Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Quiet Therapies - Sampling 2009.11.01

It would seem that breathing — more specifically proper breathing — is important for one's state of well being. I have, of course, in the course of my varied meditative and self-help readings seen this belabored. (I love how Tom Robbins spoofed this in his book Jitterbug Perfume, one of my favourite books, and perhaps my favourite by Robbins.)

I mention this because the other day I picked up my recently purchased
David K. Reynolds
In typical fashion, I flipped randomly, and where my fingers stopped was in the chapter 'Seiza: Quiet Sitting Therapy'. The chapter has two directives — to sit and to breathe.

I have taken this as a gentle reminder from the universe to resume my efforts at proper breathing. This is something I have intermittently practiced over the years, only to let it slide as soon as I get busy or stressed, even though each time I've concentrated on breath I have felt physically, mentally and psychologically healthier. (I had for more than seven years a small sign on my computer at work to remind to breath, as I seem to have developed when very young the psycho-somatic tendency to hold my breath in preparation for struggling to cope with the next task.)

Lately I have been struggling with poor energy and excessive tiredness. This seems to have become more pronounced after a recent cold, which may be lingering. It is also likely that my relative lack of exercise in the last couple of years is an even bigger factor to my feeling at times quite listless. However, instead of getting out for a walk, such as right now on what is a beautiful post-Halloween afternoon, I will sit in front of this cursed iMac and write out about the importance of breathing to post in a blog. Sigh. There seems something sad about that, but here I am anyway, transcribing, writing, blogging.

And so, instead of walking, I have been practicing the seiza breathing over the last two days. Intermittently while doing other things, such as running around doing chores, baking or, even now, while typing. Very specifically not what Reynold's suggests — although I am not looking for his approval, so my way is good enough — as long as I get results. And I have felt a little better, at times.

So, here is how to breath the seiza-therapy way, according to David K. Reynolds:
Proper breathing is the second key element of
seiza. Either of the sitting positions described in the previous section is taken in large part to facilitate proper breathing, and the thought process to be described here is both a consequence of Okada-style breathing and an aid in achieving it. The focus of seiza breathing is a point several inches below the navel, the point at which the centre of gravity of the body, the tanden, is said to be found. When doing seiza properly, the upper chest does not expand and contract; the shoulders do not rise and fall.

During the inhalation phase the diaphragm moves down as the solar plexus fills with air and is pushed forward. This creates a feeling of pressure in the area below the diaphragm. Then, on exhalation, the solar plexus is allowed to relax slightly while the pressure is maintained in the lower abdomen. The diaphragm naturally moves up as the solar plexus us loosened somewhat. At the moment the air is felt to be exhausted, inhalation begins. Air is again allowed to silently enter the nose, fill the lungs, and swell out the solar plexus. When done skillfully, the inhalation phase takes only one quarter of the time of exhalation.

The critical period of this breathing technique comes during exhalation. Attention is concentrated on the lower abdomen. Never forced or strained, the air is slowly, silently exhaled through the nose. As Dr. Yokoyama put it, once should exhale so lightly that if a rabbit's hair were placed on the tip of one's nose it would not blow away.

For the average person, when breathing normally an inhalation-exhalation cycle will occur about fifteen times a minute. While doing seiza, the cycle slows to about six or seven times per minute. Advanced practitioners reduce the frequency to as low as two or three times a minute and lower. The aim for the beginner is not to reduce the number of breath cycles per minute quickly but to achieve the maximum in proper expansion and contraction within the range of comfort, without strain.

Physiological Changes
It is possible ... to use instruments to continuously monitor certain physiological signs during seiza and to note consistent changes that appear in nearly all clients. Seiza meditators often report experiencing sensations of warm hands and feet, a cool forehead, and increased salivation. The instruments confirm these self-reports. Yokoyama has reported findings of lowered pulse, lowered blood pressure (particularly in persons of high initial blood pressure), lowered temperature under the tongue and at the forehead, increased circulation and warming of the extremities, and increased salivation. As in
zazen, the expenditure of energy probably decreases some 10 to 20 percent (83-6).
Good luck! And don't hold your breath.

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