The Importance of Breathing Properly
Breath is life. It is the medium through which the life current flows into us, permeating our whole being and sustaining us. We know that a person has ceased to live, that the life current is no longer working in him when he has lost the power to breathe, and we say that “he has breathed his last.” Now we breathe automatically, involuntarily, unconsciously; we must learn to breathe consciously, properly and rhythmically. Through breath alone we can create such a rhythm within the body that it will restore health. Pranayama means controlling the life-force by controlling the breath. When we understand how to do this, we can fill ourselves with Prana or life-force and eliminate all impurities.
We all breathe, but we do not derive the proper benefit from our breathing. This is because we do not consciously regulate our breath. Breath is controlled by thought. If we observe, we shall see that whenever our mind is very restless, our breathing becomes irregular. Also when the body is ill, the breath becomes disordered. It is because we have lost the rhythm, everything is thrown out of balance and the result is a disturbance in both our physical and mental health. To avoid this, the Yogis tell us to cultivate the habit of rhythmic breathing and this will enable us to store up the vital energy we have within us. When our inhaling and exhaling become even, it affects us just like a musical rhythm, creating harmony throughout our system.
After these preparatory steps, the next is to make the mind introspective. It is all very well to have some one tell us to look within, that only there shall we realize the Truth; but how to go within? We cannot do it suddenly, because of the hold the body has over us. Our mind also is divided and claimed by many things. To detach ourselves from our bodily conditions and make our mind one-pointed requires steady effort. Sometimes we grow discouraged and want to give up; but those are the moments when we must hold firmly and not let our spirit be de- pressed or allow ourselves to fall back. Arjuna says to Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita: Do not be depressed; even this mind which seems so unyielding and difficult to subdue, will become your obedient servant through constant practice of dispassion and discrimination.
Intensity of purpose is what brings concentration. When we really feel devoted to an Ideal, then nothing can hold us back; we shall surmount every difficulty. At first we may have to make a great effort, but if we really yearn for spiritual things, our mind will naturally become single. Singleness is what we want. The ideal of Yoga and of all philosophy and religion is to make the mind single, the heart single, the purpose single; for all sages and seers recognize that in this singleness lies the whole secret of realization. Christ says that the eye and heart must be single before we can see God or Truth.
Holding the mind to one point means controlling all the waves or modifications which rise on its surface. You know that in order to put a thread through the eye of a needle, you have to twist the thread to a point; if you do not, it is a difficult task to put it through. Similarly the mind, which has become divided through its varied interests, must be made single be- fore it can penetrate into the depths of our being. This does not necessarily mean that we cannot take interest in other things or that we must give up everything; singleness means that we are able to put our whole force into whatever we under- take, and through this concentrated energy we see more clearly and accomplish things more quickly. Concentrating our mind on ordinary external objects, how- ever, gives us only limited results; but when we can direct our thought on inner spiritual objects: on infinite strength, infinite wisdom, infinite love or purity; on the effulgent flame of life seated in the heart; on anything through which the cur- rent of divine life is running; we find that our mind becomes quickened and all its latent qualities are awakened. The mind takes the color of whatever it dwells upon, and by bringing it in contact with spiritual things it becomes purified and strengthened.
We must not think that the aim of these spiritual practices is to gain a little bit of physical health or a little bit of mental power; their main object is to free the soul. Freedom means completeness, no lack anywhere no lack of knowledge, no lack of power, no lack of anything. Be- fore we can realize this and release the soul from bondage, we must go through certain practices in order to form fixed spiritual habits and entirely wipe out past impressions. We have to choose the Ideal upon which to concentrate according to our own individual need or inclination. One cannot go contrary to one’s natural spiritual instinct. Whether we recognize it or not, we have within ourselves a spiritual instinct just as we have a physical instinct, and this spiritual instinct must be our guide in choosing our Ideal. Having chosen, we must follow this Ideal in spite of failures, in spite of obstructions in the way; day by day we must hold it before us ; and if we forget it, we must bring our mind back to it. In this way the mind grows unwavering and one-pointed, we can easily follow a thought without interruption and meditation becomes possible.
[Excerpts from Concentration and Meditation]