Paramhansa Yogananda brought a great, yet simple, technique of meditation as one of India’s greatest contributions to the world. It lengthens man’s lifespan and is a practical method for rising above body-consciousness and realizing oneself as the Immortal Spirit.
The Hong-Sau Technique of Concentration
Breath is life. If you can live without breathing, you will prolong your life and rise above body-consciousness to soul-consciousness while still living in your physical body. To be truly breathless doesn’t come about by suppressing the breath or holding it forcibly in the lungs. Rather, breathlessness lifts one to a state of inner calmness and relaxation, making it simply unnecessary for you to breathe for a time.
You can practice this technique at any time. Wherever you are, sit erect with your spine straight, and deeply relax. Close your eyes (or fix their gaze, eyes half-closed, at the point between the eyebrows). Now, with deep calmness, mentally watch your breath, without controlling it, as it enters and exits the body. As the breath enters, move the index finger of your right hand inward, toward the thumb, and mentally (without moving your tongue or lips) chant Hong. As the breath exits, straighten the index finger and mentally chant Sau (pronounced saw). The words Hong and Sau are a Sanskrit saying, given mantric power. The original saying, Aham saha, means I — am He. The purpose of moving the index finger is to become more positive in your concentration and to differentiate the inhalation from the exhalation.
Do not in any way control the breath mentally. Assume rather the calm attitude of a silent observer, watching the breath’s natural flow as it enters and exits the body — a flow of which you are generally not particularly aware.
Practice this technique with great reverence and attention for at least ten minutes to begin with. The longer your practice, the better. You can practice it at any time, day or night, during formal meditation or in your leisure time — for instance, while riding in a car (provided you aren’t driving!) or even while lying on your back in bed. It will give you a deep sense of inner calmness and will bring you at last to the realization that you are not the body but the soul — superior to and independent of this material body.
For formal meditation, sit on a straight-backed, armless chair. Place a woolen blanket over the chair, covering the back and letting it run down beneath your feet. Face east and sit erect, away from the back of the chair.
The Hong-Sau technique can also be practiced during leisure moments — such as sitting in a waiting room. Simply watch the breath and as you do so, mentally chant Hong and Sau without moving the finger, closing the eyes, gazing upward at the point between the eyebrows, without doing anything that might attract the attention of others around you. Keep your eyes open if you like, without blinking, perhaps looking straight ahead or at some particular point. Keep the spine erect if possible, and if you can do so unobtrusively.
The purpose of the Hong-Sau technique is to help you free your attention from outwardness, and to withdraw it from the senses, for breath is the cord that keeps the soul tied to the body. Man lives in an atmosphere of air which he requires even as a fish requires water. By rising above the breath in breathlessness, man can enter the celestial realms of light where the angels dwell. By dispassionately watching the breath coming in and going out, one’s breathing naturally slows, calming, at last, the peace-disturbing activity of the heart, lungs, and diaphragm.
The heart normally pumps about twelve tons of blood a day!
Consider for a moment this extraordinary fact: The heart normally pumps about twelve tons of blood a day! It gets no rest even at night when most of the other organs have a chance to suspend their activity at least partially. The most worked (and overworked) organ in the body is the heart. The Hong-Sau technique is a scientific method for resting the heart, thereby increasing longevity and liberating a vast amount of Life Current, or energy, to be distributed over the whole body – renewing all the body cells and preventing their decay.
The Importance of Relaxation
In sleep, we experience sensory relaxation. Death is complete (though involuntary) relaxation of the spirit from the body. It comes after the arrest of the heart’s action. By the Hong-Sau technique, one can reach the point of even relaxing the heart, thereby rising above one’s compulsion to outwardness, experiencing death consciously, and eliminating one’s sense of the mystery of death and the fear of dying. One can learn, indeed, to leave his body voluntarily and blissfully instead of being thrown out of it forcefully, often as a complete surprise, at death.
Inattention during the practice of this technique can be soporific, producing sleep. Concentrated attention, on the other hand, brings to every body cell a tingling sense of divine life. If you have the time, practice the technique longer — indeed, as long as you like. I myself, as a boy, used to practice it for seven hours at a time and thereby achieved a deep state of breathless trance. Hold to the great calmness you feel during and after this practice. Cling to that peace as long as possible. Apply it in practical life situations; when dealing with people, when studying, when doing business, when thinking. Use it to help practice self-control or when trying to rid yourself of some deep-seated, harmful mental or emotional habit. Whenever a situation demands it, recall to mind the calmness you felt during and after the practice of this technique. Try to relive that state and meet the situation from that calm inner center where your natural soul-intuition will ensure the best possible outcome.
Remember, deep intensity of concentration is necessary for the correct practice of this technique. This does not mean, however, that there should be any sense of strain present. Practice the technique calmly, with relaxation — even with reverence — and feel in that calmness that you are placing yourself in readiness to listen to and become absorbed in the Cosmic Vibration, AUM. Hong-Sau will help put you in contact with the Great Spirit, who is present in you as your soul, and whose expression is vibration, the cause of that inner sound. Results will positively come, and deep calmness will be yours. Higher intuitions will come to you after prolonged practice, and you will find yourself in touch with the unexplored reservoir of divine power.
Do not be impatient. Keep on steadily. Incorporate this practice into your regular routine, making it as much a part of your day as eating, brushing your teeth, bathing, or sleeping. Supremely beneficial effects will pervade your whole mental and physical constitution.
As in everything else, the highest results cannot be attained in a day or even in days. Practice! Practice the technique and apply to your daily needs the calmness it produces. Remember also that I speak from experience — not only my own but that of centuries of experience by the great yogis. You too can have the same glorious experience as they if you persevere in your practice.
Where to Concentrate?
Where should you focus your attention, while practicing this technique? On the breath, yes, but where in the body?
Your attention at first may be on the pumping lungs and diaphragm. Concentrate first then on that physical movement. Gradually, as the mind grows calm, shift your attention from the body to the breath itself. Be aware of the breath where it enters the body, in the nostrils. As you grow calmer still, try to feel where in the nostrils the flow is strongest.
At first, it will be at the outer nostrils themselves but as your concentration deepens, try to feel the breath higher in the nose and note where the flow seems strongest. Is it in the upper part of the nose? the sides? the bottom? This can even help you to perceive more clearly your own state of mind. In the upper part, the flow may indicate a higher awareness. In the lower, a certain downward flow of energy in the spine. On the outer sides of the nostrils, the flow may reflect a tendency to react somewhat emotionally. Toward the center of the nostrils, there may be a tendency toward withdrawal. As you grow still calmer, feel the breath where it enters the head, up by the point between the eyebrows — the actual seat of concentration in the body.
The origin of the breath lies in the astral body. Astral inhalation corresponds to an upward movement through what is known in the yoga teachings as the ida nerve channel. Astral exhalation corresponds to a downward movement through the pingala nerve channel. These channels may be observed in fish as the two little nerves that run down the length of the spine.
An upward flow of energy through ida accompanies inhalation of the physical breath. And a downward flow through pingala accompanies physical exhalation. Astral breathing is accomplished by this upward and downward movement of energy. It is intrinsic to the reactive process. When the upward flow of energy is stronger, a positive reaction is indicated, and the same is true with deliberate physical inhalation. When the movement is more strongly downward (or when the physical exhalation is stronger than the inhalation), it comes out as a sigh and indicates a feeling of rejection. When the inhalation is longer than the exhalation, it is an indication of a positive reaction — even one of excitement. When the exhalation is longer, there is a corresponding withdrawal into oneself. In sleep, the exhalation is twice as long as the inhalation. When inhalation and exhalation are equal in duration, there is inner equanimity.
Yogananda Emphasized that Successful Meditation Requires…
- Sitting up with a straight spine
- Keeping the attention switched off from the senses
- Fixing the gaze on the altar of the Spiritual Eye between the two eyes, where Christ Consciousness can be received.
The Hong-Sau technique is a simple, yet deep and effective technique that helps convert ego-consciousness into God-consciousness. When the energy is withdrawn from all the sensory nerves, the five sense-telephones are disconnected; no sensations can reach the brain and intelligence “operators.” The mind gains freedom from thoughts that begin in sensations, as well as from the associated thoughts in subconscious memory. This leaves the scientifically freed mind unhampered to march Godward.
Enter into absolute silence every morning and banish thoughts for several minutes each time. Sit quietly and meditate on the joy of Silence. Think of that joy as communion with God. The more you meditate, the more you will realize that nothing else can give you such refined joy as the increasing joy of Silence. That joy-contact in meditation is contact with God. Pray deeply with devotion, first for God’s love, then for wisdom, happiness, health, prosperity, and then for the fulfillment of any specific legitimate wish. As Yogananda said:
When you have peace in every movement of your body
and peace in your thinking and in your will power,
and peace in your love,
and peace and God in your ambitions,
remember, you have connected God with your life.
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The 10-week Lessons in Meditation online course is designed to provide in-depth instruction in scientific meditation techniques that bring more peace, deeper relaxation, and focused concentration to every area of your life, regardless of outer conditions.
These techniques are based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi.