Preksha Dhyana: Perception Of Breathing ► [1] Breathing: Philosophical Version

Posted: 15.02.2010

Respiration is Spiritual Energy

This aphorism from the Jain Canon Dasaveāliyaṁ forms the basic principle of Preksā Dhyāna. It means: "See you thyself."—Perceive and realize the most subtle aspects of consciousness by your conscious mind. Body and soul, though transcendentally two different existents, are united to form a single entity—a living organism. Breath and life are practically synonymous. To breathe is to live and to live is to breathe. Breath is intimately connected with the body and mind. It is the bridge permitting access to nervous system, mind and vital energy (prāna-śakti). Breath, body and mind all are energized by the vital energy. Vital energy itself is activated by a subtle body (taijasa śarīra). At the ultimate end of this chain is soul or consciousness. And hence perception of the vibrations of breath, body, vital energy and karmic energy is equivalent to cognition of SELF—the conscious energy which animates all other energies including vital energy.

Generation of Vital Energy

What is breath? To answer this question, it is necessary to understand the ultimate purpose of breathing. It is obvious that by tackling the root of a problem, one is able to find a practical solution. Once one gets to the root, everything becomes simplified.

Breath is intimately associated with prāṇa, which is the kinetic form of paryāpti, i.e. the potential vital energy. This is inherent in the basic life-substances formed at the very first moment of conception in the womb[1]. It is well-known that when we breathe in, we inhale oxygen which is essential for life. Oxygen is delivered to each cell of the body to generate vital energy. Thus one needs nourishment supplied by Prāṇa. To breath is to live and to keep alive one must inhale and assimilate prāṇa without break. Inhalation and assimilation is virtually non-stop throughout life. Thus, in the ultimate, breath is the only efficient means of providing prāṇa which is essential for generating vital energy. Process of breathing is the powerful medium of generating vital energy. It is continuous and constant. Thus breath is connected to vital energy which is connected to subtle life force which is, in turn, connected with subtle microbody (karma śarīra).

Process of Breathing

Fresh air, inhaled in the lungs, contains oxygen (prāṇa-vayu) which enters the blood-stream and is delivered to the cells in the active tissues. Cells use the oxygen to produce energy. Thus breathing is a source of vital energy. The animation of the entire organism, that is each and every activity of life, needs energy. Functioning of sense-organs, brain, intellect, speech and bodily movements are all powered by energy. Flow of bio-energy is the source of power for all activities. Only the vital bio-energy is capable of animating sense-organs, brain and body which would remain inanimate otherwise.

Controlled and conscious breathing, as in śvāsa-prekṣā (perception of breath), is the source of still greater power. Most demonstrations of strength by feats such as driving of a car or a truck over one's chest are nothing but canali­zed and concentrated bio-energy produced by properly-controlled conscious breathing. The deeper and slower is the breathing, the greater is the production and availability of energy. The soul, the conscious element of the psychic existence, possesses infinite vitality and power. Since breath is the dynamic manifestation of this infinite potential power, conscious breathing can work and demonstrate miraculous feats.

Plants grow actively when they are properly watered, but shrink down if watering is disrupted. Similarly, organs, tissues and cells remain active when supplied with oxygen, and become sluggish and die down in its absence. Moreover, accumulation of carbon-dioxide would also poison the cells. Prāṇāyāma—scientific complete breathing—starts with fuller utilization of the vital capacity of the lungs by slow, silent and deep breathing.

Regular practice of prāṇāyāma (regulated breathing) is an efficient means of improving the quality of respiration. Prāṇāyāma is the scientific way of absorption of oxygen, and excretion of carbon-dioxide. It is the process of reinforcing and disciplining the generation of vital energy—prāṇa.[2] Simply stated, it comprises—inhalation, exhalation and pauses (holding the breath). But actually it is much more than the mechanical action. It is, in fact, judicious control and regulation of the process of producing life-giving energy. In other words, prāṇāyāma is the result of systemetic and scientific control of the process of breathing. Normally we utilize only a fraction of our vital capacity. Prāṇāyāma ensures complete evacuation of the lungs by a slow, calm and complete exhalation; maximum intake of fresh air by inhalation and full exchange of gases in the lungs by holding the breath. It also ensures full utilization of vital capacity.

Prāṇāyāma is an efficient therapeutic force which results in better physical and mental health. It improves blood circulation and cleanses the muscular system. If the intake of oxygen is not adequate, the oxygenation of the blood will not be proper and the poisonous toxins would accumulate. Adequate purification and oxygenation of blood is essential for health.

Prāṇa, Prāṇavāyu and Prāṇāyāma—the trinity comprising vital energy, oxygen and proper breathing are linked together. Without prāṇāyāma, there will not be adequate intake of oxygen and without proper oxygenation there will not be efficient production of vital energy. Prāṇāyāma is the supreme process to fully understand the usefulness of respiratory faculty. Modern science has fully endorsed what was averred by the ancient masters of Yoga philosophy in this regard.

We started with piano, took prāṇavāyu in our stride and reached prāṇāyāma. Now let us reverse the process and begin with prāṇāyāma. If practice of complete breathing is regular and scientific, inhalation of oxygen will be proper and adequate. While learning the technique of scientific complete breathing, one automatically comes to know about oxygen and the exchange of gases in the lungs. And when enough oxygen is carried by the blood-stream to the tissues, internal breathing will be active and production of energy will be efficient. Controlled canalisation of vital energy can produce miraculous feats. This is because the vital body is intimately associated with electrical body (taijasa śarīra). Thus vital body possesses most wonderful potential which could be brought to action by controlled breathing.

All the centres for generating vital energy are controlled by our brain. Stream of vital energy can flow in two separate directions: one would be an external route and the other an internal one. When the flow is in the external route, it animates our vital organs. Our normal strength is produced in this way and there is nothing extra-ordinary about it. The stream of vitality activates, all centres and our normal life is carried on without difficulty. But when we change the direction of the stream of vital energy, that is, allow it to flow by internal route instead of the external one, different and extraordinary powers are generated.

Object of Perception

Our aim is to awaken the supine consciousness and to activate the streams of mental peace. We desire to be acquainted with the deeper levels of consciousness. If we want to reach the subtle levels of consciousness, we should first be fully aware of the gross ones. One cannot reach the inr.er gates without opening the outer ones. We have to proceed towards the subtle from the gross. By choosing the process of breathing as a prop for our meditational exercise, we have taken the first step towards the subtle.

In Prekṣā Dhyāna, therefore, we use the act of breathing as a prop. That is, the act of breathing is to be made the object of our perception.

The act of breathing is a bridge between the internal and the external. Except the breath, there is nothing else which comes out as well as goes in. Of course, there is the mind; but mind itself needs to be propped up; it, obviously, cannot become an object of concentrated perception.

That is why we have chosen breath to become the object of perception for our technique. Breath is the only tourist which lours the external space as well as the internal one. It is the only light that enlightens the inside as well as the outside. It we desire our mind to stop wandering and to undertake an internal trip, the easiest way is to make it ride the chariot of breath and obtain access to the inside with it. With the commencement of the internal trip, one will become an introvert and a spiritualist. Thus association of the mind with the breath is the easiest way to become spiritual.

The ancient methodology is of controlling the mind and to attach it to the breath.  Mind itself becomes con­trollable and its restlessness vanishes.

Why Breath Is Chosen?

A question may be raised—why are we preferring breathing to anything else as the object of our perception? We shall try to understand the special importance of breathing on the basis of scientifically established facts. Various functions of our internal organs and systems[3] are controlled and regulated in two ways:

  1. voluntarily
  2. autonomically

Contraction and extension of skeletal muscles and movement of limbs are not automatic but are voluntarily controlled. On the other hand, digestion, blood-circulation, heart-beat etc. are autonomically regulated and are not amenable to voluntary control. Respiration is the only function which can be controlled voluntarily as well as autonomically. In other words, it continues whether we are aware of it or not.

Breath: a Pure, Natural and Inherent Medium

When we speak of voluntary control of breath, it means firm association of conscious mind with process of breath­ing. One becomes aware of each and every breath, when one breathes consciously. This, then, is a technique of steadying the wandering mind and concentrating it. Trained by this process, mind sheds its bluntness and becomes sharp enough to be aware of even more subtle object and phenomenon.

Mind is ever restless. Meditation aims at restraining the mind's wandering and ultimately steadying it. Convent­ionally this is sought to be achieved by total stoppage of thought. But to stop the flow of thoughts for any length of time is extremely difficult, if not impossible. In fact, any attempt to suppress the mental activity makes the mind more restless than ever. In Preksha meditation, however, the mind is engaged in concentrated perception of an object or a phenomenon. Here mental functioning is not stopped or suppressed, but regulated and canalised. In other words, the streams of thought flowing in different directions are canalised and made to flow in one direction. Thus regulated and disciplined, mind can be made to concentrate in the perception of a single event or a phenomenon for a good length of time. The mind, thus engaged in the function of perception is not available for that of thinking. We have chosen the process of breathing to be the object of perception. As a prop, it is natural and inherent, i.e. not an external or an imported object. It is ever ready to serve as a prop. It is neither a memory of the past nor an imagination of the future, but a real event of the present. Percep­tion and awareness of breath enable us to live in the present moment. Besides, it is a pure and uncontaminated event; i.e. bereft of the pollution of like and dislike

Regulation of Breathing (Dirgha Shvas)

Normally breathing is automatic. That is, it does not need attention. But it is also amenable to voluntary control. If one so desires, one can, even without much practice, change and modify the rate, duration and depth of breathing.

Vital energy is essential for the step by step development of meditational practice. To generate enough energy, abundant oxygen must be supplied, and for this, it is necessary to regulate the rate of breathing. Slow, deep and rhythmic breathing qualifies to become the object of perception.

Breath-rate and Passions

Normally, at rest, our rate of breathing is 15-17 breaths per minute. This rate is under the autonomic control of respiratory centre situated in the medulla oblongata[4] in the brain. The rate increases with the increase in physical activity or excitement and the number per minute goes from 15 to 50 or even more.
The following table gives average rate for different functions.

Function Rate (No. of breath/ minute)

Sexual excitement and/or act

60-70

Emotional impulses such as anger, fear

40-60

Sleep

25-10

Speech

20-25

Walking

18-20

Resting

15-17

Normal deep breathing

8-10

Deep breathing after some practice

4-6

After long and regular practice

1-3

Increase in the rate of breathing makes it shallow, spasmodic and some time gasping. It affects the vital energy adversely and ultimately has injurious effects on health. Many of the symptoms of poor health are caused by improper breathing and insufficient oxygenation of blood. Not only are the nerves, glands and vital organs inadequately nourished, but the excretory system also cannot function properly. Those who breathe badly have to struggle with problems in all directions: health, profession and emotional life. On the other hand, a sadhaka will first learn to bring the rate of breathing under voluntary control. He will learn how to breathe properly, scientifically and completely. He will reduce the rate of breathing by making it slow, deep and rhythmic. Consequently, muscles and nerves relax, reducing the load on heart. Simultaneously, urges and impulses, emotions and passions are also subdued and modified, when the breath is shallow and its rate is high, primal drives and passions are aroused, strengthening the urges and emotions. Conversely, when all these are aroused, they quicken the rate of breathing, making it spasmodic and shallow. Quick breathing acts as a transport for all these distortions. One can easily subdue the passions by reducing the breath-rate. If one slows down the breath-rate and commences deep, rhythmic breathing, the emotional forces would at once be retarded. This is because they are deprived of the transport facilities without which they cannot make much head­way. A sādhaka would, in due course, be able to perceive in advance the onslaught of rising passions, and thus will be prepared to nullify their attack by resorting to deep breathing. The rising passions would then subside. Thus, by blunting the sharpness of their attack, a sadhaka saves himself from being the victim of the dreadful urges and emotions.

The first step in this process is to regulate the rate of breathing by reducing the number of breathes per minute. Again, one must be quite clear about the importance of the practice of deep breathing. It is not a mere breathing exercise, but much more than that. As a breathing exercise, it does improve the physical well-being. Improvement of physical health or treatment (and prevention) of serious illnesses, though valuable contribution, is not the only or even the chief objective of meditational practice. Dīrgha śvāsa prekṣā is the apparatus for regulating and controlling the bestial instincts, urges and passions. Acquisition of physical and mental well-being is a secondary benefit.

Even casual practice can bring down the rate of breathing from 15-17 to 8-10 per minute. Regular prac­tice can further reduce the rate to 6, 4 or even 2 or 1 b.p-m. One can learn to remain for a long time apparently without breathing.

Breath is very precious and one must not undervalue it as a petty thing. If one becomes competent to control this valuable phenomenon, one will reach greater heights in due course.

In the field of spiritual pursuit, breath serves as the foundation on which the superstructure of sādhāna can be built. Unless the foundation is strong, the super-structure cannot be stable.

Footnotes:
[1]
[2]
[3]
[4]
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Editor: Muni Mahendra Kumar

Copyright: Tulsi Adhyatma Nidam
Jain Vishva Bharati
Ladnun-341 306

Edition: 2004

Printed by: 
S.M. Printers
Uldhanpu, Delhi-32

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