When beginning meditation I use the Measured Breathing Technique of inhaling a certain count, holding the same count, and then exhaling for the same count. However, often after I do the last inhale and exhale where the breath is thrown out for as long as comfortably possible, my heart is beats rapidly and I'm find it very difficult to settle my mind as my pulse sends out quick burst of energy. What do you suggest I do when my heart begins racing?
—Connor Burke, USA
Dear Friend, I assume that your heart is at it’s normal (slower) pace when you begin your measured breathing? Ordinarily the measured breathing technique is a simple method that is effective in CALMING the breath and heart rate. By itself it should not be INCREASING one’s heart rate.
So perhaps you are putting too much effort into it by using a count that is not sustainable for your lungs and nervous system. Try relaxing the count into something that you find enjoyable and sustainable, such as, say, an eight-count.
Do you also do a few rounds of the double breath? (Tensing and relaxing the body with it?) By slightly exaggerating the expulsion of the breath (when using the double breath) and holding the breath out as long as comfortable (rather than rushing immediately into the next round of double breath), the heart rate should slow down almost immediately.
A more aggressive version of this effect is felt in the “fencing” exercise of the Energization Exercises (designed in part to bring the heart rate down after walking and running in place) AND, perhaps more practically, the Breath of Fire (kapalabhati pranayam).
More practically still may be this simplest of suggestions: do three rounds of even count breathing in reverse: meaning, inhale, exhale, hold the breath OUT (rather than IN). Then switch to the normal sequence of holding the breath IN. In both versions do not strain; do not use a count longer than you feel you could sustain if you were to do this for 10 or 20 minutes (which I don’t recommend).
I am leaving aside more organic health issues and assume you would be aware of toxicity, fatigue, or heart problems!