When we sit down to meditate, the first thing we often notice is movement.
Thoughts stirring, our uneven breath, the awkwardness of our body and its sensations. Comfort and ease seem a long way off.
Our days are filled with motion, perpetually bombarded with information and stimuli. Where amongst this infinite display of appearances and possibilities are we to find a moment of rest?
The Buddha taught that the mind rides the breath like a rider on a horse. The horse is blind and requires the rider to control it, leading it in the right direction. The rider has no legs of its own, it relies upon the horse for its movement.
The breath here is synonymous with energy or wind as it is described in the yogic traditions. If the breath is erratic or uneven, so too is our mind. If the breath is calm and subtle, so too is our mind.
We can verify this in our own experience. Examine your mind when you are feeling anxious. You will probably find that your heart is racing, your breath has become more shallow and constricted, you feel shaky and uneasy. Your energy or wind match your mind. Your mind rides the wind, helplessly carried off into barren lands it would prefer not go.
The good news is it doesn't have to follow the wind. If you can control the winds, you control the mind. When the winds are calm, the mind is calm.
So how do you control the winds?
The Tibetan Buddhist tradition has developed a system of breath exercises called Tsa Lung. Tsa means channels, and lung means wind. The channels are the highways upon which these winds travel, so they are the meridians upon which chi flow or the nerves upon which our body communicates with itself and its environment.
A preliminary practice for Tsa Lung is the Nine Round Breath that we practice at the beginning of meditation. The nine round breath balances our winds, stabilizing our energy and facilitating a calm, clear mind.
Even Western medicine with its heretical view of Eastern medicine has verified some of these findings. Research has shown alternate nostril breathing to effect the central nervous system, with right nostril breathing stimulating the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and left nostril breathing stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).
But the best research is to watch your own mind. What is the quality of your mind when you have lots of energy? When you are anxious? When you are relaxed?
Watch your mind.
Here is a question for you, does mind lead the wind or does wind lead the mind? Sit for awhile, try to verify your answer from your own experience. The prize is invaluable.