One of the simplest ways to characterize India – the geography I lead for Potentialife – could be to say that it is the country where breathing and awareness meet. And I’m not being pompous: for at least 2,500 years, different Indian spiritual traditions have made mindful breathing their cornerstone. I would like to talk about two ancient practices that exemplify how breathing can take awareness to a different level.
In the first one, Prāṇāyāma (Sanskrit for yogic breathing), breathing is 1) regulated (one mentally inhale, say up to a count of 8, etc.; 2) deep so as to flood the body and brain with oxygen and release a large amount of toxins; and 3) accompanied by intense mental observation of sensations throughout the body. Prāṇāyāma has deep long-term energizing effects and helps one enter the day in a state of centeredness and peace.
In the second one, Ānāpānasati (one of the meditation techniques taught by the Buddha), breathing is completely unregulated; it is ‘let loose’ and the meditator tries to observe it by focusing his/her mind on the sensations occurring on a small area at the entrance of the nostrils. Ānāpānasati is the mind concentration technique par excellence, and an unmatched tool to get back to a peaceful state of mind within seconds in the face of adversity.
A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a two-day seminar. He practices both! Towards the end of the seminar, someone asked him: ‘How do you manage to give so much loving kindness to so many people’. His response was: ‘I work on training my mind, like an athlete works on training his or her body’.