Question: Could you say something about breathing in meditation? Are there any practical ways in which breathing can be regulated which will be beneficial to meditation?

Sri Chinmoy: Breathing is of paramount importance during meditation. Now, I wish to advise a beginner that when he wants to breathe correctly, he should sit erect. His spinal cord must remain erect. When he breathes in, he has to breathe slowly and quietly. Then, after a few months of practising slow and quiet breathing, he can start alternate breathing. That is to say, when you breathe in, you breathe through just one nostril, holding the other closed. Do this a few times and then reverse the nostril.

There is another traditional system you can apply. When you breathe in, you can repeat the name of God, or, if your spiritual Master has given you any mantra, you can repeat that. When you breathe in, try to repeat the name or mantra once. When you hold your breath, repeat it four times. And, when you release the breath, at that time repeat it twice. One, four, two. While you are inhaling, count one. While you are holding the breath, count four. While you are exhaling the breath, count two.

This system of breathing is called Pranayama. If you want to know more about breathing, you should go to a spiritual Master who has personal experience in breathing. He will teach you how to breathe properly, step-by-step. I always advise a beginner to breathe as slowly and quietly as possible, then later to do this alternate breathing. Then, after that, he can hold just a tiny thread right in front of his nose as he breathes and see if the thread is moving to-and-fro. If it is moving to-and-fro, that means the breathing is not quiet. There is a restless movement in the breathing. If it does not move, if the thread is not disturbed by the breath, then it is Yogic breathing. This you can try for some time. One has to go to one's own spiritual Master, and he will teach this step-by-step. He will observe the disciple's breathing and correct it if it is improper.

While breathing one has to be very careful. That is to say, one has to think of purity first. If, when one breathes in, one feels consciously or unconsciously that the breath that he is using is coming directly from God, from Purity itself, his breath will be purified. Several things can be done to further develop this sense of purity in the breath. First, for a few minutes, try to imagine a flower right in front of your nose. The flower will automatically give you the sense of purity. Either a flower or a candle flame or incense, something that represents purity, that convinces the physical mind, should be imagined in the beginning.