Breathing Exercises

by Sri Chinmoy

1. Breathing into the heart centre

Please breathe in and hold your breath for a couple of seconds, and feel that you are holding the breath, which is life-energy, in your heart centre. This will help you to develop your inner meditation capacity.

2. Becoming aware of the breath

When you sit down to meditate, try to breathe in as slowly and quietly as possible, so that if somebody placed a tiny thread in front of your nose it would not move at all. And when you breathe out, try to breathe out even more slowly than you breathed in. If possible, leave a short pause between the end of your exhalation and the beginning of your inhalation. If you can, hold your breath for a few seconds. But if that is difficult, do not do it. Never do anything that will make you physically uncomfortable during meditation.

3 Breathing in peace and joy

The first thing that you have to think of when practising breathing techniques is purity. When you breathe in, if you can feel that the breath is coming directly from God, from Purity itself, then your breath can easily be purified. Then, each time you breathe in, try to feel that you are bringing infinite peace into your body. The opposite of peace is restlessness. When you breathe out, try to feel that you are expelling the restlessness within you and also the restlessness that you see all around you. When you breathe this way, you will find restlessness leaving you. After practising this a few times, please try to feel that you are breathing in power from the universe, and when you exhale, feel that all your fear is coming out of your body. After doing this a few times, try to feel that you are breathing in infinite joy and breathing out sorrow, suffering and melancholy.

4. Cosmic energy

Feel that you are breathing in not air but cosmic energy. Feel that tremendous cosmic energy is entering into you with each breath, and that you are going to use it to purify your body, vital, mind and heart. Feel that there is not a single place in your being that is not being occupied by the flow of cosmic energy. It is flowing like a river inside you, washing and purifying your entire being. Then, when you breathe out, feel that you are breathing out all the rubbish inside you—all your undivine thoughts, obscure ideas and impure actions. Anything inside your system that you call undivine, anything that you do not want to claim as your own, feel that you are exhaling. This is not the traditional yogic pranayama, which is more complicated and systematised, but it is a most effective spiritual method of breathing. If you practise this method of breathing, you will soon see the results. In the beginning you will have to use your imagination, but after a while you will see and feel that it is not imagination at all but reality. You are consciously breathing in the energy which is flowing all around you, purifying yourself and emptying yourself of everything undivine. If you can breathe this way for five minutes every day, you will be able to make very fast progress. But it has to be done in a very conscious way, not mechanically.

5. Total breathing

When you reach a more advanced stage, you can try to feel that your breath is coming in and going out through every part of your body—through your heart, through your eyes, through your nose and even through your pores. Right now you can breathe only through your nose or your mouth, but a time will come when you will be able to breathe through every part of your body. Spiritual Masters can breathe even with their nose and mouth closed. When you have perfected this spiritual breathing, all your impurity and ignorance will be replaced by God's light, peace and power.

6. One-four-two breathing

As you breathe in, repeat once the name of God, the Christ or whomever you adore. Or, if your Master has given you a mantra, you can repeat that. This breath does not have to be long or deep. Then hold your breath and repeat the same name four times. And when you breathe out, repeat two times the name or mantra that you have chosen. You inhale for one count, hold your breath for four counts and exhale for two counts, inwardly repeating the sacred word. If you simply count the numbers—one-four-two—you do not get any vibration or inner feeling. But when you say the name of God, immediately God's divine qualities enter into you. Then, when you hold your breath, these divine qualities rotate inside you, entering into all your impurities, obscurities, imperfections and limitations. And when you breathe out, these same divine qualities carry away all your undivine, unprogressive and destructive qualities. In the beginning you can start with a one-four-two count. When you become experienced in this breathing exercise, you will be able to do it to a count of four-sixteen-eight: breathing in for four counts, holding the breath for sixteen, and breathing out for eight. But this has to be done very gradually. Some people do an eight-thirty-two-sixteen count, but this is for the experts.

7. Alternate breathing

Another technique you can try is alternate breathing. This is done by pressing the right nostril closed with the thumb and taking in a long breath through the left nostril. As you breathe in, repeat God's name once. Then hold your breath for four counts repeating God's name four times. And finally release your right nostril, press your left nostril closed with your fourth finger and release your breath to the count of two—that is, two repetitions of God's name. Then do it the opposite way. starting with the left nostril pressed closed. In this system, when you breathe in, it does not have to be done quietly. Even if you make noise, no harm. But of course, these exercises should not be done in public or where other people are trying to meditate in silence. You should not practise one-four-two breathing for more than four or five minutes, and you should not do alternate breathing more than a few times. If you do it twenty or forty or fifty times, heat will rise from the base of your spine and enter into your head, creating tension and a headache. It is like eating too much." Eating is good, but if you eat voraciously, it will upset your stomach. This inner heat acts the same way. If you draw it up beyond your capacity, then instead of giving you a peaceful mind, it will give you an arrogant, turbulent and destructive mind. Later, when you have developed your inner capacity, you can do this alternates breathing for ten or fifteen minutes.

- from Meditation, Man-Perfection in God-Satisfaction by Sri Chinmoy.