Breath stopping came up on Transcending so I thought it worth breaking the points out into an article.
In a transcending meditation practice we quickly settle within. As we settle the mind, the body also settles. Oxygen consumption and other metabolic indicators drop. In a typical session, this can be 30-60%.
When we transcend the practice into samadhi (also called turiya or pure consciousness), we may notice a brief period of inner silence or no thoughts along with very deep relaxation.
But when we notice, the mind starts to think about it and the metabolism rises some again. Or the rest causes the body to purify which creates activity in the body, then the mind. In either case, we lift from the depths to complete a cycle.
We repeat this cycle of inward and outward strokes many, many times.
With experience, that inner pure consciousness begins to be maintained even while thoughts arise. They no longer disturb the silence as it has become clear and integrated enough.
Then consciousness shows even in daily activity. The sustaining of inner alertness becomes presence. We notice we’re “in” consciousness more than our mind or body.
We can then go deeper into silence in meditation. Then we may notice the breath pausing. The metabolism has become so settled that usual breath is not needed. There is no control whatsoever – this is arising spontaneously from a very low metabolism.
Then that deep rest allows purification to occur and activity resumes in the body and breath resumes.
We’re more likely to notice this when we’re well-rested and relaxed, like on a retreat. However, it can arise at any time.
Often, we’ll just notice coming out of a pause or blank period. Perhaps we’ll notice a wave of happiness as we rise through the bliss body.
So often, transcendence happens without us even noticing. Samadhi has no content for the mind to notice – it’s often recognized by absence. Once we establish a transcending practice, brief periods of transcending and breath stoppage are common but we may only notice them as moments when I wasn’t thinking.
In India, they sometimes describe unresolved stresses as sleeping elephants. When we meditate and settle within, we move through these elephants. But often, this wakes a few of them up and they stir and rumble around, kicking up dust.
Occasionally, we can sneak through the elephants and have a clear experience on the other side. More often, purification arises kicking up the dust. But this dust isn’t a bad thing. It’s an indication of clearing that brings deep long-term benefits. Thus, even a foggy meditation is of great benefit.
We shouldn’t judge the results of our effortless meditation by our subjective experience during it. Instead, look to the results in our life, in the world.
As we deepen still further, such as on a long retreat, we may get clear and settled enough that we can have long periods of transcendence. The breath will pause for 10, 20, 30 minutes or more. But when it does that, the lungs shift into a new mode and a fine vibration arises. Not an in and out breath.
That fine vibration seems to draw on prana (life force) rather than oxygen. Physical activity requires oxygen to burn fuel but if the body is in a pause, it’s not needed.
This takes a very clear experience and the ability to notice without disturbing or reacting to the experience.
Scientists have documented this breath stoppage in various studies. Note this differs greatly from yogis who have practiced body control and can stop the breath at will. What I describe happens spontaneously when breath is not required.
One term for transcending in the old texts is turiya, meaning the fourth. It is not a “altered state” but a distinct fourth state of consciousness along with waking, dreaming, and sleeping with its own specific measurable physiological markers. Effortless meditation restores it in our life.
In time the state becomes very familiar and spreads into activity and sleep. When we’re rested, the body automatically takes the opportunity to transcend and heal.
At some point, consciousness within becomes so clear and established that it becomes constant, an always present observer day and night. Breath stoppage becomes normal during sleep and even in quiet activity. For example, when I got a sleep test, the readout was full of breath stopping. Yet it was without the other symptoms of sleep apnea (breath blockage).
This deeply speeds up our progress. But not to worry if you have an effortless practice but are not noticing clear transcendence. As mentioned, it is an absence of experience, it is just pure being. It may only be obvious to measurement equipment. For many, progress may seem flat until they wake up. For others, there is greater sattva and thus clarity. Or witnessing may arise prior to awakening. In that case, that inner Self just has to recognize itself to wake up.