To the spiritual seeker, the control and mastery of the breath is everything. The Upanishads talk about the breath as the living presence and action of God. In fact, one of the simplest forms of meditation is to merely observe the breath. To understand the science behind this, we need to look into how the breath is linked across all levels of our existence.
There are five modes of function that affect both the body and the mind. Each breath moves through more than 7.2 million channels in the body known as nadis. Mastering breath as it moves through these channels is to master both body and mind.
In normal biological processes breath is the linking factor between matter and energy. That is to say, breath brings in the oxygen that is essential for converting the matter we consume as food into energy that the body needs.
In the brain, when a person breathes unconsciously without being aware of his or her breath, the primitive area of the brain situated in the lower cortex is activated. This ‘lower’ brain keeps a tally of the number of breaths taken by an individual. Slowing down the rate of breathing is said to increase a life span. When one breathes consciously and slowly, being aware of each breath, the ‘higher’ brain in the region behind the forehead is said to be activated. When this ‘higher’ brain is activated through conscious breathing, the ‘lower’ brain does not keep a tally.
Moving away from physiology to the cognitive faculties of the mind, a seeker on the spiritual path will find that the breath is also linked to the mind. Both the breath and the mind arise from the same source; when one is controlled, so is the other.
Going into even subtler forms, in Hindu thought, there is something beyond the mind, called consciousness. The breath is a linking factor between consciousness and the mind.
While this may seem like a rather radical concept, the effects of breathing on the body and mind is slowly gaining recognition in modern scientific research. Sit in a quiet room, without any distractions and observe the breath. A distracted mind, when diverted to observing the breath, will slowly become controlled. By simply watching breath we will naturally begin to regulate it.
Two Simple Techniques to Observing the Breath
1. Deep Breathing: sit in a comfortable posture with spine erect. Empty your mind of all thoughts. Inhale deeply, fully and slowly. And then exhale deeply, fully and slowly. Do this for 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Chanting Ohm: sit in a comfortable posture with spine erect. Take a deep breath and chant ‘ohm’ as you exhale. Do this for 5 minutes, increasing the time as you go.
In his upcoming workshop Frustration to Fulfilment, Swamiji teaches holistic processes that address deep-seated issues of the body, mind and consciousness. Step-by-step, he will move you towards a more fulfilling life.