Gary Justice presentation to Samagra CYA Meditation Teacher Training Program at Bliss Haven Retreat Centre (July 16, 2012). http://www.InAmongEverything.wordpress.com
Hara Breathing for Fun and Profit
An Overview of Insight Meditation
Premise – true relaxation naturally leads to meditation, measurable by awareness of abdominal breathing.
Here we mean meditation as described in Patanjali’s “Eight Limbs of Yoga” found in The Yoga Sutras. This is a state or stage of the meditation process that is after “concentration” and before “Samadhi”.
When naturally slow, naturally deep abdominal breathing adds up to six or less out breaths per minute, one is in a physical state ripe to enter the meditation stage.
Please understand this is a generalization people and moments vary and there is a non-linear side operating simultaneously. But we can use this idea of six breaths to better understand the stages we are going through. This is an important element of classical “insight” meditation.
Other factors of moving more deeply into meditation include predisposition, degree of clarity and balance in one’s relation with self and others, and physical health. As on learns to respond to one’s circumstances moment to moment in a genuine, open manner, a thirst for connection with profound presence and a peaceful disposition towards others is likely to increase.
The Hara is found three finger widths below the navel. Abdominal/Hara breathing means bringing the air into the deepest, bottom part of your lungs at beginning of in-breath, filling up completely from there, then exhaling starting from the same lower lungs/abdomen. This stimulates the diaphragm and invokes the “relaxation response”.
Close attention will reveal the lower belly area (hara) filling up from all sides, expanding to the lower back and pelvis, filling with prana all the way up to the top of the lungs and moving inwards through the space and the density of your body and being. On exhale this is reversed, cleansing toxins and other baggage from the deepest parts of your being.
How do we want to live? How to we want to breath? Immediate, genuine, deeply present, thorough, responsive, intimate, spontaneous and so on. The balance of the axis of factors that is the foundation of meditative state can be expressed in one’s breathing. In other words, the factors of meditation readiness can be both measured and cultivated by means of breath awareness.
A simple exercise is to relax into good meditative sitting posture with eyes open. Allow the breath to settle, and then begin to count 5-4-3-2-1-0 in a repeated cycle. Each count occurs on each out breath. Settle in for twenty minutes and just relax, enjoy, count these breaths, while also observing your act of observing all this.
Try measuring the number of breaths per minute at the beginning verses the end of your session.
A shift into concentration and another shift into meditation may be experienced as a flick into an expanded perspective. This shift may be accompanied by a sudden but subtle change in awareness of light, sound, or feeling.
As the foreground project, count your breaths, gently encouraging the breath to be naturally slow and deep, then allow it to do what it does -it may go more shallow over time. Try to pay attention to the moment to moment sensation of your abdomen as a basis of presence, counting the out breaths 5 to 0 then repeating.
You might allow some of your attention to be aware of the phenomena of the present moment. Meanwhile you will be re-setting two things – your physical posture, and your object of attention. Physically you re-set to bring back alignment, which is connected to an attitude or a response to your life. Mentally, thoughts will arise that are off-topic, namely being in the past or the future, old loops/planning/ruminating, etc. So we re-set back to the abdomen breathing and the phenomenon of this moment. Light stabilization on the task at hand is what we are seeking in the beginning. We will usually start with a sense of being scattered or distracted, but this phase clears up as the breath slows down.
In terms of moving from a chattery mental state to concentration to meditation, once we are able to relatively stabilize our attention as described above, , we will likely find that our breaths are happening at less than six breaths per minute.
Stages of Awareness
So, these stages describe the cultivation of a starting point. The next part is less of a “doing”. This happens spontaneously, not by one’s own acute doing. This is a shift into awareness of awareness – we expand to see many of our thoughts as something particular to the experience of a relatively small part of our being. The “larger part” becomes our vantage point. This shift is also sudden and subtle and often accompanied by a signal such as a change in awareness light sound or feeling. This will happen during the “meditation” stage or could be thought of as the beginning of it, resulting from a period of concentration.
This described shift is the beginning of a journey into the thing all scripture and master teachings are referring to as indescribable, the Main Thing of all things – the consciousness from which all things occur. And it can all be found through abdominal breathing, slowly.
In the yoga and meditation communities we speak of abdominal breathing almost constantly and indeed we may be incorporating it. However, in an asana yoga class we’re doing a lot of other things at the same time. Also during everyday activities, we are doing a lot of other things at the same time and we lose track of our breathing. So in this kind of meditation we are really opening up this awareness of breath and its connection with state of mind as training for how to be our best in general.
By mastering this in meditation we can try bring it into asana practice. This means maintaining the breath awareness and the awarness of awareness, i.., being in a meditation state. This usually takes years of practice, but it can be wonderful journey with benefits at every stage. Better breathing accompanied by a more grounded presence becomes more and more developed in your everyday response to your environment and your situation.
Done systematically, this can be a complete meditation practice, setting aside all other complicated practices. It is also perfect training for most other meditation practices.
The physical and psychological benefits of breathing this way are well documented. After a few months of training it is possible to replace your old way of breathing with this one – the way you were breathing as a young child. This helps to set the ground for moving towards insight, purpose, freedom, inspiration and well being in the broadest sense.