The two forms of Reverse Meditative Breathing play a dual role in healing meditation. First, it is extremely useful as a preliminary to other types of meditation. If those who do Mantra meditation, for example, will perform the two Reverse Meditative Breaths before starting to use their Mantra, they will experience much greater success with their own meditation. In this busy world, a typical example is the following:
Arriving home in late afternoon, fresh off the crowded freeway, the meditator finds he has about 45 minutes before dinner and decides to use this time for his customary afternoon sitting. His mind is full of the activities of the day, and his face shows the tension of driving through heavy traffic – yet he immediately sits down, closes his eyes and begins to repeat his Mantra, or practice whatever form of meditation he is doing. The mind does not turn off that easily, and soon memories of the day, plans for tomorrow and idle daydreaming intervene. If he is tired, the sudden relaxation may put him to sleep. In most cases, it will be difficult for the mind to be clear and still, not active but aware, so that he can meditate properly. It is difficult to have good meditations when the mind is fuzzy and dull, and this is particularly true of Mantra meditation.
In these circumstances, if he will do Reverse Meditative Breathing for five or ten minutes, he will be invigorated and the mind will probably cease its endless chatter.
Then, if he drops the Mantra into the ensuing silence, he should attain quick and effortless results. The effortless part is important, as effort in meditation has the opposite effect from that intended. It is the effort of no-effort that gets results.
Many times the author, in his Comparative Meditation classes, has been amazed at how quickly newcomers attain the state of pure consciousness when working with a Mantra for the first time – if they preceded their meditation with practice of the two Reverse Meditative Breaths. This is true whether their basic meditation is harmonizing a Mantra with the breath, doing Manasika Japa (transcendental meditation or T.M.) or using the Breath-Dhyana. Often in just eight minutes of silent practice, three-quarters of the beginning meditators have “entered” this Pure State of Consciousness (called transcending in T.M.). This is a remarkable result. Many Yogis the author has met in India feel it takes 10 to 20 years to attain this state. It is all possible because the mind has been stilled by a few minutes practice of the Reverse Meditative Breathing as a preliminary to the practitioner’s own basic meditation.
These two circulating breaths have great power on their own. Finishing the nine orbits, one is usually in a state of great quietude, so it is obvious that the breaths comprise a meditation of real power. In some ways they approximate the “backward flowing method” of the Tibetans and Chinese, transmuting the sexual energy into something higher. For this reason, the Reverse Meditative Breathing is greatly energizing and will interfere with sound sleep; therefore it should not be performed just before bedtime.
There is one exception to the rule: One time when the author was staying at a Ramakrishna Ashram, he came across a young Yogi who was greatly troubled by the frequent emissions he was having at night. Having taken a vow of celibacy and continence, these sexual emissions caused a real feeling of guilt in him; still, it is hard for a healthy 22-year-old not to have this outlet. The problem was solved when the author taught him The Great Circle Meditation (first part of the Reverse Meditative Breaths) and suggested that he deliberately wake himself each night at 1 a.m. and do this Macrocosmic Orbit nine times. From that day forward the nightly ejaculations stopped, and the young Yogi remarked on the tremendous energy with which he awoke each morning. This was a graphic example of using these breaths to transmute the sexual energy (and the psychic activity that goes with it) into something more suitable for a spiritual renunciate.
For most people, obviously, this is not necessary. Few of us are practicing Yogis. In later chapters, when we learn the moving meditations (particularly T’ai Chi Chih), we will find that the Vital Force is definitely stimulating sexually, capable of turning impotence into a very real potency. In such case, the Reverse Meditative Breaths should not be practiced more than once a day (early morning is best) or just before regular meditation. The male or female who wants this increased sexual energy will probably not wish to sublimate or transmute it.
From the Chinese viewpoint, importance of the Reverse Meditative Breath can be surmised when we know that the ultimate in meditation is to mix the Essence, Vitality and Spirit (Ching Chi Shen) so as to attain to immortality. This is exactly what we are doing in the orbits of the two Reverse Meditative Breaths.
With these thoughts, let us proceed to the instruction in the Reverse Meditative Breathing.
INSTRUCTION (Part One)
We are going to begin with a visualization so that the meditator will get the feel of the warm golden light we will work with. It is what the Chinese teachers call, the True Thought, and it is immensely self-healing.
First, close your eyes. Now imagine that you, the meditator, are seated on a fleecy white cloud, which comes up over your hips. It is soft and buoyant, and gradually lifts you off the ground as it begins to soar aloft.
Up and up goes the cloud, with you seated comfortably on it. Now, high above, you see a great waterfall in the sky, a waterfall of warm golden light cascading down. Gradually your cloud approaches the base of the waterfall, and now, as you reach it, the moist warm golden light pours down over your head. The golden light engulfs you.
The warm feeling breaks down through the top of your skull, down past the eyes, the nose, the mouth and the chin. Bathing you internally with warm golden light, it goes down past the shoulders, the chest and the abdomen, coming to rest in the tan t’ien two inches below the navel.
After resting there a minute, the warm golden light rises to the belt and splits in two, one part going to the right and one to the left.
Reaching the sides, the two rays start down again, past the two hips to the thighs, knees, calves and ankles, finally reaching the soles of the feet. And there you sit, with the soles of the feet bathed in warm golden light. All this should be vividly visualized.
After a moment’s pause, we bring the light up the inside of the leg, passing the ankles, calves, knees and thighs – then reaching the crotch and coming together in the tan t’ien below the navel.
Now the light goes between the legs to the base of the spine, and it begins a slow ascent, thrilling each cell of the back as it works its way up toward the head. From the base of the spine the moist-warm thought proceeds to the small of the back, the middle of the back, the shoulder blades, the shoulders and the base of the skull (where there is often great blockage). From the neck where the skull begins, it rises slowly until it reaches the top of the head, where it rests, splashing down like a golden shower over and through the head. We have now returned to where we began, having made a grand orbit.
This is the best way for the meditator to start each day, having the waterfall cascade down over the skull, and then the warm golden light work its way down to the soles of the feet, then back up to the top of the head. This should be performed once, and then the smaller Macrocosmic Orbit should be followed. Generally we perform these circles nine times (nine is the positive number for the Chinese), but even three times can be effective.
At this point the meditator must decide if he has the feel of the warm golden light, or if he wants his cloud to make another ascent into the base of the waterfall so that the visualization may become more vivid.
If the “proper thought” can now be easily experienced, we should begin the smaller Macrocosmic Orbit, which will make up the bulk of our practice. The trip to the soles of the feet is valuable, and some practitioners begin by breathing in through the soles of the feet (or even the sexual organ) and beginning the ascent from there. However, the smaller orbit (our main practice) will start in the tan t’ien. After our first trip, utilizing the waterfall and the descent to the feet, we will be content with a circle that goes from the small of the back to the top of the head, and then down the front to the spot below the navel.
We begin this smaller orbit by starting at the tan t’ien, taking the light between the legs and then slowly up the back. Rest at the top of the head for a moment or two, then come back down the front to the spot two inches below the navel. Continue this orbit eight more times, adding the proper action of the breath, the eyes and the anus, as described below.
As the light starts up the back, touching every cell, we begin to breathe in, expanding the chest and the abdomen as we do so. By the time the light reaches the top of the head (where we rest), we have breathed in as much as possible and expanded greatly. At the top of the head we hold the breath. This is an excellent time to insert a mental affirmation or formula, if desired. Then start down by exhaling through the nose, with the mouth closed, in four sections. That is, as we breathe out a little, the light comes down to the chin; then we breathe out some more and the light reaches the chest; breathe out some more (contracting as we do so) and the light reaches the diaphragm; and, finally, as all the breath is expelled, the light reaches the tan t’ien. We rest there with the stomach contracted tightly against the backbone.
As we come down in four sections, the breath will be easily heard as it is audibly expelled through the nose. We come down in levels because if we let out all the breath at once as the light descends, there would immediately be a reflexive in-breath. This way the breath is out, the stomach and the chest contracted, and we feel as though we could rest all day in the great emptiness at the tan t’ien.
Now that we have mastered the expanding-inhaling breath going up and the contracting-exhaling breath coming down in four levels, we can learn the correct eye movements.
These movements of the eyes take place even though the eyes are closed.
As we take the light up the spine and breathe in, we raise the eyes, using them as a lever to bring the light up.
We begin with the eyes (which are closed) focused on the tan t’ien below. Then, as the light comes up the back and we breathe in, the eyes are gradually raised until they are turned to the top of the head as the light reaches the top and the breath is full and held. In effect, we feel as though the action of the eyes is bringing the light up the back.
Starting down the front, as we breathe out in four levels, the eyes gradually are lowered, until, by the time the light is back in the tan t’ien, the eyes are once more focused in that direction.
There is one more action to learn in making this smaller orbit. When the light, having come through the legs to the backbone, starts slowly up the spine (and we breathe in and raise our eyes), we contract muscles of the anus and hold them tight until the light reaches the top of the head. Then, after the pause, as the light starts down (with the breath being exhaled in four sections and the eyes being lowered), we relax the muscles of the anus gradually, until they are again normal as the light again reaches the tan t’ien.
All this takes time to learn, but it is not really complicated. We begin by visualizing the waterfall and taking the light to the feet, then back up the spine to the head. But with each circle thereafter, we start from the tan t’ien, take the light through the legs, and start up the back, taking proper action with the breath, eyes and anus. We then come back down to the spot below the navel where we began, being careful to come down in four sections.
This is a powerful meditation by itself. Nine orbits will usually leave one in a serene, restful state. As explained above, it does have the power of rousing the Kundalini, thus causing sexual excitement. However, it balances that by the fact that it transmutes this sexual excitement into a higher form of energy.
INSTRUCTION (Part Two)
Now we are going to learn the second part of the Reverse Meditative Breaths. This is much simpler, but we first will have to discuss the meaning behind the movements.
It is believed in India that there are two channels (nadis in Indian terminology) that reach from the left and right eye down to the spot between the legs, below the sex organ. They are called ida and pingala, and they are said to crisscross in figure eights on the way down to the terminus between the legs. However, for our purposes we will visualize them as being straight.
The intrinsic energy known as Prana or Chi is said to descend and ascend through these channels in the average person, roughly corresponding with the breaths. However, in the case of an enlightened saint or sage, the Prana is said to at times come up through a hair-thin central channel known as the sushumna. Such saint-poets as the Tibetan Milarepa have written of the great ecstasy that is felt when the Vital Force rises through the central channel. This is supposed to be much greater than the ecstasy of sexual climax, and, for the enlightened one, it frequently lasts for long periods of time. (In the Tibetan practice known as the Left-Hand Tantra, utilizing a backward flowing method, this bliss is deliberately cultivated through an unusual sexual contact without discharge.)
It is necessary for us to know this because we are going to take the breath down through the outside channels and then shoot it up the center, visualizing it entering the sushumna, or central channel.
We begin by imagining the warm golden light starting on our right side and our left side, at the heart level, and working down the outside channels, as we breathe in and expand. The light is visualized as going down, though the breath is being taken in. When the light reaches the spot below the sex organ (and the two sides merge there), we rest a moment, and then contracting the anus tightly, we shoot the light up the middle channel as we breathe out and contract the stomach and chest. Going down the sides (really, two lights) we breathe in and expand; shooting up the center, we breathe out in four sections (as we did in the previous breath) and raise the light to the heart level (not beyond) as we contract. There is no eye motion with this breath, but the eyes are closed so that we may vividly visualize what we are doing.
This is an immensely powerful breath, and it is suggested that it not be performed more than nine times. It does stimulate sexual energy (which the other breath can transmute, if so desired), and it may even cause psychic experiences at first. However, we have no interest in these and ignore them.
The two breaths together are greatly revitalizing and should heighten the energy level considerably. Moreover, they are calming to the meditator, who may enter a period of abstraction (meditation) after doing them. Nine times doing each breath, followed by a period of serene rest in the emptiness one usually feels, is not only revitalizing, but it tends to stimulate creativity and intuition.
It is suggested that the meditator start all meditation sessions with these breaths, or with the chanting of something like the Gayatri (Chapter 10) followed by these breaths, and then perform his own form of meditation. Remember, it is best not to do these breaths before going to sleep at night.
The reader should not worry about any of the references made to visions, sexual stimulus or arousing of the kundalini. These were made with the idea of educating the reader as to all possibilities, but with most meditators, doing the Reverse Meditative Breathing will be a happy and profound experience. Thought and breath are two sides of the same coin; when the breath is stilled, the mind is usually stilled. Often the mind is stilled to such an extent that, if the meditator wishes to follow the breaths with the Breath-Dhyana or a Mantra harmonized with the breath, he may find difficulty in detecting the natural breath. This is a good sign; immersion in meditation usually occurs when the breath has become almost nonexistent. In Samadhi, the super-conscious state, there is no visible breathing at all, and this state is usually associated with great bliss, apperceived by the meditator after coming out of Samadhi.
Whether the two breaths be treated as ends in themselves, or used as preliminaries to other meditations, they have great validity and can contribute to a state of equanimity that is very salutary for the health.
This article is published in Meditation for Healing.