The (1:4:2) Healing Breath
-- Christmas Humphreys
In Eastern religions control of the breath is a beginner's first task. Most of the theories offered in support of this immediate need to regulate the breath are of the pseudoscientific stripe: "prana", "qi" or "chi" forces, which are considered positive, masculine and solar, are said to be contained in the air. Breathing techniques are therefore designed to help the body to absorb, circulate and store these forces. Whether or not these theories can withstand scientific scrutiny is unimportant. The point is that whole systems of yoga require the precise visualization of these 'forces' and that however quaint such explanations are they must be regarded as literal truth and given full faith and credit.
Likewise, any instructions given by book or by a master should be accepted without too much in the way of analysis. It is always a mistake to intellectualize that which can only be acquired intuitively. It is a mistake because what passes for righteous skepticism is usually nothing more than a destructive ego's attempt to sabotage a practice.
There are, however, physiological considerations which, when understood if only in a rudimentary manner, can influence a person's appreciation of the rules. Let's briefly consider these:
All meditative practices strive to attain three levels of higher consciousness: concentration, meditation, and samadhi. All three states require that the ego be bypassed.
When we concentrate, we lose track of time and of self. There is only the problem or the music or the drama - whatever it is we are concentrating on.
Meditation is defined as a state in which the ego is transcended; and this means that in the meditative state there cannot be any thoughts of I, me, my or mine. When we meditate, all of the conditions of concentration obtain, but in addition, certain areas of our brain are stimulated, and at the conclusion of the meditation we experience euphoria. These areas are believed to exist mostly on the nonverbal, non-discursive side of our brain, the side which processes patterns, rhythms, shapes, and colors. Hence, most meditative techniques employ yantras and mantras - colorful geometric designs or repeated expressions. If we are meditating upon a rose, i.e., mentally reconstructing the experience of a rose - its touch, smell, color, physical parts, etc., the rose will suddenly glow in our minds and the euphoria which accompanies the sight of this "Ideal" rose will convince us that we have seen perfection. Meditation produces a high that lasts indefinitely... days or even weeks. The world seems as perfect and as wonderful as the rose. This state of egoless appreciation of everything is called Kensho.
While there is nothing sexual about meditation, Samadhi, on the other hand, is orgasmic ecstasy. It is possible to remain in this indescribably blissful state for hours.
Now, just as the brain has two largely independent halves, the body's autonomic nervous system is divided in two: the sympathetic nervous system - which is activated in response to fear, fight or flight, and also for seminal ejaculation. Adrenalin being its principal messenger, the body is informed by higher heart rates, higher blood pressure and a dry mouth. (Think about getting up to speak before a group..."mike-fright"... the heart pounds and, in the sudden absence of saliva, lips stick to teeth.)
The parasympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, kicks in for sexual arousal and as preparation for feeding. The heart rate drops as does the blood pressure and the mouth salivates profusely. The verbs for eating and lovemaking are therefore similar.
Physical pain or any fearful state will activate the sympathetic system... the opposite direction from where the seeker of samadhi desires to go. The meditator needs the parasympathetic nervous system to get into an ecstatic state. Therefore, physical pain or any fearful state must be avoided. Gasping for breath or choking will induce a panic response. Painful sitting postures or improper breathing techniques are therefore destructive to any meditation practice.
The Seventh World of Chan Buddhism
Chapter 10: Part III: Practice, Page 1 of 4
Last modified: July 11, 2004
©1996 Ming Zhen Shakya (Chuan Yuan Shakya)