Breath meditation is the heart of many popular meditation practices, including Zen and Vipassana which both choose the breath as the object of meditation. The breath makes a great object for meditation because you never leave home without it. Since the breath is always with you, you can meditate at any time, at any place. Since the breath is our main connection to accessing vital energy, observing it can offer a direct bridge back the divine source of that vital energy. No wonder the breath is such a powerful doorway to enlightenment.
But even if you’re not quite ready to pursue enlightenment yet, knowledge of the breath can profoundly benefit your daily life and magical practice.
The yogis, sages and magicians of the past all knew that the breath is linked to the mind. If your mind is racing and agitated with stress, then your breath speeds up too, causing your blood to receive less oxygen which then causes your brain to release cortisol, further stressing you out. But if your mind is calm and clear, then your breath slows down, causing your blood to receive extra oxygen which then causes your brain to release endorphins, further relaxing you.
Knowing that the breath is connected to the mind, you can deliberately regulate your mental energy by controlling your breath. By intentionally slowing your breath, you can instantly halt any stressful thinking.
Here are a few simple breathing exercises to accomplish just that:
1. Normal deep breathing
Let’s start with simple deep breathing, because many of us do not breathe correctly in the first place. Practicing this simple breathing exercise will greatly improve the flow of oxygen and subtle energy throughout your body.
You can do this exercise lying down, sitting or standing, as long as your back is straight.
Sealing the lips, take a deep breath through the nose. You may need to sniff strongly a few times to clear your sinuses before you start. While inhaling, push your belly out, and feel the air being pulled into your lower abdomen. When your whole body feels full of breath, open your lips and exhale, sighing loudly. It helps to make an, “Ha!” sound as you pull your belly back in, pushing out every last drop of oxygen.
When your lungs are empty, repeat the cycle.
Try between three and ten of these deep breaths and see how you feel. You should notice both your body and mind are more relaxed.
2. The Four-Fold Breath
This next exercise is a little more challenging. Try it sitting up straight or lying down. For your first time, you may want to avoid doing this exercise while standing as it may cause dizziness.
With your back straight, take a long, deep breath through the nose while pushing your belly out and counting to four. Then, hold your breath at the top of the lungs for another count to four.
Exhale slowly and deliberately, again counting to four while pulling your belly inward. Finally, hold your breath at the bottom of the lungs for another four count.
Repeat the cycle of breaths and pauses between three and ten times to start. This exercise should immediately stop your chattering mind, as well as energize your body with heat and prana. You may feel subtle energy tingling at your hands, arms, face and ears, etc.
Avoid overdoing this exercise. The right amount should leave you feeling energized, strong and focused. If your vision blurs or you feel disoriented, you’re probably going overboard.
If the four count is too difficult, try three and see how it feels. And if you’re doing this exercise while lying down, you may fall asleep. Great for the insomniacs out there!
Sitting upright in your preferred meditative posture, use your right thumb to close your right nostril. Inhale deeply through the left nostril until your lungs are full.
Open the right nostril and close the left nostril. Exhale through the right nostril completely.
Repeat this cycle (inhaling through the left nostril and exhaling through the right nostril) for three times and then switch sides (inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling through the left nostril) for another three cycles.
Finish by breathing in & out deeply through both nostrils.
These three breathing techniques will ground you, clear your mind, relax your body, and gather the subtle energy around you into your energy field. Try them out the next time you’re feeling stressed, anxious or depressed and see how they can be both calming & invigorating simultaneously.
Breath techniques are the key to many of the higher yogic practices, as well as a keystone of working with subtle energy for healing or any other purposes. To advance on the magical path, breath meditation is an essential tool to clear the mind for higher work as well as collect the energy necessary to achieve real results. While the practice may be simple, the breath is your own personal link back to the source of all existence, and it’s right at the tip of your nose.