Recently I offered a mantra that can accompany the out-breathing: Release, Rest, Reveal. These words encourage us, respectively, to let go of unnecessary tensions in the body, to let go of unnecessary mental effort, and to be open and receptive to whatever is arising in our experience.
I’d like now to offer a corresponding mantra for the in-breathing: Energize, Inspire, Enjoy. As with the previous mantra, each of the words has a specific function.
“Energize” connects us with the natural energy of the in-breath. Inhalation is dominated by the sympathetic nervous system, which isn’t always about “fight or flight” but is involved in any physical or emotional arousal. It’s no coincidence that we take a sudden in-breath when we’re startled, and the sympathetic nervous system is activated.
In our normal (non-startled!) breathing pattern, the sympathetic nervous system is active. Each time we inhale there is a subtle but noticeable sense of energy. The body becomes oxygenated and the heart beats a little faster. The body becomes more open and upright, and is more ready to act.
- The most important thing right now, is right now
- A “mantra” for the out-breath: “Release, rest, reveal”
- Keeping the mind on track
- “Trust in the Dharma”
Saying the word “energize” as we inhale is a way of encouraging us to notice the gentle but arousing physical effects of the in-breath.
Saying “Inspire,” connects us with the same physiological processes, but it directs our attention more to the qualities of the mind and how they change as we breathe in. Just as the body becomes more alert and energetic on the in-breath, so does the mind. There’s a subtle but perceptible increase in our alertness, and the mind becomes brighter.
The word “Enjoy,” as you might expect, reminds us to appreciate any pleasure and happiness that are arising in our experience. This brings together everything: the out-breathing and the in-breathing; the body and the mind. Relaxing on the out-breath can be very enjoyable; so can feeling the energy of the in-breath. Resting the mind can be delightful; so can feeling the mind becoming brighter. Saying “Enjoy” as we breathe in encourages us to appreciate what’s positive in our experience. It encourages us to let happiness arise in response to the simple act of noticing the rhythm of our breathing.
Don’t try to do anything as you say these words. Don’t try to make anything happen. Just say the words, and let them have an effect.
Paying attention only to the out-breathing is calming, but in the long-term it tends to make us dull and sleepy. Paying attention only to the in-breathing is energizing, but we can easily become over-excited and distracted.
These are three things the in-breath shows us: Energy in the body. Inspiration in the mind. Joy in the heart.
So if you’re going to use these two sets of mantras, use them skillfully. You may want to start a meditation with the mantras of the out-breath—especially if you need to calm the mind—and then move on to the mantras of the in-breath. But since this latter practice can lead to excitability, there will come a point when we need to drop the mantras and focus just on the breathing, and when we need to focus on the continuity of the breathing process—sensing it as an unbroken stream of sensations—without particular emphasis on either the breathing-out or the breathing-in.