contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Sacred chanting

SLOW HEALING BREATH: CHANTING HELPS TOO

“When Buddhist monks chant their most popular mantra Om Mani Padme Hum, each spoken phrase lasts six seconds, with six seconds to inhale before the chant starts again. The traditional chant of Om, the “sacred sound of the universe” in Jainism and other traditions, takes six seconds to sing, with a pause of about six seconds to inhale. The sa ta ma na chant, one of the best-known techniques in Kundalini Yoga, also takes six seconds to vocalize, followed by six seconds to inhale. Then there are the ancient Hindu hand and tongue poses called mudras. A technique called khechari, intended to help boost physical and spiritual health and overcome disease, involves placing the tongue above to soft palate so that it’s pointed towards the nasal cavity. The deep, slow breaths taken during this khechari each take six seconds.

“Japanese, African, Hawaiian, Native American, Buddhist, Taoist, Christian – these cultures and religions all had somehow developed the same prayer techniques, using the same breathing patterns. And they all likely benefitted from the same calming effect.

“In 2001, researchers at the University of Pavia in Italy gathered two dozen subjects, covered them with sensors to measure blood flow, heart rate and nervous system feedback and then had them all recite a Buddhist mantra as well as the original Latin version of the rosary, the Catholic prayer cycle of the Ave Maria, which is repeated half by a priest and half by the congregation. They were stunned to find that the average number of breaths for each cycle was ‘almost exactly’ identical, just a bit quicker than the pace of the Hindu, Taoist, and Native American prayers: 5.5 breaths a minute”. [I find the same when chanting the awen – aah-ooo-wen – in Druidry: JN]

“But what was even more stunning was what breathing like this did to the subjects. Whenever they followed this slow breathing pattern, blood flow to the brain increased and the systems in the body entered into a state of coherence, when the functions of heart, circulation and nervous system are coordinated to peak efficiency. The moment the subjects returned to spontaneous breathing or talking, their hearts would beat a little more erratically, and the integration of these systems would slowly fall apart. A few more slow and relaxed breaths, and it would return again.

“A decade after the Pavia tests, two renowned professors and doctors in New York, Patricia Gerbarg and Richard Brown, used the same breathing pattern on patients with anxiety and depression, minus the praying. Some of these patients had trouble breathing, so Gerbarg and Brown recommended that they start with an easier rhythm of three-second inhales with at least the same length exhale. As the patients got more comfortable, they breathed in and breathed out longer.

“It turned out that the most efficient breathing rhythm occurred when both the length of respirations and total breaths per minute were locked into a spooky symmetry: 5.5-second inhales followed by 5.5 second exhales, which works out almost exactly to 5.5 breaths a minute. This was the same as the pattern as the rosary. The results were profound, even when practised for just five to ten minutes a day”.

Extract from James Nestor Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art Riverhead Books: USA & Penguin Life, UK: 2020 (Kindle edition)

FUINN

Elaine and I returned from London yesterday afternoon, feeling pleased about our London venture. I’ll say more about that in a later post. Suffice it to say here that we found a ready interest in the possibilities of Contemplative Druidry and hope to return to London later in the year.

We discovered that the fourth CD of the Ceile De Fonn series had been delivered through the mail in our absence. Fonn is a Gaelic word that simultaneously means song, state of mind and the Land. The Fuinn (plural) are sacred chants which “work on many different levels, they harmonise the three parts of us that relate to the three meanings of the word itself – the spiritual, the otherworldly and the physical”. Indeed the Ceile De tradition “uses the imagery of three worlds that, when healthy, blend harmoniously: … the soulful, the spiritual and the physical and are represented here by the Sea, the Sky and the Land. When we are at one with the One we see that these three worlds are also One; our perception has changed and we have discovered ‘the Kingdom of Heaven'”.

The fourth CD was recorded earlier this month, around the time of Imbolc, and has a strong Brighid theme. I bought it in response to my own strong sense of a Brighid current in my own life and practice during the same period – one that goes well beyond the simple acknowledgement that Imbolc is widely seen as Her time. My spiritual note isn’t quite that of the Ceile De, which currently stands as a form of Celtic Christianity in which Brighid is honoured beyond the level of her customary sainthood. But many of the Fuinn, or words from them, presented here can fully support my own Pagan path through chanting, mantra meditation and contemplative prayer. I have worked with Fuinn before, and also have a paidirean (pronounced pahj-urinn) – a set of rosewood prayer beads with (in my case) an equal-armed gnostic cross bound by a circle. Now, with these new chants, I am coming back to them.

For me, experientially, Brighid is the Goddess of inner alchemy and ruthless compassion, and not quite the figure evoked by the Ceile De, though I can respond to Her gentler manifestations as well. But I feel a strong attraction to Gaelic, and Scottish Gaelic in particular, as a sacred language. I like chanting and listening to chants. I like being reminded that ‘contemplation’ in my own practice interweaves meditative, devotional and energetic elements. During recent weeks I have felt a closer connection to Brighid and I will opening myself more systematically to this connection in the coming period.

The Ceile De can be found on http://www.ceilede.co.uk

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