Saturday, May 03, 2008

Who's breathing?

For much of my life, breathing has come in two modes. The first is natural, guided by my autonomic nervous system, fluctuating with the oxygen requirements of my body, with my emotional state. The other is an act of pure, conscious will, structured, managed, controlled, like the long, slow breaths I would use to calm my mind even before I discovered the pranayama breath control practices of yoga -- or the formally structured six-count inhale to maximum capacity followed by six-count exhale evacuating all but the tidal capacities of my lungs.

Yesterday in meditation, I added a third mode – one that I don’t recall hearing about before. Usually in meditation, as my mind quiets, my breath becomes quieter and slower, just as it did yesterday.

But toward the end of my sitting time, the breath began to increase in depth and speed until it crested and held at a strong pranic pace and depth, drawing up along the back spine, circling down the front chakra sequence, up the back, down the front.

The breath itself wasn’t unusual – it was quite similar to a pranayama practice that I use periodically. What was unusual was that “I” didn’t breathe that particular breath.
It breathed me.

It arose at a time when my body manifested no obvious need for oxygen, no emotional state that linked to breath. It manifested a rather ornate structure, pace, and sequence.

And the will-powered self that thinks it’s in control of just about everything didn’t have anything to do with it. At that point in my meditation practice, as usual, that self was busy watching thoughts arise, sustain, and subside. When the breath arose, the self turned to watch it arise, watched it sustain, and watched it subside.

I’ve been breathed by a breath.

Kind of turns the entire notion of pranayama as a form of intentional breath control on its head.