from Subtle Energy:
Awakening to the Unseen Forces in Our Lives by William Collinge,
Ph.D., Warner Books, Inc., 1998
"We're going to have to do
this without the IV Valium," warned Angela's doctor. "Can you just somehow
breathe your way through it?"
Angela had been having severe
stomach problems for a couple of years, and was about to undergo a gastroscopy
which would involve inserting a long three-quarter inch tube down her throat
and into her stomach to look around. The whole procedure takes about half
an hour and is very uncomfortable because you have to breathe through your
nose, and you have a tremendous gag reflex.
"They always use intravenous
Valium to help people get through this, but my veins are really tiny and
deep," explains Angela. "Three different technicians tried to get the IV
into me, and they couldn't do it.
"So I started meditating,
just following my breath. I had to breathe through my nose and just control
it. It's what got me through the half hour, and I didn't gag at all. When
I began to get anxious or feel like I was choking, I just came back to
my breath. It's what anchored me and centered me, and I just allowed it
to carry me through this really scary experience."
Angela's story illustrates
a very practical benefit of meditation, in the form of greater ability
to tolerate what's going on in her body. To do this of course required
her to concentrate on her breath. Virtually every form of meditation, regardless
of the tradition or the culture from which it came, harnesses the breath
in some deliberate way.
The field of mind/body medicine
has drawn a great deal from the world's meditative traditions. One result
has been the discovery of the medically beneficial "relaxation response"
that it creates (a state of reduced tension and blood pressure, and other
positive changes). This has in turn led to meditation being considered
a legitimate medical recommendation for people with illness. I will go
into more detail about energetic aspects of meditation in Chapter 7, but
for now I will summarize the role of the breath.
It is universal that in meditation
the primary use of the breath is to help soothe or calm the mind and body.
Typically the instructions pertaining to the breath involve:
• Using deep, slow, regular
• Directing the breath into
• Using the breath as the
focus of the mind
For example, in the traditional
Buddhist practice called vipassana or mindfulness meditation, the basic
instruction is to put all your attention on fully experiencing each breath,
and allow all other thoughts, feelings or sensations to pass on by while
you maintain this focus.
The Buddha's instructions
appear remarkably simple, but upon trying them one quickly discovers the
power of the mind to interfere:
"Oh monks, there is a most
wonderful way to help living beings realize purification, over-come directly
grief and sorrow, end pain and anxiety, travel the right path, and realize
"One goes to the forest,
to the foot of a tree, or to an empty room, sits down cross-legged in the
lotus position, holds one's body straight, and establishes mindfulness
in front of oneself.
"Breathing in, one is aware
of breathing in. Breathing out, one is aware of breathing out. Breathing
in a long breath, one knows, `I am breathing in a long breath.' Breathing
out a long breath, one knows `I am breathing out a long breath.' Breathing
in a short breath, one knows `I am breathing in a short breath.' Breathing
out a short breath, one knows `I am breathing out a short breath.'"
The impact of meditation
on our energy is not so much a matter of building it up, as it is balancing
and maintaining it. Through regular meditation practice it becomes a habit
to breathe more continuously and regularly throughout our day. We become
more acutely aware of our breath each moment, even when not meditating,
so that in the long run the breath becomes a reliable, steadying force
in daily life. And then, as in Angela's case, we can call upon it to help
us through trying times.