Preksha Dhyana: Perception Of Breathing ► [4] Perception Of Breathing: Technique

Posted: 18.02.2010

Complete Breathing

Mention has already been made of 3 sets of muscles, surrounding the lungs, which take part in the breathing process.  They are:

  1. Intercostal muscles which are attached to the upper and lower margins of the ribs and which move the rib-cage upwards and outwards on contraction and in the opposite direction on relaxation.
  2. Diaphragm which is the most important muscle that lies at the bottom of the chest and roofs of the adbominal cavity. When contracted, it descends pressing down the abdominal organs and lengthening the chest cavity.
  3. Clavicle muscles which are operated by raising the collarbone. In this way the upper part of the lungs receive fresh air.

Complete inspiration incorporates the use of all the three sets of muscles in one single, full and rhythmic action. The air should enter in a continuous flow without gasping

Complete Breathing Technique

An excellent way to learn the technique is lying down flat on a hard surface—preferably on the floor using a mat or a rug. Keep your arms parallel to the body and the legs straight but not stiff. To concentrate the mind entirely upon the action of breathing is of the utmost importance. It is a good idea to close the eyes to help increase concentration.

Phases of Action

  1. Evacuate the lungs with a slow and silent exhalation. Pull in the stomach to contract the abdominal muscles. This action will raise the diaphragm high up in the chest cavity like a piston in a cylinder, reducing chest volume and thereby getting rid of the greatest possible amount of air. With the lungs empty, hold the breath just for a second or so before the inhalation commences.
  2. Slowly lower the diaphragm allowing air to enter the lungs. Relax the stomach and allow it to expand and rise. This action flattens the diaphragm and the lungs gradually fill with air from the bottom. The abdominal muscles should remain relaxed throughout the inhalation which should be slow, easy and silent.[1]
  3. Expand the ribs without straining by contracting the intercostal muscles. This action leads to the inflation of the central portion of lungs, by the entry of a fairly large volume of air though not as large as in the previous phase.
  4. While air is being inhaled, complete the filling of lungs by raising the collar towards the chin, without, however, raising the shoulders. The action permits the entry of the air in the uppermost portion of the lungs. This phase is useful only when it is preceded by the other two phases of inhalation given above since only a small quantity of air enters the lungs.

With the last phase of operation the lungs are completely filled with air. The total action should not produce any discomfort or fatigue. Practise complete breathing as consciously as possible. Gradually, habit of complete respiration can be acquired and the quality of breathing will constantly improve. Remember that both inhalation and exhalation must be silent, slow, continuous and easy.

Perception (of Breathing) Technique

Preparation

1. Posture: For a successful  practice of meditation, steadiness of the body is essential. Posture, therefore, is an important feature of the exercise. The practitioner must remain motionless, quiet, and alert for the duration of the exercise. Obviously, therefore, a posture which produces any kind of distracting discomfort is ruled out. Strain or discomfort must be avoided during the session. An advanced practitioner may adopt a standing posture. In exceptional condition a recumbent posture may also be used. But a sitting posture is most convenient for learners and novices, and is most commonly adopted. Any of the following postures may be chosen:—

Full lotus posture (Padmāsana)
Half lotus posture (Ardha-padmāsana)
Simple posture (Sukhāsana)
Diamond posture (Vajrāsana)

Although the full lotus posture is the best, the sādhaka may adopt any one of these which can be comfortably maintained for the duration of the session. Some discomfort is inevitable, in the beginning, in any cross-legged posture, but a little practice would eliminate it to the extent that it ceases to be a distraction. However, if at any time during the practice, there is a feeling of distracting discomfort, the position of the legs may be quietly changed without opening the eyes. In all postures, the trunk and head are erect with the spine and neck in a straight line. There should, however, be no stiffness. Eyes remain softly closed.

2. Mudrā:—The position of practitioner's hands is called mudrā. One of the following two mudrās may be assumed:

  1. Let the back of your right hand rest on your right knee and the left hand on the left knee, both palms turned up. Let the index fingers touch the roots of thumbs, with a slight pressure in the contact. The other fingers are kept straight.
  2. Bend both arms at the elbows. Keep the back of your left hand on the central part of your lap and the back of your right hand on the top of the upturned palm of yow left hand.

General Instructions

Do not put your hands on the ground.

Do not keep your palm turned downwards.

In a standing posture, stand erect with the spine and neck in a straight line but without stiffness.

Keep your feet parallel to each other with a distance of about 10 cms. between them.

Let your arms hang down loosely from the shoulder-joints close to your body, with the palms open, facing inwards and fingers straight and pointing down. Keep all skeletal muscles relaxed.

If a practitioner is unable to adopt standing or a sitting-on-the-floor posture, he may sit in a chair. An armless chair is to be used. Keep your back and neck in a straight line without the back rest. There should be no stiffness.

Keep your feet parallel as in the standing posture. Assume one of the two mudrās given above.

If a recumbent posture becomes absolutely necessary, one may lie down on his back, keeping a distance of about a foot between both feet, hands about six inches away from the trunk, palms turned upward and eyes softly closed.

Recitation of Arham

Arham is a Sanskrit syllable (mantra). It has unique sound and its loud repetition has many beneficial effects, not only on the physical level but also on psychological and spiritual levels.

Exercise

Remaining in the posture as described before and with eyes softly closed, exhale fully. Then inhale deeply and quietly for about 4 to 5 seconds. Begin the intonation in a firm and controlled manner.

Concentrating your attention on the navel, exhale slowly, producing the sound 'a' for about 2 seconds. Next produce the sound 'rha' while concentrating on Ananda-kendra near the heart for  about 4 seconds. And lastly, taking your mind upwards through the throat to the cranium, press your lips softly together and produce without interruption, the sound m,m,m,........... resonating it like the buzzing of a bee.  This should last for about 6 seconds.

You shall experience the vibrations produced by the entire intonation first in the abdomen, then in the chest and finally in the cranium. At the end of the recitation, the lungs are fully emptied.

Inhale deeply again and repeat the performance nine times.

Throughout the performance visualize that the sound­waves weave together to form an impregnable web of armour all around you. This armour will repel the evil effects of malevolent vibrations from outside during the entire meditation session.

Alternate Exercise: Recitation of Mahaprāṇa Dhvani

Inhale deeply and silently for about four to five seconds, concentrating your attention on the cranium, and pressing your lips softly together, exhale slowly and without interruption, produce the sound m,m,m,...........resonating it like the buzzing of a bee. This may last for about 8 to 10 seconds. Inhale deeply again and repeat the performance nine times.

First Step of Preksha Meditation

Relaxation (Kāyotsarga)

For a successful session of meditational practice, it is necessary to relax the whole body and eliminate muscular tension. Relaxation and meditation are not identical, but the latter cannot be performed properly unless the body becomes motionless. As long as the body is tense and the muscles contracted, the free flow of energy (prāṇa) is inhibited and mental steadiness and concentration is not possible. Kāyotsarga is thus an essential precondition of meditational practice.

Kāyotsarga is not only total relaxation of the body but also a real experience of self-awareness.

Exercise

  1. After completing the recitation of ARHAṀ, maintain the posture, keeping the spine and neck straight but without stiffness and eyes closed softly. Relax all the muscles of your body and let it become limp.
  2. Concentrate your mind on each part of the body, one by one. Allow each part to relax by the process of auto-suggestion and feel that it has become relaxed.
  3. Starting with the big toe of the right foot, allow your mind to spread throughout the toe; suggest to the muscles and nerves to relax; experience the resulting relaxation and pass on to the other parts of the right leg—toes, sole, heel, ankle, upper part of the foot, calf muscle, knee, thigh and buttocks. In the same way, relax the left limb upto the hip-joint.
  4. Next, relax the trunk from hip-joint to the neck; starting with the back and front of the lower abdomen and the upper abdomen going up to the ribs—front and back, the chest muscles, collar bone upto the neck muscles. Then relax both limbs from palms to the shoulders i.e. right hand—thumb, fingers, palm, wrist, lower arm, elbow, upper arm and shoulder; left limb—thumb and fingers to shoulders.
  5. Finally, relax the head from neck to scalp—throat, chin, jaws, lips, tongue, mouth, cheeks and all the other facial muscles, nose, eyes, ears, temples, forehead and scalp.
  6. Experience that the whole body is completely relaxed. Retain the relaxed condition throughout the meditational session.

Second Step of Preksha Meditation

Internal Trip (Antaryātrā)

Internal trip (antaryātrā) follows kāyotsarga. This exercise promotes better generation of the nervous energy which is necessary for the subsequent meditational practice. It directs the flow of your spiritual energy in an upward direction, thereby weakening the force of psychological distortions such as cruelty and fear.

Exercise:

Maintain the posture and the relaxed condition of the-body achieved by kāyotsarga. Focus your full attention on the bottom of the spine called śakti kendra. Direct it to travel upwards along the spinal cord to the top of the head - jñāna kendra, confining it to remain within it. When you reach the top, direct it to move downwards taking the same path until you reach śakti kendra again. Repeat the exercise for about five to seven minutes. Concentrate your entire consciousness on the path of the trip—spinal cord, and do not permit it to be diverted.

Carefully perceive the sensations therein caused by the subtle vibrations of the flow of the vital energy—prāṇa.

After some practice of this exercise, the rate of the ascending and descending conscious attention is to be synchronised with the rate of respiration. When the conscious attention begins to ascend, start exhaling, synchronising the rate of ascent with that of exhalation, so that the top of the head is reached simultaneously with the completion of exhalation. Similarly, the inhalation should be started with the downward trip of the conscious attention, and should be complete when it reaches the śakti-kendra. Maintain the synchronisation.

Third Step of Preksha Meditation

(1) Perception of Breath

A. Deep Breathing

Breath is the source of vital energy—source of life. An efficient and easy way to control mental activity is perception of properly regulated breath. Breathing must be regulated to be deep, slow, calm and rhythmic. Complete exhalation and slow inhalation by the use of diaphragm is called dīrgha śvāsa. (i.e. deep or diaphragmatic breathing).

It is achieved by contracting and expanding the abdominal muscles. At the same time, the rate of breathing is reduced. Normal rate of breathing is 15/17 per minute. By conscious regulation it can be easily reduced to 10/12 per minute, and by further practice to 4/6 per minute.

The essence of this meditational technique is the total awareness of breath.

Exercise:

  1. Direct full attention to your breathing, excluding all thoughts and sensations. Regulate your breathing: make it slow, deep and rhythmic. Focus your consciousness on the navel and become fully aware of the contraction and expansion of the abdomen accompanying exhalation and inhalation respectively.
  2. Continue the perception of navel region for about five minutes and experience that the breath has been regulated to a slow rhythm.
  3. Continuing the slow, deep and rythmic breath, shift your attention from the navel and focus it inside the nostrils, at the junction where the two nostrils meet. Let the perception of breathing fill your entire mind. Be fully aware of each and every breath. Fix your consciousness totally on the process of respiration so that each and every inhalation and exhalation is perceived.
  4. Do not permit yourself to be distracted, but if distraction does occur, return your attention to the breath. If the distraction is due to a thought, do not try to dismiss it, but observe it patiently and calmly until it goes away.
  5. If the distraction is frequent, hold your breath for a while without causing discomfort.
  6. Maintain the continuity of awareness throughout the session.

B. Perception of Alternate Breathing

Throughout our daily experience we encounter manifestation and co-existence of two opposing principles such as unity and multiplicity, creation and destruction, positive and negative, hot and cold. Normally the opposing forces are in equilibrium. In our body also there is normally an equilibrium between the two opposite components of the autonomic nervous system—sympathetic and parasympathetic. For optimum health conditions (called homeostasis), a balanced equilibrium must be maintained.

For a practitioner of meditation, the technique of alternate breathing and its perception is not only a valuable means of maintaining homeostasis, but also an instrument of steadying and controlling the wandering mind.

This exercise is similar to the perception of deep breathing, but is more effective in developing concentration. As in the previous exercise total awareness of the rhythm of breathing is essential.

In this exercise, the alternation of the nostril is done initially with the use of the fingers and subsequently by the exercise of will power.

Exercise:

  1. Place your right thumb against your right nostril and your ring finger against your left. Let your middle and index fingers touch your forehead lightly.
  2. Decide upon a suitable rhythm of exhalation and inhalation (say 6 and 4 seconds) and maintain it throughout the exercise.
  3. Close your right nostril by your thumb, inhale-slowly and silently through your left nostril for 4 seconds. At the end of the inhalation, close the left nostril, release your right nostril and exhale slowly through it for 6 seconds.
  4. At the end of the exhalation and without pausing, begin to inhale through the right nostril (the same one which was used for exhalation). Inhale slowly for 4 seconds.
  5. Now close the right nostril and release the left one and exhale slowly through the left nostril for 6 seconds. Complete the exhalation. This completes the first round, as the original starting point is reached.
  6. Without interruption, repeat and perform the exercise for several rounds. Each inhalation & exhalation is as silent as possible. Try to maintain a rhythm without actually counting. Remember that the use of fingers is temporary and ultimately you have to use your willpower to alternate (the nostrils)

Throughout the exercise, your consciousness must be coupled with your breath i.e. your attention will go inside with inhalation and come out with exhalation. It should not leave the breath and wander away.

Perception of Alternate Breathing (Coupled with Retention of the Breath)

In the previous exercise the precept ion of alternate (nostrils) breathing was performed without pause between inhalation and exhalation, i.e. without holding the breath. This technique can be made more effective by the modification of the rhythm, by introducing retention of the breath between each exhalation and inhalation. The time of holding the breath is to be adjusted according to the ability of the practitioner and in any case it should not produce any discomfort. This modified technique increases the steadiness of mind and awareness.

Exercise

  1. Follow the instructions given in the previous exercise upto the first inhalation through the left nostril when the right is closed.
  2. At the end of the inhalation, close the left nostril also and retain the breath inside for 4 seconds.
  3. Release the right nostril (keeping left one closed) and exhale slowly through the right nostril for 6 seconds.
  4. At the end of the exhalation, close the right nostril also (so that both are closed) and hold the breath outside for 4 seconds. Then release the right nostril (the same one that was used for exhalation) and inhale for 4 seconds.
  5. At the end of the inhalation, close the right nostril (left is also closed) and retain the breath inside for 4 seconds.
  6. Finally open the left nostril and exhale through it for 6 seconds. At the end of exhalation hold the breath outside for 4 seconds by closing both the nostrils.
  7. Repeat and perform the exercise for several rounds, maintaining the rhythm of inhalation—retention—exhala­tion—retention—inhalation and so on.
Footnotes:
[1]
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