Meditation - Learning the Functions of the Body to Get Started
“Why our eyes get closed when we cry, laugh, kiss, suffer physical pain and dream? Because these acts or responses are felt from the core of the heart and center of the brain.”
Meditation – Preparation of the Body with Basic Knowledge
It has been observed that respiratory system gets special respect since ancient time in relation to meditation. Ancient Indian Saints, the enlightened persons, have observed that this system works every moment for survival of all cells and organs of our body. Every tissue needs oxygen to perform the scheduled work or job. Lungs collect the oxygen from air and supplies it to the body through the heart. Heart cannot work without oxygen. If heart fails to work, then whole body will suffer from lack of oxygen as blood carries oxygen from heart to the tissues.
Lungs: Structure and Physiology
There is a bronchial tree in each lung with alveolar structure or air pockets at the end. The wall of each air pocket or alveolus is thin with vascular network on outer surface. Blood in capillary network contains more CO2 and less O2 before reaching the lung alveoli. Alveolar pockets contain more O2 and less CO2 after inspiration. Partial pressure of O2 is higher in alveolar pockets (PO2 is 104 mm of Hg) and lower in capillary plasma (PO2 40 mm of Hg), so O2 will move from lungs to blood. O2 is mainly carried by plasma and stored in RBC as oxyhaemoglobin which is supplied to working tissues. At the same time while blood is leaving tissues, partial pressure of CO2 is higher in capillary plasma (45 mm of Hg) at alveolar level and lower in alveolar pockets (40 mm of Hg), so CO2 will move from blood to lungs. Gas exchange occurs in both directions at the same time where capillary wall and alveolar wall make a common barrier and oxygenated blood leaves lung field after releasing CO2 in lungs which come out during expiration. Reverse process occurs at tissue level. So, we can classify gas exchange/respiration as
a) External respiration i.e., from lungs to blood or from blood to lungs, and
b) Internal respiration from blood to tissue or tissue to blood. For gas exchange, thinness of alveolar wall or barrier and surface area of the same are vital; Otherwise, smooth gas exchange will be hampered.
The good elasticity of lung tissue is required during expiration as it is a passive process. For gas exchange, specific time should be given between Inspiration (Prashwas) and expiration (Nishwas) phase, i.e., a Pause (kumbhak) in between. This is one cycle. The counting process is applied to control the respiratory phases as well as the mental diversity due to the play of monkey mind in us.
In Pranayama, standard ratio of Inspiration > Pause > Expiration is 4:16:8. Slowing of counting will develop very gradually. Repetition of each cycle will change the wrong respiratory pattern when we are perfectly adopted to the process.
Sigh effect of respiratory system does not mean bad luck for any event. It is simply natural. As during sigh, the partially collapsed alveoli or air pockets are inflated to prevent complete collapse of those alveoli as all alveoli are not inflated in every inspiration. Some alveoli take rest when others inflate.
Basic knowledge on Acid Base Balance and Role of Respiratory System
Respiratory system contributes to the acid base balance of the body. The pH of intracellular and extracellular fluid needs to be maintained at a constant level. There is a buffer system (defense) in our body.
a) First line buffer system includes bicarbonate and protein buffer system.
b) Second line buffer system includes respiratory system where rate and depth of breathing work.
c) Third line buffer is excretory system, which include kidneys that can add or remove bicarbonate ions derived from metabolic carbon dioxide and with the help of enzyme it is converted into carbonic acid in renal tubular cells and excreted.
Removal of CO2 through the lungs by controlling rate and depth of respiration and removal of H+ ion through kidney and preservation of bicarbonate ions in renal tubules will maintain the body pH within 7.32 -7.42.
Stable pH in blood allows all tissues to work in normal fashion with utilization of energy in proper way.
With the control of respiratory system, we can get maximum oxygen from air taken during inspiration due to long Pause afterwards getting more time for gas exchange. During the Pause, maximum O2 (oxygen) enters the capillary blood covering the surface of alveoli containing air having 21% of O2, where PO2 is higher than the capillary blood and at the same time, CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) is going to the alveoli to get lost from the body during expiration. PCO2 (Partial pressure of CO2) in capillaries is higher than the alveoli so that it is released easily in alveoli.
Again, movement of the body remains close to zero during meditation except little movement of respiratory muscles which is necessary for maintaining the O2 (oxygen) supply from air. It is necessary to reduce the metabolic activities of the body except the cells of vital organs like the clock inside the Computer. When we keep the computer in “switch off” mode, a little button cell supplies power to run the clock in side and that is necessary for continuity. The same process is active in our body system. Here maximum O2 (oxygen) is sent to maintain the brain activity.
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
In this context lowering of Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is another vital factor to reduce the demand of the body. With the control of respiratory rate, depth and ratio of Inspiration > Pause > Expiration, where BMR is reduced. This low environmental temperature is also a factor for the reduction of BMR. Any food that increases BMR should be avoided as preservation of energy is vital for meditation. This distinguishes between good food and bad food.
Animal proteins are not good for them who meditate sincerely. For people with high BMR, the body becomes heated and all organs are taxed with additional burden. Heart rate increases to supply more nutrition to periphery, which causes cardiac muscles to work more and suffer from its own nutrition. The rate of respiration increases to exhale out the excess production of CO2 due to high rate of metabolism and to combat alteration of pH. The other organ, i.e., kidneys have to work in excess of normal requirement to excrete the excess H+ in extracellular fluid.
Basic principle of meditation is to maintain calm and quite condition at every level.
Sense organs receive five external stimulations which disturbs the mind to concentrate on a focus.
The external stimuli and their effects are discussed below.
Eyes and Effect of Light
“Eyes”- the first sense organ distracts our monkey mind very easily. So, ostentatious environment is an obstacle for enlightening ourselves through inner eyes. It is called exogenous shock or allurement or temptation. So, outer eyes should be kept at control to avoid light that makes the external objects visible and distracts our concentration.
Once Sri Sri Ramakrishna asked a Yogi Trailanga Swami in his language - “How many Gods are there, One or many?”
Trailanga Swami answered, “when you close your eyes you will feel “God is One”. On opening teh eyes - “You will see so many Gods before you as God resides everywhere (“Sarbang khalidong Brahma”- from Veda, Sanskrit), as with opened eyes concentration for meditation is lost. But time comes one day when God can be realized with open eyes and sense of “Oneness” would be realized.
Ear and Effect of Sound
Sound and its effect are linked with second important sense organ is considered here. Calm and quite environment (less sound or no sound zone) relaxes whole body and mind primarily. But the monkey mind within us disturbs every moment and even at the top of a mountain some sorts of sound of birds or crickets or insects may enter your ear. Cool mind can concentrate on any object or subject more easily.
Suppose, if we throw few stones at a time in a pond, multiple waves on water will appear and it is not possible to watch all waves at a time, because there will be clash among the waves. But when a single stone is thrown in a stand still water of a pond, the waves could be observed in detail till it fades away to the shore.
Practice of speaking in low voice will increase the capacity of storage of energy and reception capacity of hearing. Sound with various frequencies come to us but the conscious (aware) mind receives those matches with that. Meditation makes man to know “what is awareness” and improves the filtering process of hearing with logical strainer. Sound of silence can be realized in perfect meditation. Actually, during meditation we hear the inner sound of our soul.
Nose and Effect of Smell
Nose is a very sensitive organ of our body. It is very powerful and is utilized by almost all members of the animal kingdom. We can close our eyes, and we can stay in soundless zone but we cannot keep the nose and mouth closed to avoid entry of smell as it shares the passage of air for breathing. This sense organ (smell detector) can be kept inactive only by meditation.
Tongue on Taste Sense and Speech
Tongue receives different taste senses. It produces eagerness for food which makes a man greedy. This greediness appears in life in different ways. Tongue is utilized to express our thoughts within. It is considered as the seat of Goddess of learning and education, Goddess Saraswati. Uncontrolled tongue may be utilized to tell lies which is produced by greed in mind or lack of balance and integrity within our body system.
Greed is a big wall between soul and body with mind. Utmost importance has been focused on tongue and its control for success of meditation. Greed should be expelled from the mind which when leaves take away other powerful enemies of our life i.e., Envy and Ego. In Lord Buddha’s teaching, vipassana is a technique of meditation where control of speech, silence, minimization of visual field and life style with less demand are advised.
Skin with Touch and Temperature: Vibration Senses
This organ is the largest organ of the body that receives pain, touch sense (crude, fine, pleasure), vibration sense, pressure sense as well as temperature senses through receptors of the skin connected to peripheral nervous system which connects the central nervous system for realization. A very light blow of air, little difference of temperature or a pleasant touch of anyone are felt by it when concentration of mind is lost. So, skin sensations should be under control lest they disturb touch the mind.
Apart from these organs, Proprioceptory senses through specialized nerves known as proprioceptors present in ears, muscles, joints tendons and some other tissues of the body are related to its position in space, spatial position of brain, limbs etc.
So, all these external stimuli should not be allowed during meditation and Pranayama. This helps a seeker in early stage of meditation to control his/her mind. Controlled breathing will supply sufficient O2 to tissues, removes CO2 from blood, maintain Acid base balance and also reduce BMR which is a result of reduction of consumption and preservation of energy. Lungs are the primary tool for initialization of meditation. There is no doubt that if you follow these instructions, you will be able raise your mind at the level of Super-consciousness.