Sunday, August 6, 2017

Breathing Lessons

Ideas suggested to me by Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. 1945.

Focusing on the breath, on breathing, is one of the fundamental tenets of Buddhism and Yoga.Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India. Buddhism is a philosophy and set of teachings which encompass a variety of traditions, beliefs and spiritual practices largely based on teachings attributed to the Buddha. 

Something as necessary and simple as breathing can be a way to help you meditate, fall asleep, deal with a stressful situation, melt away anger or frustration, and much more.

Everyone breathes. A seemingly simple statement. But the ramifications of that statement suggest that through our breathing, especially if done with the correct intent (besides the need to breathe if we are to stay alive,) we can all touch a measure of peace, contentment, and understanding in our daily life without having to learn any new sophisticated skills. Just breathe!

The ancient Yogic technique of focusing on breathing converts the breath into mind-stuff. There is a mathematical relationship between a human's respiratory rate and the variation in states of consciousness, states of emotion.

In attempting some delicate or difficult physical feat or when keeping great focus; one automatically breathes very slowly. Quick or uneven breathing comes with fear, lust, anger.

When resting or sleeping one breathes more slowly than when engaging in physical work or exercising. When one is content and calm one breathes more slowly than when angry, agitated, upset. 

We can all speed up or slow down our breath when we concentrate on it. The difficulty is remembering to concentrate. especially when in the heat of a situation.

For example, when frightened or angry it will be more difficult to slow down your thoughts and/or emotions enough to think about breathing. If you are in a "fight or flight" situation, you will most likely have a difficult time remembering to work on your breathing. 

If you are asleep, resting, or quietly contented you are probably so relaxed that you will not need not remember to think about how your breathing contributes to these blissful feelings.

The difficulty is keeping aware of one's breath patterns and changing them when necessary. But if we think this through, and practice on purpose at various times during a day when neither overly stimulated or at rest, or when we are in an adverse situation trying to remember to think about our breathing (similar to remembering to count to 10 when angry  before reacting; we can get used to having more control over this seemingly automatic bodily function; to think about controlling our breathing when we most need to. We can do this over time without having to force our breathing.

When you are able to do just that; the fear, the anger, the emotional upset often comes under control and one can proceed to a calmer, more peaceful place and be better able to think things through, solve problems, interact with others. 

I found it amazing that since everyone is breathing all the time, we could all work towards meditating as we live and better experience our days and nights, and what a more pleasant life that would be.

Two breathing meditations are taught. 

Soham (so 'ham) is the Sanskrit for "I myself" or "It is I" or "She/He is I." When used for meditation, "Soham" acts as a natural mantra to control one's breathing pattern to help achieve deep breath and gain concentration.

  • Sooooo... is the sound of exhalation, and is remembered in the mind along with exhalation.
  • Hammmm... is the sound of inhalation, and is remembered in the mind along with inhalation.
The mantra is also inverted from So 'ham, to Ham Sa, also been interpreted as "I myself am the Swan, where the swan symbolizes the Atmanmeaning "self, soul," a philosophical concept common to all schools of Hindu and Buddhism philosophy
  • Hammmm... is the sound of exhalation, and is remembered in the mind along with exhalation.
  • Saaaaaa... is the sound of inhalation, and is remembered in the mind along with inhalation.
Many a night, I have put myself to sleep quite quickly by using the SoHam or HamSa meditations. I am I. I am that which is. Translated to: I am all which I experience and I experience all which I am. 

By practicing an awareness of my breathing at various times during the day, on purpose and when not under duress, I have become better able to call on that technique when in need. I like to compare it to the game of football. The time to practice catching the ball is not when it is coming towards you during the heat of a game with the stands full of spectators! Practice does make perfect, or at least closer to perfect.

With thanks to Corinne Peterson for the two meditation mantras.

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