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Meditator - Structural Bodyworker - Part 4
ADJUSTMENT AND USE OF THE BREATH
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 --- Part 5 Part 6 Part 7
by Lou Gross
School Certified Master Postural Integrator
Founder & Director of The Institute for Enhanced Performance
27 years successful Bodywork experience - Meditator since 1969
For more information & free consultations, call 321-726-9083
Breathing to Build Concentration: The appropriate use of breathing also allows us to build concentration power. Breathing actually brings physical matter into the body, especially oxygen, which literally puts energy into our cells. So as with body position, breathing helps us develop our Universal Mind, or Mind Energy-field, by developing a physical power around and through the body. Again, it's not mental strain we're talking about here.
In fact, breathing concentration practice is almost like a trick on the little "wandering-thought" mind. It's too hard to try to stay focused using only the thinker to control the thinker. It's a real physical strain and a drain on your available blood sugar. Building this physical energy field of concentration power that goes through all the body cells is much more effective. It's also more comfortable and it's rejuvenating instead of debilitating. We develop this comfort, power and rejuvenation by breathing "diaphragmatically" and concentrating our attention in the lower abdomen.
Lowering the Center of Attention and Concentrating, to Quiet the Mind: Wherever our attention goes, that's where the blood goes. And if the blood, and our attentive energies, go to the brain, the brain will become activated. Since an activated brain thinks a lot, and we're trying to quiet the brain, a lot of thinking is counter productive. We want to focus our energy on staying in present reality, and of course, if you're distracted in a constant stream of thoughts, you can't do that. So bringing blood away from the brain and using other techniques to quiet the thinking mind will help us do what we want to do.
Concentrating our minds on the present physical moments, we are paying attention to our ongoing experience of reality, as it's happening. Mental thought comments are always after it happens, delayed anywhere from a few microseconds to a few years. So, one effect of developing a power to "be-in-the present" is that the frequency of our random and non-purposeful thoughts dies down, like leaves falling off a tree. Another effect is that our experiences are fuller and our memories are more comprehensive and accurate.
Concentrating on One's Own Physical Experience: By concentrating on the breath, we have a strong physiological experience to which we can direct our attention. Breath concentration is much easier to do, and more powerful than say, concentrating your vision on a candle flame. (If you practice breath concentration for a while you can more easily stay focused on the candle flame than if you practiced flame concentration for the same amount of time and then tried to concentrate on your breath; both parts of the second way would be harder and weaker.)
We can feel the motion of breathing, physically, with our sensory nerves, right in our own bodies. We can make it bigger or smaller with neuro-muscular control. And we are ALWAYS breathing it, so you never have to worry that your object of concentration practice will be missing. You can practice anywhere, at any time.
Do Diaphragmatical Breathing: By concentrating on the breath and focusing it in your lower abdomen, you can do what is called diaphragmatically breathing.
As you inhale, allow the pressure from the increased volume of air in your lungs to push downward into the large double-domed muscle in the middle of your torso. It separates your chest cavity from your abdomen. As the diaphragm is pressed down, it massages and pushes down on your abdominal organs. This is very healthy, and improves the functions of digestion, elimination and reproduction. As the organs are pushed on, your lower abdomen will extend outward. When you exhale, your lung volume will decrease, the diaphragm will rise as it relaxes, and your lower abdomen will come back in. If your body is loose enough, you can also feel your lower ribs move out to the side and your chest expand a bit, too. But remember to focus your attention below your navel.
Breathing diaphragmatically like this also activates the parasympathetic nervous system (as versus the sympathetic nervous system if we breathed heavily in the chest). Not only are we directing our energy down and away from the brain, and energizing the "chakra" energy centers of digestion, elimination and reproduction, but this parasympathetic nervous system increases relaxation, rejuvenates the body functions, quiets the mind, increases sexual power and improves creativity.
Breathing diaphragmatically, we are not only massaging our abdominal organs and stimulating their production of necessary fluids, but it also allows us to breathe deeper, which brings in more oxygen and expels more carbon dioxide and other waste products.
Your Other Breathing, Bodily Movements: When you breathe, follow what happens in your body with your mind. You should be able to feel the movement of your muscles and bones, especially in the torso.
When you inhale, besides your abdomen expanding, your lower ribs should move out to the sides and your upper ribs should move out to the front. Your back at both top and bottom should also expand. And of course, when you exhale, your whole torso relaxes inward.
Inhaling is caused by the vacuum in your lungs. Air wants to fill the vacuum and will come in to fill the parts of your body inside, to balance the air pressure outside. Inhaling also requires a contraction of your diaphragm and some of the outer muscles of your torso. The general feeling is one of some small but pleasant effort to expand the torso. And focused diaphragmatical breathing, with your mind in your lower abdomen as it gently expands, should not be a strained effort.
Exhaling is done almost automatically, happening almost by itself. While some muscles of the torso do contract, the general feeling is a letting go and relaxing inward.
At the beginning of focused breathing, it's a good idea to exhale forcefully through your mouth a few times, to exhale any stale air and sort of activate your breathing mechanics. Then you can close your mouth and breathe smoothly and easily through your nose. The more you focus your mind's attention on your breath and in your lower abdomen a couple inches below your navel, the longer it can become. You should also adjust the mild muscle tension on the stream of air so that you make it long and thin, instead of quick, rushed and/or collapsed.
You can imagine the air coming into your belly, filling up a balloon. You can watch and feel, with your mind, that balloon filling up and then draining out, with your mind's awareness in your belly. Or, you can pay attention to the flow of air, the stream, coming in through your nose, and going down through the "tube" in your torso, to fill that balloon. Then follow that stream as it leaves your belly, flows up that tube, and breathes out your nostrils. Try each method.
As your torso loosens, your breath becomes longer and your awareness of your body becomes greater, you'll be able to feel the subtle physical movements of breathing down further into your pelvis, and up into your neck. You'll even be able to feel the energy flow created by your breathing as it goes into and through your arms, legs and head, as you direct it.
Breathing Energy Flow Around and Through You: A good way to increase your energy and smooth your flow is to "inhale" the energy flow up through your heels, through the back of your legs and torso, and change to breathing exhale as you carefully bring the energy over the top of your head and down through the tissues of the front of your body to your feet.
Try making an attentive, circular flow, over, and over again. Start on the outside of the body, then move into the outer layers of flesh, and finally bring it through the deeper layers of your body as well. Be sure to include the arms, head and feet. Remember, up the back, over the head, down the front, and a gentle loop through and below the feet. If you run into any tension or stiffness, just breathe your energy and focus your mind into that area, and it will release.
As your breathing energy flow develops, your physical torso movements will also develop nicely and you'll feel both a strengthening of "being" and a release of tense muscular effort in your whole body.
Your breath and diaphragm will be like a parachute, gently and strongly filling it up, and then letting it settle and float down. You'll also notice it's easier to pay attention. You're developing an "Energy-Field of Mind."
This is not
exactly one-pointed zazen in the lower abdomen, but it is very helpful to
build up concentration power. And it is the kind of zazen often
prescribed for building health and getting over sickness.
Copyright 2001, 2002
Louis A. Gross All Rights Reserved