Ram Dass was one of the first teachers I resonated with when I stepped onto the spiritual path. He is a revered master of bhakti, or devotional yoga. I came across his classic Be Here
Now at Russell Library in Middletown, Connecticut, while browsing the religion/spirituality section. My account was in good standing (an unusual state for me at Russell Library, since I was always overdue on something or other), so I took Be Here Now home. Since that day, I’ve considered Ram Dass an inadvertent punk-rock spiritual guide.
For those unfamiliar with Be Here Now, it’s a divine cookbook, divided into three parts. The first covers ex-Harvard professor Richard Alpert’s 1967 voyage to India, where, through a series of incredible events, he met Bhagavan Das, a fellow seeker who introduced him to his guru, Neem Karoli Baba leading Alpert to become Ram Dass. The third section is a series of practices from meditation to yoga (and much more) to help readers as they begin their spiritual adventures.
It was the middle section that spoke my language—108 pages of trippy, countercultural art, accompanied by some of the sagest advice and insight you’ll find anywhere. The short version is “Love everyone. Serve everyone. Remember God. And tell the truth.” These words are so important to my own path that I have them tattooed on my arm. Good for a constant reminder, right?
Ram Dass helped me see that sometimes, even if we have all the spiritual tools we need, we don’t use them, because we distract ourselves. We get caught up in our thoughts, but our positive and negative habits are all in the mind. He believes we’ve become captivated by our drama or by things in the outside world, and we get stuck. “We’re too identified with the thoughts that are going around the situation, whatever it may be. We need to bring the identification from the thoughts to the watcher of the thoughts, and that takes us away from the thoughts. Then we should watch these thoughts as our perspective shifts around them.”
What I want to share here isn’t an official Ram Dass meditation, but I find it helps me to be here now. It’s a two-part, go-to practice I use when I find myself stressed, anxious, or (insert any other unpleasant human experience here). The beauty is that the practice can be quick—one or two minutes–or can be used for longer period of time if need be find that helpful.
This practice is a four/seven/eight-breath count taught be Dr. Andrew Weil. It is recommended that you do four rounds twice daily, once upon awakening and once before going to bed. According to Dr. Weil, the practice takes time to have a deep and lasting effect, but “the theory is that by imposing certain rhythms on the breath with your voluntary system, gradually these are induced in the involuntary system. And that comes with time, so it’s the regularity of doing it that counts.” That’s not to say that you won’t experience some initial benefits from this practice right away! It’s great for immediate help with stress, anxiety, and panic. It’s also a wonderful way for those who struggle with insomnia to fall (and stay) asleep at night. I speak from experience.
Here’s what you do:
- Start in any position. Standing, seated, lying down—all are fine.
- Since this is a form of yogic breathing, keep the tip of your tongue touching the ridge of tissue in front of your upper front teeth. It’s said that this completes an energy circuit.
- Begin by inhaling through your nose quietly to a count of four (using a count of “one one-thousand, two one-thousand”).
- Next, hold your breath for a count of seven (again using a count of “one one-thousand”).
- Then exhale through your mouth, pursing your lips, for eight counts, making a swoosh noise while doing so.
- After you’ve finished your exhalation, immediately begin the next inhalation, and repeat the cycle four times.
The most important part of this practice is repeating it in cycles of four rounds, twice per day (or more often throughout the day, if you’d like), while keeping the breath ratio of four/seven/eight as consistent as possible. I believe that’s what Michael Scott would call a “win-win-win.” (If you don’t know who Michael Scott is, please, please, please do yourself a favor and watch season one of The Office right now. Laughter is another great way to be here now.)