration on breathing, this number declines further to 10 breaths per minute. Still deeper concentration reduces the number of breaths taken per minute to five or six. The greater the concentration, the fewer and longer the breaths taken, till one takes just one breath every minute. The rate of one breath per minute is indicative of the success of breath-perception. At this stage, the sadhak’s whole individuality seems to mingle with his breath, till he feels completely at one with it. Not a single breath comes in or goes out without the sadhak’s being aware of it. To inhale as well as exhale breath with full consciousness, to concentrate one’s attention wholly on the center of breathing so as to be fully integrated with one’s breath, culminating in the breath becoming spontaneously and progresslvely longer and deeper—this, in fact, is breath perception.
The first result of breath-perception is mental integration. The second peace of mind. Breath-perception also results in the increasing and activation of the vital life-force. The most important consequence is the awakening of self-confidence. For confidence is required an abundance of vital power and its activation, which depends upon slow and steady breathing. The slower the movement of breath, the deeper it is. Deep breath creates a cycle which is essential for progress in the field of meditation.
Short breath is indicative of mental disequilibrium. The shorter the breath, the faster its movement. The number of such breaths rises to 50-60 per minute. It happens so in sickness, in negotiating an ascent, and when the mind is charged with great emotion. In a state of excitement, one breathes in and out at the rate of 40 breaths per minute. Overwhelmed by lust, the breath moves at the rate of 60-70.
Q.Is longevity in any way connected with breath?
Ans. There is no direct connection as such. But breath is a factor in experiencing the atoms of longevity. Thus, breath may be said to be indirectly connected with long life. Short breath consumes more atoms of longevity, whereas slow breath consumes fewer. The number of atoms is fixed in respect of each man. But the rate at which these atoms are consumed determines the length of time; it determines whether a man has a long or a short life. For example, suppose a man collects provisions to last for a month. But if guests arrive unexpectedly and food has to be prepared for them, the provisions are exhausted before the month is over. The same is the condition about the atoms of longevity. More atoms of long life are consumed in a comparatively shorter time, with an increase in the rate of consumption.
Q.The masters of yoga give as much importance to pranayama as to meditation. What place, if any, has pranayama in the practice of preksha meditation?
Ans. One of the steps in breath perception is breath control. Control of breath is a kind of pranayama. Pranayama has three elements—inhalation, exhalation and kumbhak i.e. the holding of breath. Kumbhak is the cessation of breathing and during the practice of breath-control, the breath is slowed down gradually to the point of extinction. Breath-control is an important method to ensure peace of mind and to break the unending cycle of thoughts. But it is hazardous as well. Therefore, in the initial stages, breath should not be held up for more than five to seven seconds. A sadhak experiencing difficulty in holding his breath even for this brief period, may not attempt breath-cessation at all. There should not be any forcible stoppage of breath. If somebody wants to experiment with breath-cessation, he must seek the guidance of a specialist.
Breathing is a small step, but it is so important as to be indispensable for anyone practicing preksha meditation. Without it, there could be no total concentration or direct experiencing. To establish contact with inner consciousness for concentration and development of mental peace, there is a secret path worth knowing and that is rhythmic breath.
Q.What is meant by rhythmic breath?
Ans. Just as there is rhythm in music, similarly there is a rhythm of breathing. The breath which takes four units of time in its inhalation and is held up for an equal amount of time and again takes the same amount of time in exhalation, is called rhythmic breath. If a man practises it every minute for 20 minutes together, he spontaneously gets into a state of meditation, and no great effort is required to continue in that state afterwards. This is a small beginning–nevertheless an infallible beginning for the maturing of dhyana.