Do many thoughts keep interfering when you sit down to quiet your mind in meditation?
Did you know that slowing down your breathing can help you rein in the runaway thoughts in your mind?
Why is it so?
Your mind is a flow of thoughts. This thought flow is powered by the energy that you get from the food you eat and the air you breathe.
The air doesn’t only carry oxygen, but also vital life energy from the atmosphere. (Read: Why breathing through BOTH nostrils keeps you healthy.)
Energy affects thoughts. Thoughts affect energy
The flow of thoughts in the mind rides on waves of energy coming in through your breath. When the energy flows in long smooth waves, the thoughts move slowly and smoothly. When the energy flows in short bursts or unevenly, the thoughts are agitated and quick.
When facing a challenging situation, the stress that you experience gives rise to many conflicting or negative thoughts. These thoughts disrupt in the smooth flow of energy in your body.
And so, energy flow affects the thought flow; and thoughts affect the energy flow. They are interdependent.
Regardless of whether the disturbance is in the energy flow or the thought flow, the result is that the breath becomes fast and shallow.
How to ensure the smooth flow of thoughts
How can you ensure the smooth flow of thoughts or energy?
The solution lies in the breath. Since vital energy comes in through the breath, by regulating your breathing, you can regulate the energy flow and thereby the flow of thoughts in your mind.
When you take slow, long breaths and fill up your lungs, you take in more energy and direct it in smooth, long waves.
This is how to de-stress and calm your mind, not only for meditation but also for meeting everyday challenges.
Right now, we use only a small portion of our lungs to breathe. We have become habituated to shallow breathing.
Swami Satchidananda in his book, The Breath of Life: Integral Yoga Pranayama, explains that we take in an average of about 500cc of air when we breathe in, and 500cc when we breathe out.
However, our lungs have a much larger capacity than that, and there’s much more air that we can breathe in and out. Here’s how:
Breathing out: After you breathe out the normal 500cc of air, if you pull in your tummy slightly and continue to breathe out, you will be able to expel 1600cc of residual air. So, you would be breathing out more than 4 times as much air. (500cc + 1600cc = 2100cc)
Breathing in: Now, when you take your next breath in, you will first breathe in the 1600cc that you had squeezed out, and then your normal 500cc of air. And if you continue breathing in, you can take in another 1600c of air. This way of breathing allows you to take in a total of 3700cc of air. (1600cc + 500cc + 1600cc) This is more than seven times as much air that you normally take in.
All this extra air not only brings a lot more oxygen into the bloodstream, but also lots of vital energy.
This has a very calming influence on the thought flow in your mind and brings physical relaxation as well.
Practice deep breathing everyday
Now, it may not be easy or practical to breathe in this way as you go about your day, but you could certainly make it a habit to routinely breathe slower and deeper.
Then, because you have been practicing deep breathing all day, when you are ready to sit for meditation, you will be able to easily take even deeper breaths and slow down the thoughts.
In fact, if you pause after a full exhalation and again after a full inhalation, you will be able to actually suspend the thoughts in that space. When thoughts rise up again, simply focus on your breath and take another slow, deep breath.
Slow, deep breathing in this way is the key to gaining control over your thoughts and thus calming your mind for meditation.
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