Slowing Down to Open Up:
Vijnana Bhairava, dharana four
“When breath is all out (up) and stopped of itself, or all in (down) and stopped—in such universal pause, one’s small self vanishes. This is difficult only for the impure.”
The breath itself is a ‘ceaseless pulsation’ of life force, a throb of Shakti described as Spanda. When the breath pauses, as we saw in the last Dharana, there is a moment of where the ceaseless pulsation of life fuses into stillness— this stillness is not separate from reality, but a unique experience within it— a moment when the surface of the water becomes absolutely still before the wave pool of the breath begins again. This moment comes and goes in a flash for most of us most of the time— yet it seems to be a Holy Grail of meditative experience. Holding the pause with the will misses the point— we only end up feeling our will, not the peace of the pause— so what other options are there? As Muktananda teaches in his text “I Am That”, if we want to expand the pause, we have to expand our experience of the breath itself:
“The state of stillness
which occurs when the syllables merge inside and outside
is natural kumbhaka.
You don’t have to make a deliberate effort to hold your breath,
because as you practice hamsa,
the time of the suspension of breath begins to expand.
The duration of the kumbhaka increases naturally.”
To expand our experience of the breath overall, we can slow down our breath, this guarantees that we will stay connected to the flow, while also taking ourselves towards the subtle destination of the pause. Of course this must be within reason and not create tension, but once the breath is slower, your mind slows down too and you can begin to work through the impurities that the Dharana alludes to.
Because who are the impure that have trouble feeling the pause and slowing down? All of us, most of the time. As study after study concludes, our overstimulated nervous systems are stuck in a subtle state of fight and flight. And as we know about the sympathetic nervous system, when we are ‘fighting and flighting’— which is to say thinking, planning and scheming— the maintenance aspects of our biology go on hold. Our digestion slows down, our cellular repair and maintenance slows down, everything goes on pause so we can get through this or that struggle. Its like being in a hurry all morning and leaving the toothbrush open on the counter, throwing a towel on an unmade bed and leaving breakfast dishes in the sink.
It helps us get to work on time this time, but studies are showing us that these biological dishes are just piling up inside, as a 2018 article from the University of Colorado health and medical center describes it— “When you check your phone or hear an alert, you activate your sympathetic nervous system, the part of your body that’s always scanning the environment. It gives you a little shot of adrenaline for every interaction. That adrenaline, which is meant to trigger your body to pay attention, sets off a cascade of chemicals that increases heart rate, pulse and muscle tension, and shunts energy from the brain to the muscles. It will take five to 30 minutes for your body to get back to baseline after every one of these alarms…Which is a problem in a world where cell phones rarely stop. Essentially, people don’t ever come back down to baseline…We have one stress after another after another. All that stress wreaks havoc on the body and mind, causing or contributing to a range of diseases, from heart disease and depression, to sleep deprivation and chronic fatigue” (https://www.uchealth.org/today/the-hidden-stress-of-cell-phones/)
These are the impurities to which the Dharana alludes— when we are in this neurological state, it is hard to meditate. The solution… s-l-o-w…d-o-w-n… Slow it all down, and start to feel again. When we can start to feel again, then we can start to relax and release, we can start cleaning up the debris, and eventually we can even begin to experience something beyond it.
A Student once asked Babaji, “I have been very bothered lately by tightness in my heart. Can you suggest a way for me to release that tension?” To which he responded, “Try to breathe slowly and feel your navel. As you exhale relax deeply. Don’t focus on an area where the congestion is. Focus below it, or beyond it. You have to draw the energy down. Your type of experience usually has to do with the energy coming back up the chakras. You have to breathe very slowly and deeply below the tightness and into the navel, and then relax and release. It is helpful to inhale slowly to a count of one, two, three. Then exhale to the same count. Sometimes students inhale and then exhale too quickly.” (SP, 29)
As Babaji says here, when we slow down we can begin to feel, relax and release. Slowing down opens the door to feeling, and feeling allows us to feel what needs to be released. When we are stuck in an over-stimulated loop, this can be hard to do— which is why the Yogic tradition teaches us to work our way there layer by layer, through the Koshas. One of the reasons we have incorporated yoga into our Thursday night class schedule is because Babaji wants people to start slowing down and consciously figuring out how to relax and release— and the body is the most tactile place to start this process. As Anju talked about a few months ago, her asana practice, and slowing down in her asana practice, was the key to breaking through seemingly insurmountable obstacles in her meditation practice. Many people have resistance to Asana because it doesn’t seem to work with the mind and heart as directly as meditation. But what’s better— running really fast in circles or taking slower conscious steps towards relief? I know we all feel that we can just drop our tensions with a breath, and maybe we can occasionally, but slowing down on the physical level helps us slow down on the pranic level, which helps us slow down on the subtler levels of the heart and mind. And the act of slowing down really just means open up. Every aspect of our tradition tells us this, so I thought we could work with it more directly in tonights guided practice.
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