For the last 3 years I have been a practitioner of Vipassana meditation as taught by S.N Goenka. Every morning and evening for 1 hour I sit and watch my breathe. I do not try to control my breathe. “If it is shallow it is shallow and if it is deep it is deep.” So stated my teacher. I am not sitting to enter a state of bliss, I sit to sit. I sit to see what arises and what goes away, all by itself. No pressure, no expectations, no agenda, just sit and breathe.
But as I sit here and breath, resting in the breathe, my body is doing something that is quiet remarkable. It is passing from “Fight or Flight” mode and tapping into the “Rest And Digest” mode or the parasympathetic nervous system. What is that you are asking?
The parasympathetic nervous system is actually apart of the autonomic nervous system which is comprised of 2 different branches, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The autonomic nervous system regulates certain body processes, such as blood pressure and the rate of breathing. This system works automatically (autonomously), without a person’s conscious effort.
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Thus the 2 systems work together in a melodious symphony of life. The sympathetic will increased heart rate and blood pressure whilst the parasympathetic will decrease heart rate and blood pressure.
So what has this to do with the breath?
Well according to Researchers, at the University of Melbourne and Macquarie University, they have uncovered unusual activity between neurons controlling breathing and blood pressure during the development of essential hypertension. Lead researcher Professor Andrew Allen says the research parallels what sports people and eastern philosophies have long understood about the link between breathing and heart rate.
Stanford scientists have identified a small group of neurons that communicates goings-on in the brain’s respiratory control center to the structure responsible for generating arousal throughout the brain.
The tiny cluster of neurons linking respiration to relaxation, attention, excitement and anxiety is located deep in the brainstem. This cluster, located in an area Krasnow calls the pacemaker for breathing, was discovered in mice by study co-author Jack Feldman, PhD, a professor of neurobiology at UCLA, who published his findings in 1991. An equivalent structure has since been identified in humans.
Slowing the breath slows heart rate and blood pressure. Researchers generally agree that getting the breath slowed to about 5-7 breaths per minute is a good spot to be. I generally breathe at about 2.8-3.8 breathes per minute when in a meditative state and my average blood pressure is about 120/60.
Meditation And The Breath:
There are various types of meditation practices to help control the breath. Although in my meditation practice controlling the breath is not the goal the end result is a slowed breathing rate and an overall sense of wellbeing, most days.
Bhramari Pranayama (Humming Bee Breathing):
Do you hear that buzzing sound? No it is not a bee it just sounds like one. The Bhramari pranayama breathing technique derives its name from the black Indian bee called Bhramari. Bhramari pranayama is effective in instantly calming down the mind. It is one of the best breathing exercises to free the mind of agitation, frustration or anxiety and get rid of anger to a great extent. A simple technique, it can be practiced anywhere – at work or home and is an instant option to de-stress yourself.
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The exhalation in this pranayama resembles the typical humming sound of a bee, which explains why it is named so.
How to Practice Bhramari Pranayama:
Sit up straight in a quiet, well ventilated corner with your eyes closed. Keep a gentle smile on your face
Keep your eyes closed for some time. Observe the sensations in the body and the quietness within
Place your index fingers on your ears. There is a cartilage between your cheek and ear. Place your index fingers on the cartilage
Take a deep breath in and as you breathe out, gently press the cartilage. You can keep the cartilage pressed or press it in and out with your fingers, while making a loud humming sound like a bee
You can also make a low-pitched sound but it is a good idea to make a high-pitched one for better results
Breathe in again and continue the same pattern 3-4 times.
Transcendental meditation is a simple, natural technique. In transcendental meditation, you silently repeat a personally assigned mantra, such as a word, sound or phrase, in a specific way.
This form of meditation may allow your body to settle into a state of profound rest and relaxation and your mind to achieve a state of inner peace, without needing to use concentration or effort.
How To Practice Transcendental Meditation:
Close your eyes, wait a few seconds, and then start thinking the mantra. It is thought repeatedly only in the beginning of meditation.
After a while you should “let it go” and “allow the mantra to change in any way it wants”. Whether it gets louder or softer, faster or slower down, clearer or fainter, we just take it as it comes. Its is more of a “hearing” of the mantra than repeating it, and that is why TM movement calls the technique “effortless”.
Allow thoughts to come and go along with the mantra. There is no attempt to push thoughts out of our mind or use the mantra to override them.
When the mantra disappears and the mind goes off on thoughts we quietly come back to it. This means that all we have to do is become (aware) that we are no longer hearing the mantra and the awareness of that will be quite
There is a drawback with ™ and that would be getting your mantra. The mantra must come from a qualified teacher and from the research I did the mantra does come with a price. In some cases a hefty price. Fortunately there are many forms of meditation that do not require you to pay to practice.
I do not advocate one practice over another. I think a meditation practice is very personal and that as individuals we must find the practice that suits us. When it comes to your health and well being you are in charge, and being educated about your choices is vital. At RESPeRATE we provide you with the articles to help you become well informed consumers. If you would like to share with us your thoughts on upcoming articles please contact me Eli at [email protected].
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