In 1970, a lot of young people were searching for something beyond what was the established norm. There were hundreds of groups offering every kind of spiritual experience you can imagine. Any many you could never imagine. One of my first yoga teachers was a lovely couple, Bob and Mary. He was very big and she was small. They did some sort of acrobatic work and their sizes made this much easier. They tried really hard to be good yoga teachers. Each week they would find some unusual posture in a book, practice it, and when the students came, they would teach us what they had learned. I enjoyed the challenge but something was missing.
One day they said we would now learn meditation. “Wow,” I thought! (we said ‘wow’ in those days). So after our stretching, we were told to sit straight and then . . . . . . . . think of nothing. I love a good challenge so I set to work on thinking of nothing. My creativity stirred and I began to see a landscape with white fields, white trees, and white clouds overhead. In the distance was a city skyline with all white buildings. As I approached the tallest gleaming white building, there on the top was a huge sign, flashing the word. ‘NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING’. It was amusing and frustrating. I decided at that moment to find another experience of meditation.
I got a book on breathing techniques. As a lifelong sufferer of asthma, this was both a challenge and an interesting possibility. I found myself attracted to a well-known breathing technique. One would inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 16, and exhale to a count of 2. This pattern can be extended to inhale for 8, hold for 32 and exhale for 4. This can be doubled again. I worked with this technique for hours a day, even while driving. (not recommended) This regulated breathing technique gave me a new perspective and experience of meditation.
A few years later I learned this same breathing pattern with a mantra added. We would inhale in 4 parts and mentally vibrate the mantra, ‘Sa, Ta, Na, Ma’, one sound for each part of the inhale. Then when holding for the 16 counts, mentally repeat the Sa, Ta, Na, Ma, 4 times. Finally, the exhale in 2 parts using the mantra, ‘Wahe, Guru.’ The addition of the sound added another dimension and produced a powerful experience. One I recommend you practice on your own. Just not while driving.