BREATHING FOR THE INITIATE FOR GREATER HEALTH AND MORE INTENSE FOCUS
“In the Kathopanishad, the King of Death says, ‘One who can enter sushumna at the time of death can attain Brahman, the highest goal of life. All other paths are paths of rebirth. Sushumna is the key point of liberation. From the sahasrara or crown chakra, he rises finally to the realm of the absolute Brahman.’ ~ Swami Rama
All of the breathing practices which follow systematically balance the energy systems and lead to sushumna awakening, where the subtle energy flows through the subtle spine. This is the most immediate sign that the mind is truly ready to meditate. When sushumna is awakened the two nostrils flow evenly; this is the barometer for knowing your current state of susuhmna awakening. It is called sandhya, which is the wedding of sun and moon, of pingala and ida, the right and left or male and female flowing energies. It leads to sukhamana, the joyous mind, which then wants to do nothing but sit quietly for meditation.
In the inner journey of meditation it can fairly be said that the entire purpose of all the preliminary practices is the awakening of sushumna, and while the other practices prepare one, it is breathing which most immediately leads to sushumna awakening.
Breath awareness – removal of irregularities:
The whole process of breathing practices and pranayama begins with breath awareness and the removal of irregularities. It means making the breath smooth, with no jerkiness. Thought bubbles arising from the unconscious cause jerks in the breath and jerks in the breath lead to bumps in the flow of the mind. There are no pauses created between the breaths. Intentional retention of breath is a special exercise, but the default practice of breathing is smooth, with no irregularities and no pauses. Breath is also allowed to be comfortably slow. Typical untrained breath is about 15-20 breaths per minute, whereas trained yogic breath is well under 10 breaths per minute, often under 5-6 breaths per minute for those who have practiced for some time.
Diaphragmatic breathing, even breathing:
First, establish diaphragmatic breathing with even breathing, where the exhalation and inhalation are of equal duration. To initially practice this, you may silently count internally, such as 1-2-3-4 with exhalation and 1-2-3-4 with inhalation. Count to whatever number feels natural and comfortable.
Gradually learn to elongate the exhalation such that it is twice as long as the inhalation. Initially you may find it comfortable to extend the exhalation only a little, but not quite at the two-to-one ratio. As with even breathing, experiment to find your own comfortable level or count. Two-to one breathing is a special practice, and is not the default breath during the day; that default breath is simple even diaphragmatic breathing.
The yogic complete breath (deerghswasam) is an exercise that invigorates the nervous system and moves prana. It involves steadily moving filling of the lungs from the abdomen, through the diaphragm, then the chest, and finally the clavicles raising to complete a full inhalation. Then there is a steady releasing from the clavicles, through the chest, emptying with the diaphragm, and finally complete emptying with the abdomen pushing in. Although it is not rushed, it is done rather quickly without hesitation at any of the steps along the way. There is also no retention; at the completion of the inhalation, the breath is reversed and the breath is smoothly and steadily exhaled through the steps.
Two or three well executed complete breaths can be sufficient initially for the breathing portion of the systematic practice. Until you add the other practices this can hold the space in the totality of the practice, while itself being very useful. If you have had a very busy day and your mind is running around here and there, even a few complete breaths can break the noisy log jam of the mind and bring the beginnings of silence.
Ujjayi and Brahmari:
Sitting in stable posture, inhale through the nostrils so that it is felt on the roof of the palate, making a soft, continuous sobbing audible sound with mental Sooo…. Exhale with a mental Hummm…. Brahmari (the bee) is similar, with an audible buzzing sound on exhalation, like the sound of a bee; this can also be done silently in the mind with exhalation.
Also called the “Shining Skull” this practice emphasizes the exhalation in a very quick, thrusting motion at the base of the abdomen. The inhalation is then allow to release naturally. Unless there are health problems, most people can do this practice. To do a few before meditation, such as 10-20 or so can have a centering effect. Gradually work up to 25, and then up to 100 or more over months or years, respecting your own comfortable capacity. This can then be gradually increased to three rounds of 100 repetitions.
In practice, first do agnisara, then kapalabhati, and follow that with bhastrika. Between these practices it may be comfortable and useful to do one or two complete breaths as a transition.
Also called the bellows, bhastrika is a middle section breath, from the diaphragm. If one does a few of them, say about 10-20, it can have a calming, balancing effect. If more are done, such as in the 100’s or more, it is best that one have a solid foundation of good health and stabilized mind. The inhalation and exhalation are both done with an equal amount of pressure, in that same way that you may operate a handheld bellows used to stoke a fire. Gradually increase to 100 repetitions, and then to three cycles of 100 each.
In the systematic practice, bhastrika comes after kapalabhati. If it is comfortable you may wish to bridge these with one or two complete breaths. After the bhastrika practice you may want to do nadi shodhana or go directly on to your meditation practice.
Nadi Shodhana is the purifying of the energy channels or nadis. It means balancing the right and left energies (ida and pingala) so that the central channel (sushumna) is flowing. There are many variations of nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing. To learn alternate nostril breathing is a simple process which is very effective for helping to calm the nervous system and prepare the mind for meditation.
Initially nadi shodhana can be done with the fingers (such as thumb and ring finger) pressing against the sides of the nostrils to alternate the flow of air in the breath (or using thumb and a finger to ‘plug’ the nostrils). However, it is best to do this mentally, breathing only with a shift of awareness from one to the other. If a nostril is blocked or not flowing totally freely, attention can be placed on that nostril and it will generally open within a few breaths.
MAKE SURE YOU’RE THOROUGHLY CLEAR ON THE USE OF NADI SHODHANA BEFORE USING! It can move your Alchemical generative force if not understood.
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