An Overview of Hong-Sau and its Advanced Phases
- So as to decarbonize the blood stream, and thereby to calm the body, inhale, tensing the whole body; throw the breath out and relax. Repeat two or three times.
- Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply several times, making the period of inhalation, holding, and exhalation the same. (Suggested counts: 20-20-20, or 12-12-12.) Don’t strain. Repeat six or twelve times.
- Mentally check the body to make sure it is relaxed. Periodically, check the body again during your practice of the technique.
- Begin your actual practice of the technique by first exhaling, slowly and deliberately.
The Basic Technique
- When the breath flows in of its own accord, follow it mentally with the sound, Hong. Imagine that the breath itself is making this sound.
- When the breath flows out of its own accord, follow it mentally with, and imagine that it is itself making, the sound, Sau (to rhyme with “saw”).
- If at any time the breathing stops naturally, accept the pause calmly, identifying yourself with it until the breath flows again of its own accord.
- To keep your mind on the breath (or, when you are more interiorized, to differentiate between inhalation and exhalation), it may help you to bring the forefinger towards the palm as the breath flows in, and away from the palm as the breath flows out.
- If your breath is still restless, you may be more easily aware of the physical movement of your lungs and diaphragm than of the flow of breath in the nostrils. In this case, let the mind follow its natural inclination: Concentrate on the purely physical aspects of breathing — the movement of the rib cage, the diaphragm, or the navel.
- Gradually, as you grow calmer, transfer your attention from the breathing process to the breath itself.
- As your attention begins to focus on the breath itself, watch the breath at the point where it enters the nostrils.
- Gradually, with the progressive calmness of the breath, center your awareness of it higher and higher in the nose. To raise this center of awareness, you may find it helpful if you make a special effort inwardly to relax your nose.
- As it becomes natural to do so, center your awareness of the breath at the point where it enters the nasal cavity. Feel it in the upper part of this passage, and visualize its movement gently fanning and awakening the Christ center in the frontal lobe of the brain.
- Become more and more identified with the breath, less and less with your body’s need for it to flow in and out. Remember, especially as you grow very calm, that this need may be as much imaginary (the result of deeply ingrained subconscious habit) as actual. Therefore:
- Particularly concentrate on, and enjoy, the pauses between the breaths. Dwell on the sense of freedom from the tyranny of constant breathing. Beyond enjoying this sense of calmness and freedom, however, do not try to prolong the breathless state by an act of will.
- Direct the will, rather, toward the thought of becoming the air that is flowing in the nose, or of becoming boundless space at the Christ center.
- As the pauses become prolonged, you may want to engage your attention in chanting Aum mentally at the Christ center.
- Throughout the practice of this technique, look upward so as gradually to raise your consciousness. Do not, however, concentrate at the Christ center until it becomes natural for you to feel the flow of the breath at that point.
- Sit very still throughout your practice of the technique. Any physical movement (and also any unrelated movement of thought or emotion) will further excite the breath.
- Every now and then, mentally check the body (especially the nose) to be sure it is relaxed.
- While chanting Hong-Sau, be sure that you are chanting only mentally. Often, the mere thought of a word will produce an involuntary movement of the tongue or lips, or a slight tension in the jaw or throat. Be sure these parts of your body, too, are completely relaxed.
Questions and Answers
Q. How long should the Hong-Sau technique be practiced?
A. As long as you enjoy practicing it. This is one technique (unlike many other yoga practices) that cannot be overdone in the sense of putting a strain on the nervous system. Yoganandaji used, as a boy, to practice it as much as 7-1/2 hours at a time. He once told a disciple that if one wants to become a master in this life, he should practice Hong-Sau two hours daily. No technique, however, should be practiced to the point of boredom or fatigue. Beginners, especially, may do better to practice only half an hour at a time, perhaps even less. For others, let enjoyment be your key, lest you slip gradually into the pernicious habit of meditating mechanically, without that keen sense of blissful anticipation which is so necessary to any real meditative progress. When your enjoyment of the technique begins to lessen, cease your practice at least for that session. When your enjoyment of meditation itself lessens, stop meditating, or take a break (you might rest in Savasana (The Corpse Pose) before making another effort.
Q. When the Master said to practice Hong-Sau two hours a day, did he mean at one sitting?
A. Yes, if possible. But if not, I am sure he would have agreed to your dividing this time into two or more shorter periods. Remember, no fixed time can guarantee success in yoga practice. Suggested times should be taken only as general guidelines.
Q. May one practice this technique in idle moments as well, apart from one’s prescribed periods for meditation?
A. Indeed, yes! Anywhere, practically: sitting at your desk in the office, or in public places, or at a party when you are not involved in the conversation. Before others, however, don’t be obvious about what you are doing. Sit back, and close your eyes as if you were resting them, or look straight ahead, as if reflectively.
Q. What proportion of one’s meditation should be devoted to the practice of this technique?
A. It is difficult to advise in this matter, except to say that this is one of the most important techniques of yoga. The longer and more deeply you practice any technique, the sooner you will become proficient in it. It is for you to decide how long, in proportion to other techniques, you want to watch the breath. Regardless what techniques are practiced, however, at least the last quarter of one’s meditation time should be devoted to simple meditation, without any practice of techniques. As my guru put it, intuition (which he defined as the soul’s power to know God) is developed by prolonging and deepening the peaceful after-effects of one’s practice of the meditation techniques.
Q. Should one concentrate on the breath and also at the point between the eyebrows?
A. Not until the attention focuses itself naturally on the flow of breath at the beginning of the nose — that is, the point at which the breath enters the nasal cavity in the head. To do so otherwise would constitute a division of concentration which would be self-defeating.
Q. What if, during one’s practice of this, or of any other, technique, one is suddenly lifted into a divine state of consciousness? Assuming that it was the technique that induced this state, should one continue his practice, or abandon it to deepen one’s enjoyment of this state of consciousness?
A. That depends on whether the technique actually induced the state you refer to, or only prepared you to receive it. Certain divine states, if actually caused by the practice of a technique, may be deepened by continuation of that practice. Otherwise, and generally speaking, the technique should be abandoned in order that you might deepen your enjoyment of, and identification with, the divine experience.
Q. Sometimes I find that my breath, instead of pausing longer and longer at the rest points between inhalation and exhalation, continues its normal rhythm, but becomes shallower and shallower to the point where it virtually disappears. Is this all right?
A. Yes, it is quite all right. In any case you should let the breath follow its own course, instead of deciding for it what rhythm it ought to follow. But such extremely light breathing indicates a satisfactory state of concentration.