The threefold breath meditation adds a phase in that the peak of inhalation is held for a bit. Typically the pattern is to hold your breath four times longer than the inhalation, and to exhale for a time period double that of the inhalation. As an example, breath in to the count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 16, and exhale to the count of 8. If this is too difficult, then reduce the count of the inhalation, and then keep the ratios the same. Other examples could be 3:12:6, or later in the practice 5:20:10. Take it easy during practice: try to get full inhalation and full exhalation, but don’t strain, and don’t exhaust your muscles. It may take time to build this practice comfortably, and will certainly take weeks of practice to see results. You will likely feel warmer while doing this practice. Observe your experience during each phase, and monitor your impressions. Using a metronome may help the cycle be more regular.
How to: Fourfold Breath Meditation
This is a form of simple breath meditation. You will choose a count which you will use for each of the four phases of a breath. So, for example, during a full inhalation, count to four. Then hold the breath for a count of four. Next exhale gently but fully to a count of 4. Hold the lungs empty for a count of four. Then repeat the cycle for between ten and fifteen minutes.
If a count of four is too rapid to allow for full inhalation and exhalation with full diaphragmatic breathing, then extend the count to six or to eight. Keep the count for each of the breath phases the same.
This is not a marathon, so keep the counts low enough to be comfortable and peaceful throughout the cycle. No need to strain. You may find that you can extend the count comfortably after a few weeks of practice if you wish.
After daily practice for a few weeks, how does this compare to the the Simple Breath Meditation described earlier? Any interesting experiences arise? If so, what phase of the cycle were they most commonly found?
How to: A Simple Circular Breath Meditation
Back to practical experiential exercises: Little is so primary to human life as the intake of breath to provide oxygen. The earlier breath exercise was to allow focus upon the breath without altering its natural flow. Although that exercise is quite useful to monitor your conscious awareness, and to withdraw awareness from the outside world a bit, other practices involve specific patterns of inhalation and exhalation to aid in the creation of meditative states of awareness.
This simple circular breath is perhaps one of the easiest of these methods.
Sit down and allow thoughts of the day to fade. Observe the breath as it naturally flows for a few moments. Close your eyes.
When ready inhale slowly but comfortably. Make sure that first the abdomen expands, then the chest, then the tips of the shoulder. This full breath fills the entire lung space. Don’t neglect to expand the abdomen first. Reverse this sequence for the exhalation and try to empty the lungs completely by pulling the abdomen in at the end of the exhale.
For this particular breath exercise, count the number of seconds of the inhalation, do not pause, immediately start the exhalation for exactly the same number of seconds as the inhalation. Again, do not pause at the end of exhalation, but start the next inhalation which should also last for the same number of seconds. The breath is similar to a large circle with the inhalation being half, and the exhalation being the other half, with no breath holds at any point. Keep the breath flowing in this cycle for ten to fifteen minutes to start.
How does this practice feel different from the earlier one? Do the results of practice differ?
Find a comfortable number of seconds for the inhalation/exhalation: don’t struggle or strain, and don’t slow the cycle to a point of feeling “air hunger.” It’s a relaxation exercise and a refocusing of awareness, not an endurance test!
How to: A Simple Breath Exercise
Breath has been used as a metaphor for life and life energy since recorded history began. Terms such as “prana,” “chi,” “ki,” “spiritus,” “anima” all refer to a core of life energy relating to radiant health and balance. In most traditions, this concept is intimately tied to the physical act in inspiration and expiration. Note that even these physiological terms in English have deeper meanings. To inspire raises the concept of creative insight and to expire also means to pass from life. Many spiritual systems include detailed instructions on special breathing techniques as part of practice.
But rather than delving deeply into those, let’s get started with a very simple practice that can have profound effects in your perception of such a simple thing as breathing, something you do about 10 times each minute of life without even really being aware of it.
First, even though our life is full of challenging and contradictory needs, you must find a brief 15 to 20 minute block each day to devote to meditative practice, if you wish to see personal change. The most beneficial results of meditation psychologically and physically occur after regular practice of months to years. A simple state of relaxation occurs much more rapidly, but deeper change takes regular practice!
Warning: life will immediately conspire to interrupt your practice! Your intent will have to be fierce and unyielding. Phones off, pets in another room, children at school. . .
This simple meditation exercises uses the natural inflow and outflow of the breath: nothing else is needed beyond your time and focus.
Take a seat in a comfortable position so that you won’t need to shift your posture for a few minutes. The lotus position is fine, but certainly not necessary. You can accomplish the same by sitting in a chair with a reasonably vertical spine. Most important: be comfortable.
Close your eyes and just take a moment to allow the day’s worries and issues to pass from immediate awareness.
Then gently focus all of your attention onto your breath. No need to alter its rate or its depth, just internally observe.
Next, internally state to yourself “the breath flows in” on each inhale, and “the breath flows out” on each exhale.
After a few cycles, other thoughts or perceptions will likely start to intrude on your practice. Make no judgment on this. Gently refocus attention on the breath exercise each time you reach awareness that your focus has strayed.
Try for 10 to 15 minutes of time on this per day.
If possible, keep a simple journal, and document for yourself the results of the practice. Compare the entries after several weeks and after several months. You may notice a difference in your attitude about the day when you compare days when you completed the practice versus days that you didn’t.
Meditation: An Observation
The term ‘meditation’ is commonly used today amongst different peoples. The etymology of the word relates to the ideas of thinking or pondering. However, this is not an accurate description of the practice or purpose as the term is used today. Wikipedia defines the term as “a practice in which an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness.” The dictionary within “Bing” defines the term to mean an “emptying or concentration of the mind. . . in order to aid mental or spiritual development, contemplation, or relaxation.” Perhaps better, but this still fails to really describe the practice of the range of experience involved in the practice.
The only overarching description I can identify is that meditation involves a change in focus or awareness that typically stills the inner chatter of the mind. This may involve quiet concentrative techniques, observing the flow of mental contents, focusing on a particular action such as walking, or even using new technology to alter brainwaves through entrainment. Some form of changing the level of focus of consciousness has existed since the dawn of humanity. Flickering fires and evocative drumming are effective in changing to an altered state of awareness.
Later entries will describe a substantial number of practices for your consideration. Other entries will examine the physiological and brain changes that research has demonstrated with regular practice.
But first. . . .
Start by taking about five minutes of quiet time where you won’t be disturbed. Make a modest effort to have a quiet mind. Be aware that in all likelihood this will be an impossible task. The moment that the TV is off, the phone silenced and the computer out of awareness, you will probably find an internal dialogue of chitter chatter that is highly resistant to inner mental silence. That is OK! Just observe this for a few minutes and ponder why you think it might be that this inner commentary is so powerful. No judgement here, just observe.
Some forms of meditation are designed to distract this inner noise by focus on some other internal or external stimuli, others are designed to grasp ever longer instants of true silence. A bit of freedom from this chatter is quite freeing, and worth a bit of effort to experience, and as an added benefit you can grasp a whole new vision of yourself. Almost every spiritual tradition in the world has some form of meditative practice, irrespective of the more dogmatic aspect of the literalist part of the religious base. This is truly a worldwide and cross-cultural experience.