Vipashyana or Vipassana or Breath Awareness Meditation
A part of Dr Sahdev’s ‘Breathe and Heal’ Therapy (DSBH Therapy)
Vipashyana, or Vipassana, or Breath Awareness Meditation, comes from the source of Yoga, the Vedas – the books of knowledge.
Rig Veda, handed over for thousands of years from generation to generation through shruti, and written in 1700 BC (?), mentions the technique of Vipashyana and is full of praise for Vipashyana in Mandala 10, Sukta 187, Rik 4 :
यो विश्वा॒भि वि॒पश्य॑ति॒ भुव॑ना॒ सं च॒ पश्य॑ति ।
स नः॑ पर्ष॒दति॒ द्विषः॑ ॥
yaḥ ǀ viśvā ǀ abhi ǀ vi-paśyati ǀ bhuvanā ǀ sam ǀ ca ǀ paśyati ǀ
saḥ ǀ naḥ ǀ parṣat ǀ ati ǀ dviṣaḥ ǁ
Yo vishvabhih vipashyati bhuvanah sam cha pashyati
sa nah parshadati dvishah.
One who practices Vipashyana in a perfect way, comes out of all aversion and anger – the mind becomes pure.
Vipashyana is a Sanskrit word. ‘Vi’ in Sanskrit is equivalent to the Latin ‘dis’.” ‘Pashya’ in Sanskrit means ‘to see’. The ‘vi’ in vipashyana may then mean to look into, look through or to see in a special way.’ The ‘vi’ can also function as an intensive, and thus vipashyana may mean ‘seeing deeply’.
In Budhism, a synonym for ‘Vipassana’ is paccakkha (Pāli); this is a deformed sound of ‘pratyakṣha’ in Sanskrit, which means ‘right in front of your eyes’, or, ‘what is very obvious’, refers to direct experiential perception. Thus, the type of seeing denoted by vipashyana is that of direct perception, as opposed to the knowledge derived from reasoning or argument. Its nature is a clarity of mind.
Mahatma Budha, a well-known exponent of this Yogic technique of Vipashyana, popularized this technique through his teachings. Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, a Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist monk defined Vipassanā as:
Looking into something with clarity and precision, seeing each component as distinct and separate, and piercing all the way through so as to perceive the most fundamental reality of that thing”
Pranapanasmriti, or prAnapanasmriti (Sanskrit) , or Anapanasati (Pali) is mindfulness of breath. This is a core meditation practice which is simpler than, and a stepping stone to, Vipashyana. Pranapanasmriti or Anapanasmriti comes from Sanskrit word roots Prana (upward breath) + Apana (downward breath) + Smriti (memory, or to remember, or to be mindful of). So, this reminds one to focus on, and remember, or be mindful of, the breath! This is a part of most mindfulness programs based on breath awareness. But one has to practice these to derive the benefits; mere knowledge of the techniques is not enough!
More references to breath awareness meditation in Vedic literature and the importance of breath can be found here.
The Practice of Vipashyana or Vipassana or Breath Awareness Meditation
We humans are subject to innumerable limitations. We are imprisoned in the body and the stratosphere of the earth itself. We are slaves to the inevitability of sickness, age, and death – we have to face it at one or the other time. There is no-one who really controls his life fully, attains all his goals, and knows no setbacks of any kind! Meditation shows the way to self-awakening, the way to freedom from suffering and limitation.
We have lost awareness of our true Self through awareness of external objects, and become habituated, even addicted, to objective consciousness. Meditation shows us the way to remembrance and restoration. Meditation is the process of re-centering our awareness in the principle of pure consciousness which is our essential being. By focusing on breath – the meeting place of body, mind, and spirit, we can reverse our consciousness.
The breath is connected with body, emotions and mind – breath is calm when the body, emotions and mind are calm, and agitated or labored when these are agitated or labored. That is why we exhale heavily when we feel exhausted and inhale enthusiastically when feeling energized or exhilarated.
Breath exists on all planes of manifestation. Breath is external manifestation of Prana, the vital force. Breath is gross Prana. Breath is Sthula (gross), Prana is Sukshma (subtle). By exercising control over this breathing you can control the subtle Prana inside. Control of Prana means control of mind. Mind cannot operate without the help of Prana. The vibrations of Prana produce thoughts in the mind. Mind works because of Prana – it is Prana that sets the mind in motion. It is the Sukshma Prana that is intimately connected with the mind. Prana is the connecting link between annamaya kosha on one hand and manomaya kosha, vigyanamaya kosha and anandamaya kosha on the other hand, or, matter and energy on the one hand and consciousness and super consciousness on the other.
By sitting with closed eyes and letting the mind become easily absorbed in observing and experiencing the movements of the breath, we expand our consciousness to meet the eternal Super Consciousness. We start with awareness of the ordinary physical breath, but that awareness, cultivated correctly, leads us into higher awareness which enables us to perceive the subtle movement behind the breath. Perception moves from subtle to subtler, to the subtlest.
From Consciousness to Super Consciousness
According to Yoga philosophy, all that is manifest came into being consequent to imbalance in sattwa, rajas and tamas, and Prana is the essence of all that is manifest. Prana is present all over the universe both in macrocosm and microcosm. Prana is the sum total of all energy that is manifest in the universe, the sum total of all the forces in nature, the sum total of all latent forces and powers which are hidden in men and which lie everywhere around us. Proper flow of Prana in our bodies assures their healthy state.
Prana is a subtle energy arising from rajo guna. It works as an interface between gross and subtle body, enabling all the psychophysical functions. This sometimes leads to confusion of prana with jiva. Though closely connected, prana is witnessed by the jiva which is floating in prana in the heart cavity. Prana’s movement leads to jiva’s identification with the gross body. Mundaka Upanishad says (3.1.9):
esho anur atma cetasa veditavya yasmin pranah pancadha samvivesha
pranais cittamsattvam otam prajanam yasmin vishuddhe vibhavatyesha atma
“The atomic soul can be perceived by perfect intelligence as floating in the five kinds of life airs (prana, apana, vyana, samana and udana). When the consciousness (that pervades from the soul through the entire body) is purified from the contamination of the five kinds of material airs, its spiritual influence is exhibited.”
The breath is the evolutionary force which causes us to enter into relative existence and manifest therein until we evolve to the point where we are ready to return to our original status, purified. To turn back from the multiplicity of relativity and return to our original unity we must center our awareness in that primal impulse to duality which is manifesting most objectively as the process of our physical inhaling and exhaling. These seemingly two movements are in reality one, inseparable from one another, and together are capable of leading us back to the Super Consciousness. Through our full attention focused on the entire process of inhalation and exhalation, we become immersed in the subtler levels of that alternating cycle, moving into deeper and deeper levels until we reach the originating point.
Mindfulness and Breathing-Based Healing – Vipashyana, or Vipasana, or Breath Awareness Meditation (BAM)
MBH breath awareness from Jitender K Sahdev
Simple and easy
Breath Awareness Meditation is simple and easy because it goes directly to the root – loss of awareness. The root cause of suffering lies in the memories of the past, or the plans of the future. Awareness of breath brings us back to the moment. Also, Breath Awareness Meditation is so natural and spontaneous that it teaches us about itself–the actual practice, its meaning, purpose and effect. The more we practice, the more our spiritual intuition comes to the fore and becomes our instructor. Breath is your teacher!
Stages of Development
- Bring your awareness to the upper lip or below the nostrils.
- Observe the breathing in and breathing out in the fixed area of the upper lip or below the nostrils.
- Maintain your attention in this area and gently bring your awareness back to this area if you are distracted.
- Be a neutral observer. Notice the temperature of the breaths, sensations below the nostrils or upper lip, and the rhythm while simply observing them.
- If you are not able to maintain your awareness in the fixed area, then:
- In the first stage, you can use counting to stay focused on the breath. After the exhale you count one, then you breathe in and out and count two, and so on up to ten, and then you start again at one.
- In the second stage, you subtly shift where you breathe, counting before the inhale, anticipating the breath that is coming, but still counting from one to ten, and then starting again at one.
- In the third stage you drop the counting and just watch the breath as it comes in and goes out.
- In the final stage the focus of concentration narrows and sharpens, so you pay attention to the subtle sensation on the tip of the nose where the breath first enters and last leaves the body.
The practice of Breath Meditation
- Sit comfortably, relaxed, with back and neck straight.
- If you wear glasses, take them off.
- Place your left hand with palm facing up on your lap and place your right hand (palm up) on top of your left palm. Or, place your hands on your knees or thighs, palms up or down, or resting, one on the other, in your lap.
- No background music – silence is the utmost important.
- Turn your eyes slightly downward and close them gently. Just closing your eyes reduces your brain-wave activity by about 75%, thus helping to calm the mind.
- Your mouth should be closed so all breathing is done through the nose. This, too, aids in quieting the mind. Mouth closed, jaw relaxed, so the upper and lower teeth are not clenched or touching one another, but parted a little.
- Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply three or four times, feeling the inhaling and exhaling breath moving in and out through your nostrils.
- Now breathe naturally and easy, keeping your awareness at the fixed spot, or on counting, as the case may be, feeling the breath as it flows in and out of your nostrils. Do not follow the breath in and out of your body, but just be aware of the breath movement sensation at the fixed spot.
- Keeping your awareness at the one spot, breathe naturally and calmly, observing the sensation of the breath moving there throughout all your inhalations and exhalations. This enables you to enter effortlessly into witnessing your breath.
- Do this for the rest of the meditation, letting your awareness rest gently on the breath at the chosen spot, and feeling the sensations of the breath moving there. After a while it may feel as though the breath is flowing in and out the spot more than the actual nostrils, or you may not feel the spot at all – just the breath moving at the location of the point. That is perfectly alright, but the focus of your attention should be only at that point–not somewhere else either outside or inside the body.
- Let the breath be. If the breath is naturally long, let it be so. If it is short, let it be so. If the inhalations and exhalations are of unequal length, that is just fine. Let the breath be natural and unforced, and just observe and experience it. In time, your breath will become more subtle and refined, and slow down. Sometimes your breath can become so light that it almost seems as though you are not breathing at all. At such times you may perceive that your inhaling and exhaling are more like a magnetic pull or flow in and out instead of actual breath movements. This occurs as the subtle life force (prana) that produces the breath switches back and forth in polarity from positive to negative. It is also normal for your breath awareness to move back and forth from more objective to more subtle and back to more objective.
- Sometimes the subtle breath is silent, but at other times you will inwardly “hear” the breath making sounds as it moves in and out. These will not be actual physical sounds, but very subtle mental sounds. They may be like the sounds made by forceful or heavy inhalation and exhalation; whatever they may be, just be calmly aware of them while staying centered on the breath.
- The breath is a kind of barometer of the subtle energies of body and mind. Sometimes it is very smooth, light and easy, and at other times it feels heavy, even constricted, or clogged, sticky, ragged, uneven, and generally uncomfortable and somehow feels ‘not right’. When this occurs, do not try to interfere with it or ‘make it better’. Rather, just relax and be calmly aware and let it be as it is. If you do this, the problem in the subtle energy levels which the breath is reflecting will correct itself and the breath will become easy and pleasant.
- In Breath Meditation we only focus our awareness on the breath at fixed spot, and not on any other point of the body. However, as you meditate you may become aware of one or more areas of your body at different times. Stay centered on your breath.
- Thoughts, impressions, memories, inner sensations, and the like may arise during meditation. Be calmly aware of all these things in a detached and objective manner. Let them come and go as they will, but keep your attention centered on the tip of the nose and your breath moving there. Be indifferent to any inner or outer phenomena. Breath Meditation produces peace, awareness and quiet joy in your mind as well as soothing radiations of energy in the physical and subtle bodies. Be calmly aware of all these things in a detached and objective manner–they are part of the transforming effect of meditation, and are perfectly alright, but keep your attention centered on your breath. Even though something feels very right or good when it occurs, it should not be forced or hung on to. It is not the experience we are after, but the effect.
- If you find yourself getting restless, distracted, fuzzy, anxious or tense, just inhale and exhale slowly and deeply a few times, feeling the inhaling and exhaling breath moving in and out through your nostrils, at the same time feeling that you are releasing and breathing out all tensions. Then resume meditation as before. Relaxation is the key to successful meditation practice.
- Keep in mind that Breath Meditation basically consists of being aware in a relaxed and easy manner of your breath as it moves in and out at the fixed spot.
At the end of your meditation, keep on being calmly aware of your breath moving in and out of your nose as you go about your various routine activities. In this way you can continue in the calm and clear state of meditation.
In between, in your meditation, it is good to check three things:
- Am I aware of the chosen spot?
- Am I continuously experiencing the movement or energy-flow of the breath at or in the chosen spot?
- Am I aware of the breath movement throughout the entire duration of each inhalation and exhalation?
These are the essential points of Breath Meditation.
Recommended Frequency and Duration:
- Week 1: 10 minute meditation – 2 times a day (morning and evening)
- Week 2: 20 minute meditation -2 times a day (morning and evening)
- Week 3: 30 minute meditation – 2 times a day (morning and evening)
For Certificate (for CEU’s or DBE), you can apply for online Certification Test. Please contact office for the Certification Test Request Form. Completed form is to be submitted along with,
- Certification Test Fee ($120, plus HST), and,
- Log sheets with one week practice record.
Please download Log sheets by clicking at the links:
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Note : You should check with your health care professional before starting this or any new exercise program or breathing routine. This is especially important if you have any pre-existing health conditions, such as high blood pressure, migraines or heart or lung ailments. Women who are pregnant or think they might be pregnant should consult their physician before performing any of the breathing or physical exercises.
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