Breath is a Key to Meditation

Realize the bi-directional inter-relatedness of the mind and the breathing. Practice! Regulate your breathing, it stills down the mind in a very natural way. Still down the mind, it regulates your breathing. Imagine yourself asleep but awake. Profound meditation: Draw in the senses, stay alert and dynamic.

Master Course, Merging with Siva, Lesson 254

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning everyone. Nice to see you all here this morning.

I'm just going to read a bit and comment on yesterday's daily lesson. Gurudeva's daily lesson from Merging with Siva.

"Meditation is a fine art and should be approached in the same way the fine arts are approached. That's the way we teach meditation at Himalayan Academy, as a fine art. The artist-teachers are not running after the students. You don't learn a fine art that way. You go to your teacher because you want to learn. You might go a long distance. You want to learn and so you study. He gives you something to work on. You go away and you work on it, and you come back having perfected it. That's how we expect Academy students to progress along the path. Something has to happen on the inside, and it usually does.

"Controlling the breath is the same as controlling awareness. They go hand in hand. During meditation, the breath, the heartbeat, the metabolism--it all slows down, just like in sleep. You know deep meditation and deep sleep are extremely similar. Therefore, the practice of pranayama and regulation of the breath, the pranas, the currents of the body, should really be mastered first. In the same way, the dancer doesn't start out dancing. He starts out exercising first. He may exercise strenuously for a year before he begins to really dance. The pianist doesn't sit down at the piano and start with a concert. He starts with the scales and with the chords. He starts by limbering his fingers, by perfecting his rhythm and posture. Meditation has to be taught like one of the fine arts. It's only the finely refined person who can really learn to meditate... We need this preparation of the physical body so that the physical and emotional bodies behave themselves while you are in a deep state of meditation."

That's a very important principle that we follow in practicing meditation is realizing the inter-relatedness of the mind and of the breathing. It's inter-related in both directions, bi-directional. What would uni-directional be? The breath influences the mind. Bi-directional means the breath influences the mind and the mind influences the breath. It's bi-directional. So you can start on either side. When you regulate your breathing it stills down the mind. If you still down the mind it regulates your breathing. You can approach it either way you want to. Bi-directional. In this case Gurudeva's saying:Well focus on the breath. Regulate your breath and that will calm down the mind in a very natural way.

I like to joke that the most common emails I get are from students in Asia facing a big exam. Exams in Asia are different than in the U.S. It's critical that you pass in order even to go on to the next grade in the normal school. At a certain point if you don't pass the exam and you're 12 years old, you go a different route. So there's tremendous pressure from a very young age in Asia whereas, in the U.S. you know pressure but not really to you get up to your S.A.T. exam, like that. We have pressure toward the end of high school.

So we get letters coming in from 12 year olds even: "I have a big exam, please bless me." I have a standard cut and paste answer. Except to remember to change their name. And the answer focuses on a couple of points. One of them is breathing because that's why students can do poorly on an exam is they become tense. Cause they're under stress, under pressure and the breathing becomes shallow. And therefore, concentration suffers. So if we can simply, breathe deeply, breathe from the diaphragm a few times during the exam. Say the exam is two hours long, every 20 minutes we stop for a minute and we just breathe deeply from the diaphragm. Stay relaxed. Avoid tensing up. Then our thinking will flow better or we're in touch with the smartest part of us, shall we say. And the tenser we get the more we shut off being in touch the smartest part of us. So, the two things relate together. And of course, you don't want to try and learn that during the exam; you want to practice beforehand. So, I encourage them to practice it beforehand for a few months. And then of course can say: Worship Lord Ganesha. Have an archana at a temple for an important exam. Study hard. So, study hard and worship Ganesha and breathe are the three components of our standard answer on how to do well on exams.

Well, this is pointing out a second idea which is meditation is like sleep. Or, if you can imagine that you were awake when you are asleep well that would be a state of meditation. Sure some people can do that but most of us can't. When we're asleep you only know you're asleep afterwards. We don't realize during the sleep that we are asleep. And then afterwards we're asleep we think back, I must have been asleep for so many hours.

But if you imagine yourself asleep but awake you get a sense of what a good state of meditation is. In other words, you close down your senses. That's an important part of meditation, the senses. Cause the comparison is to the turtle. The turtle sticks out five limbs, normally, but then when one is threatened it withdraws the five limbs. So that's a comparison to withdrawing the five senses. We draw in or we don't hear anything. If we're in the kitchen we don't smell anything. So we've drawn in the senses. That's the idea of brief meditation. Just like we do when we're asleep, but we're awake; we're very alert. Well it's a similar process but instead of losing our alertness and only gaining it back when we wake up, we draw in the senses and we maintain the alertness.

As Gurudeva likes to say: Meditation's a very dynamic state. It's not supposed to be a sleepy state. If, if you're really sleepy, there's no point, unless you have to, at least the monks do, you gotta sit through the meditation. Unless you have to, you know, it's not going to be a profound meditation if you've managed to get sleepy. You need to stay alert and dynamic.

"Your breath will slow down until you almost seem to stop breathing. Sometimes you do, and you're breathing with an inner breath. You have to educate yourself to that so it doesn't make you fearful and bring you out of meditation with a jerk and a gasp, which can then inhibit you. You can get fearful in meditation. So, good basics must be learned for one to become a deep meditator. You can spend hours or years working with the breath... Breathe by moving the diaphragm instead of the chest. This is how children breathe, you know. So, be like a child. If you learn to control the breath, you can be master of your awareness."

Thank you very much.

Have a great day.

Photo of  Gurudeva
Here are the ingredients: attention, concentration, meditation, contemplation, samadhi. Willpower is the fuel.