All forms of meditation are built on a solid foundation of good breathing techniques and are centered around breath awareness. This is so fundamental that it is often taken for granted by teachers and authors. Just as I would not think to remind you to use a cup to drink tea from instead of the teapot, a teacher might neglect to mention breath awareness. It is important for your continuing success with meditation to remember to first become fully aware of your breathing before proceeding with any meditation, regardless of whether or not the instructions mention breathing.
Simple Breath Awareness
This is one of the simplest of all meditations, yet also one of the most powerful, and rewarding. Initially it is best practiced while lying flat on your back on the floor with knees either straight or bent. As you improve it can also be practiced while sitting, standing or walking, as long as you can maintain good posture. Poor posture impedes the breath and distracts from the meditation.
The secret of this meditation is to observe the breath without consciously trying to change it. Your observations of the breath filter down to the subconscious levels of your brain, which will begin subtly to shift and refine the breathing to lead you gradually along the perfect path towards perfect breathing. Conscious attempts to alter the breath will only interfere and create anxiety and tension.
All effort to meditate is the denial of meditation J. Krishnamurti - March 1979
When you get the hang of Simple Breath Awareness, the character of the breathing may improve dramatically in a short space of time. Gradually, over a period of a few days or months, you will approach a plateau of improvement where you are utilizing the full capacity of your lungs. At this point, your lung capacity itself will begin to expand, but this is a slower process, involving the growth of new lung tissue which can continue over a period of years and should not be rushed.
The Ujjayi Breath is practiced by half closing the epiglottis at the back of the throat. This partially restricts the flow of air, and causes a rasping or hissing sound in the back of the throat as you breath in and out. Often people breath like this when they fall asleep. Do not try to make the sound loud enough for others to hear. Instead your breath should sound like a gentle, soft whisper.
With practice you will be able to breathe easily in this manner. Ujjayi Breath allows you to listen to the sound of your breathing, and thus helps to focus the mind on the breath. It can be used to enhance most meditations that are described in the following pages. Ujjayi Breath can be used with diaphragmatic breathing, complete breathing, and alternate nostril breathing exercises. In fact, it can be used with almost any breathing technique with the possible exception of Breath of Fire, bellows breath, cleansing breath, or other similar techniques involving forceful and sharp contractions of the diaphragm.
Tension in Tanden
This is one of the harder breathing exercises to actualize, but once experienced it is really very easy to do, like riding a bike. The Tanden Center is the name used in Zen Meditation to describe the seat of spiritual power, said to reside in the diaphragm. Creating tension in the Tanden Center is accomplished by putting the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles in isometric opposition. Normally the diaphragm contracts to pull air into the lungs and rests while you breathe out using the abdominal muscles to empty air out of the lungs. When you practice maintaining tension in the Tanden, you do so on the inhalation by making the diaphragm work a little harder while resisting with the abdominals and on the exhalation by making the abdominal muscles work harder while resisting with the diaphragm. Thus the diaphragm and abdominals never completely relax, but instead trap tension between them as they are in an ongoing game of give and take.
Once you learn how to create and hold tension in the Tanden Center, you can experiment by holding more or less tension as you meditate to see for yourself what works best for you. This technique helps to still the racing or wandering mind, by maintaining your focus on the Tanden Center and on the breath. It may also well conceal deeper secrets known only to those who perfect and practice this technique.
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