Conscious breath is the core of meditation. Awareness of the breath keeps the mind focused. Our minds stray into the past or the future, or into sleep. Conscious breathing keeps us anchored in the present. We learn to focus on the present. Witnessing the breath helps keep us serene as we become the spectator and not the experience. The breath is also the umbilical cord that keeps us connected with the higher consciousness, the source of our existence. Keeping in touch with that consciousness, constantly touching it with the breath, prevents us from losing ourselves.
Use these pranayama practices to form the base for a solid meditation practice. These progressive breathing practices are yoga meditation practices as well; meditation begins with the breath. Always move with the rhythm and pace of your own breath in comfort. Do not over breathe. Never force the breath. Never hold the breath without the guidance of an experienced teacher. Keep the shoulders relaxed and dropped when doing these practices. Do not heave or move the shoulders and chest with the breath. The breath is not loud or noisy. Keep the breath easy and relaxed at all times. There should never be any discomfort, pain, light-headedness, shortness of breath, dizziness, tightness in the chest or in breathing. If that happens, you should stop the practice.
Buy Mahasri Yoga's meditation CDs online.
Base Position Length: 5:05
A proper physical posture can be important for practicing pranayama and meditation. Three different positions are described here to accommodate varying needs: sitting on a chair, sitting on the floor, and lying down. They can be tried out to determine which one is the most comfortable for your body.
Body Stillness Length: 11:35
The first step to having an effective pranayama practice or meditation practice is learning to use the breath to still and calm the body. As long as the body is restless or tense, the mind is drawn to the body and distracted by it. Making any progress in pranayama is difficult in the agitated or distracted state.
Conscious breathing, used to become aware of the physical body, will allow you to stop running ragged with the mind and emotions. It gives you a way to slow down, to stop. When you breathe in, know that you breathe in. When you breathe out, know that you breathe out. Without your attention, your awareness, the emotions run out of energy and slow down. With the awareness focused on the breath and body instead of on thoughts, the mind becomes still, the body calm.
A still body, not a sleeping body, tends to increase attention span and pacify a restless mind. A restless body can be a reflection of a scattered and unfocused mind. This practice will help the body become still and quiet, the mind more focused. It is effective in releasing stress and pain.
Deepening Body Awareness Length: 12:00
After establishing a base position and learning to still the body, we deepen body awareness. The process of witnessing the body as a spectator deepens the process of relaxation, and that in turn facilitates more efficient rhythmic breathing. As the breath slows and becomes more rhythmic, the body releases even more tension. By being aware of the different parts of the body, we not only relax those parts, but we also get to know those parts of the body. We learn which areas of the body hold tension and are vulnerable to stress. It can be very useful in releasing tension, breathing more easily, and managing pain.
This practice is best done lying down.
Breath Awareness Length: 21:00
With this practice we continue the process of deepening awareness of the breath by becoming more sensitive and observant. This can help curb the constant vortex of thoughts that spin around and around. We observe more deeply when the mind is becoming inert and sleepy or going off in tangents. Then through the will power of the witnessing awareness, the mind is trained to stay anchored and focused on the breath. It learns to rest on the breath.
The breath helps us understand ourselves and is a steadfast anchor that guides us in a positive direction.
Whole Body Breath Length: 15:32
Conscious breathing requires some effort initially but after some practice it becomes a natural part of you. Another deeply relaxing practice, whole body breath is simple and effective. There is a gentle expansion and contraction of the whole body
When in the grip of very strong emotions, a short and heavy chest breath, pounding heart, and a racing mind, center and rest in the comfort of the breath in the whole body.
Belly Breath Length: 15:28
A deeply relaxing practice, the belly breath is one of the first breaths taught in yoga. Also known as abdominal breath, it is a simple and effective way to slow down the breath and mental activity. Awareness is shifted from the mind to the belly. The belly is a space of stillness, a vast ocean of peace. Anxiety brought down to the belly dissolves in this ocean of tranquility. The belly breath is the most relaxed and efficient breath (once you get used to it, particularly if you are a chest breather). It is much more difficult and strenuous to deepen a chest breath than it is to deepen the belly breath. The body gets the most oxygen with the least exertion. It is an effective way to increase lung capacity. You feel quietly energized and rejuvenated. It can also help reduce high blood pressure.
The belly breath slows down the metabolism so you may want to cover yourself with a light blanket. The suggested position for this practice is lying down in the corpse position or shavasana. Try it out for insomnia.
Full Yogic Breath Length: 18:52
An energizing and soothing practice, full yogic breath is a basic core breath. It flushes out the entire respiratory system. The breath becomes deeper, more relaxed, and more efficient. The muscles of the belly, midriff, and chest are gently engaged. The breath is experienced in different parts of the torso. A gentle expansion of the body helps stretch and elongate the breath. The stretch and expansion are predominantly vertical as opposed to horizontal. A vertical stretch engages the diaphgram so it actively moves the lower parts of the lungs. This movement helps flush out the lower lobes, areas that normally get little movement. Breathing deeply into the various parts of the torso also helps determine areas of pain, tension, and tightness. When practicing an asana, if the body trembles and vibrates, we know that there is tension or we are overdoing it. In the same way, when the breath is ragged, irregular, or tight, we know that there is some tension or pain and we may be overdoing the breath. So it is important to watch and monitor yourself. Breathing into the tension and pain can help diffuse it. Keep the breath relaxed and easy.
Samavritti Pranayama Length: 10:19
Samavritti means equal or uniform movement. In this breathing the flows of inhaled and exhaled breaths are of equal duration and intensity. The breathing is paced, but it is paced to your own comfort and not to a given count--usually four to six seconds. As the breath is observed with uninterrupted awareness over an extended period of time, the inhalation and exhalation spontaneously become equal. The breathing pattern becomes more rhythmic and this has a calming effect on the body and mind. This is an important step in pranayama. Samavritti pranayama is soothing and creates a feeling of equanimity. As you get more comfortable with it, you can add one more second to each inhalation and exhalation to slowly make the breath longer and deeper, gently increasing the lung capacity. Never go beyond your comfort level--there should be no shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, any discomfort. Notice the changes in your body and the mind as they change with the rhythmic, balanced breathing. Breath retention should be done under expert guidance after the initial stages are completed and is not included here.