The Trip of a Lifetime

Dr Swami Shankardevananda Saraswati, MB, BS (Syd.)

Take the trip of a lifetime! Experience unheard of wonders as new realms open up before your very eyes! Explore the hidden corners and recesses of a world that no man has set foot upon! You might well ask, 'Does such a world exist?' The answer is that this world does exist, for it lies within the microcosm of your body, in the phenomenally complex and beautiful realms that pulsate with life, movement and dynamism within each and every one of us. The price of this trip is just ten minutes of your time each morning and evening in meditative practice, the ticket to enter the priceless world inside.

Breath awareness

One of the simplest and most effective forms of meditation is awareness of the constant inflow and outflow of breath in the lungs via the respiratory mechanisms. Every minute the lungs inhale and exhale 15 times, so that we breathe in and out 21,600 times per day, almost 8 million times per year. In just one hour the lungs inhale 100 gallons of air, 876,000 gallons a year. An enormous amount of work is achieved by small but persistent effort.

Feel yourself going inside the tree-like structure of your lungs, as though you were a dust particle riding the air currents of the breath. You move through a large tube called the trachea which then branches into bronchi, bronchioles and progressively smaller and smaller tubes until, ultimately you reach minute air sacs, the thickness of a soap bubble, called alveoli. There are myriads of these small structures in the form of a honeycomb. They provide an enormous surface area for the exchange of oxygen and the waste products of metabolism. If the alveoli were spread out on the ground, they would cover over 1,000 square feet, more than 20 times the surface area of the skin. All this is compactly contained within a small area at the top half of the chest.

As we move into the breath during meditation we can feel the expansion and contraction of the alveoli with each breath. Imagine yourself inside an alveolus watching the blood cells picking up oxygen and delivering carbon dioxide.

The fate of food

Sit in vajrasana with your eyes closed after your meal and enter the world of your abdomen and digestive system. It is a 32 foot long tube which stretches from the mouth to the anus and contains the various digestive juices from the stomach, liver, pancreas and intestines. As our meal passes through, we can consciously witness the breakdown of the various components of the food and their absorption by the myriads of tiny villi. These villi give the inside of the intestines a velvety feel. Their large number increases the area for absorption by some 600 times to 4,500 square meters, the area of 3 tennis courts placed side by side. One can actually feel the food particles being sucked into the bloodstream and being assimilated by the 60 million cells of the body.

Imagine that you are a food particle and follow the fate of each mouthful from start to finish.

The mighty heart

As you move deeper into meditation, become aware of the pulse of the heart which pumps the body's 5 litres of blood to every cell of the body. Though the heart is only 6 inches long and 4 inches thick, it manages to perform a prodigious amount of work in one lifetime. It is the ultimate karma yogi. The heart thrives on work and it is almost impossible to strain it through hard physical work. Rather, under work is a greater factor in contributing to heart disease.

The heart beats approximately 75 beats per minute, 4,500 beats per hour, 100,000 contractions per day and almost 40 million times in one year. This amounts to some 2½ billion contractions in one lifetime, tar more than we can ever comprehend. Each beat pushes 70 grams of blood out of the heart. Over one year the heart lifts the equivalent of 2,555 tons.

To maintain a healthy heart we can perform asanas, pranayama, meditation, hatha yoga, karma yoga, and so on. These practices keep the heart functioning smoothly and in rhythm with the rest of the body. It has been found that the hearts of long lived animals beat slower as does the heart of the well trained athlete. The heart of an elephant beats at the rate of 25 per minute, while in the whale it beats at 16 per minute. In smaller and short lived animals the heart beats very rapidly. In the mouse it moves 1,000 times per minute or 17 times per second. However, meditation slows the heart beat down, while the heart still efficiently and effectively pumps the blood throughout the whole body.

The heart pumps the blood through the 60,000 miles of blood vessels in the human body. The tiny blood capillaries are so numerous that, placed end to end, they would stretch 2½ times around the earth, Blood itself is a living fluid, 5 times thicker than water. One drop contains over 5 million red blood cells along with hundreds of thousands of white blood cells, platelets and other components. In a single day our blood travels about 168 million miles, the equivalent of 6,720 times around the world.

Our amazing filter

As the mind moves deeper into meditation, we become aware of the underlying metabolic energies and processes within the body. These are very subtle and contain minute molecular components. The various chemical reactions that go on within the body could be written on the walls of the tallest building in the world and we would still not have anywhere near a complete record of their interactions. The reactions are dependent on minute quantities of various minerals. The body contains enough phosphorus to make a box of matches, enough iron to make a small nail and enough calcium to whitewash the inside of a small room.

The products of the metabolic pathways must be filtered out of the body and this job is partially accomplished by the remarkable filters of the kidneys. These fist sized organs contain over 2 million 1½ inch long tubes which are convoluted and twisted. This 140 miles of tubing has to respond to the body's inner needs as regards water and salts. Each tube starts as a pinpoint structure which filters out more than 10 times the body's weight in water and salts per day. This comes to 300 litres of filtered fluid. Of this, 299 litres must be reabsorbed as it consists of essential fluids and salts. The kidneys work continually and are so efficient that we could survive on only one half of one kidney. Try to imagine just how such a filter might work, and what advanced technology would be needed to make such an intricate and reliable component.

The skin is another mechanism designed to eliminate wastes from the body and is another truly remarkable organ that we tend to take for granted. Each square inch of skin contains 3,500 sweat glands, each like a drain pipe one quarter of an inch long. Thus there are almost 40 miles of these tubes.

The ultimate design

Without doubt the brain and nervous system is die body's masterpiece of design. It consists of almost 100,000,000,000 nerve cells that have to manage and control all the organ systems of the body. Its mysterious function is just now beginning to be understood For example, we know that nerve impulses travel at 300 miles per hour along the 1,000,000 miles of nerves in the body. Much more is yet to be discovered. Probe your own brain with awareness cultivated through meditation.

Maintaining the machine

The body is a marvellous machine, a miracle of design and efficiency which nature has provided for each of us. Yet few of us really appreciate just how fantastic this machine is and because of this do not look after it properly. As part of its design, the body has several defence and self-repair mechanisms, and these can undo a great deal of the damage we inflict upon ourselves in terms of cuts, bruises, overeating, oversleeping and so on. Long term abuse, though, tends to wear out the ability of the body to rejuvenate itself and leads to premature old age, disease and death of body parts or even of the whole body.

By sitting for a set period of time and utilising any meditative sadhana we go within ourselves. As this occurs, the brain and mind are tranquillised. As the turbulence subsides, we can see more and more of the infinite space within. This allows us to direct healing energies to all parts of the body and to maintain the parts in perfect working order. When each part is doing its work as it should then the whole organism, which is larger than the sum of its parts, moves towards perfect functioning.