Meditation Breathing Preliminaries – Vivekananda
The greater part of the practical lessons which the Yogi gives us is in the mind, the power of concentration and meditation…. We have become so materialistic. When we think of ourselves, we find only the body. The body has become the ideal, nothing else. Therefore a little physical help is necessary….
First, to sit in the posture in which you can sit still for a long time. All the nerve currents which are working pass along the spine. The spine is not intended to support the weight of the body. Therefore the posture must be such that the weight of the body is not on the spine. Let it be free from all pressure.
There are some other preliminary things. There is the great question of food and exercise….
The food must be simple and taken several times a day instead of once or twice. Never get very hungry. “He who eats too much cannot be a Yogi. He who fasts too much cannot be a Yogi. He who sleeps too much cannot be a Yogi, nor he who keeps awake too much.” (Gita, VI. 16.) He who does not do any work and he who works too hard cannot succeed. Proper food, proper exercise, proper sleep, proper wakefulness — these are necessary for any success.
What the proper food is, what kind, we have to determine ourselves. Nobody can determine that for us. As a general practice, we have to shun exciting food…. We do not know how to vary our diet with our occupation. We always forget that it is the food out of which we manufacture everything we have. So the amount and kind of energy that we want, the food must determine….
Violent exercises are not all necessary…. If you want to be muscular, Yoga is not for you. You have to manufacture a finer organism than you have now. Violent exercises are positively hurtful…. Live amongst those who do not take too much exercise. If you do not take violent exercise, you will live longer. You do not want to burn out your lamp in muscles! People who work with their brains are the longest-lived people…. Do not burn the lamp quickly. Let it bum slowly and gently…. Every anxiety, every violent exercise physical and mental means you are burning the lamp.
The proper diet means, generally, simply do not eat highly spiced foods. There are three sorts of mind, says the Yogi, according to the elements of nature. One is the dull mind (tamas), which covers the luminosity of the soul. Then there is that which makes people active (rajas), and lastly that which makes them calm and peaceful (satva).
Dull people. Now there are persons born with the tendency to sleep all the time. Their taste will be towards that type of food which is rotting. It is a natural tendency with them.
Then active people. Their taste is for everything hot and pungent, strong alcohol….
Satvik people are very thoughtful, quiet, and patient. They take food in small quantities, and never anything bad.
Then there are various sorts of breathing exercises. One consists of three parts: the drawing in of the breath, the holding of the breath — stopping still without breathing — and throwing the breath out. Some breathing exercises are rather difficult, and some of the complicated ones are attended with great danger if done without proper diet. I would not advise you to go through any one of these except the very simple ones.
Take a deep breath and fill the lungs. Slowly throw the breath out. Take it through one nostril and fill the lungs, and throw it out slowly through the other nostril. Some of us do not breathe deeply enough. Others cannot fill the lungs enough. These breathings will correct that very much. Half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening will make you a new person. This sort of breathing is never dangerous. The other exercises should be practiced very slowly. And measure your strength. If ten minutes are a drain, only take five.
The Yogi is expected to keep his own body well. These various breathing exercises are a great help in regulating the different parts of the body. All the different parts are inundated with breath. It is through breath that we gain control of them all. Disharmony in parts of the body is controlled by more flow of the nerve currents towards them.
Do not despair! Awake, arise, and stop not until the goal is reached!…
Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda