For the past one week, I have been suffering from terrible rash due to poisions from hairly catapillars (see my blog article on Monday 4 June), and it did not go any better. I am also suffering from terrible throat pain. At first I thought I caught a cold, but it might be the internal allergic reactions to the catapillar poision. The worst part came at night with a surge of strong coughing. After I went to bed, my sore throat soon got filled with saliva or other liquid and I could not breathe. So I got choked and woke up every few minutes, and I end up with lying my side down for the rest of the night. I could sleep only about 3 hours, and when I woke up, my shoulder and neck had some pain as I slept in such an unusual position. This has been going on over the past few days, and I was not in a good shape when I visited Kamakura this afternoon for zen meditation practice, as many parts of my body pains and aches.
Until the last minute, even while I was lining up in the rain to enter the old wooden hall in the zen temple, I was thinking of not joinng the zen practice today. This is not only because my health condition, but also because I did not want to disturb others by coughing, though I knew I did not cough much during the day time and thought I could manage it. Eventually I decided to join, and I had a seat near the zen master, a young monk who leads the zen meditation session. I was nervous this time, because I could not keep my back straight up due to shoulder and neck pain and thought the zen master would notice it.
Then the meditation (zazen) started. I counted the number of my breath while doing a deep and slow abdominal breathing as usual, and keeping my breath as deep and slow as possible. During my first zen session a couple of weeks ago at this zen temple, the zen master said,
"Imagine each breath is your very last breath of your life. After this breath, you might pass away. Use your lower abdominal muscle to kick the air out from the bottom of your body trunk. When the air come out of your nose, keep it like a long and thin string of air coming out, and sustain it as long as posible. You do not need any power to inhale, as air will automatically reach the bottom of your body trunk when it is empty, and fills up."
I could not do it well at that time, probably because I was nervous. But I practice a lot while stretching my body at the gym in Tokyo throughout the following week. So in my second zen session (last Saturday) my breathing was much much better. We had two 20-minute-long meditation periods, and for each period, I had only 60 breaths (long inhaling/exhaling cycle). That was the best deep abdominal breathing I have ever achieved in my life (see my blog article of June 2). But in my third zen session (today), I was feeling a bit sick and my physical condition was so bad that I could not even focus well, or keep counting on my breaths. I probably breathed way more than 150 (I remember I counted up to 120, then lost the number) for each 20-minute-long session, so certainly my respitorial system was not working well. But something strange happened.
After starting each session, within 2 to 3 minutes, my throat pain and coughing stopped completely, and the air moving through my lung and nose was smooth, and got never blocked. Though I still had some shoulder pains, it was much less intensive, and I felt much better and comfortable. Even during the short break between the meditation session or soon after the last zazen session, I did not cough much, and I felt vigorated when I came out of the meditation hall. Now I am in the hotel near Kamakura, and my cough started to increase. So apparently calming effect of zazen lasted for a couple of hours even after I finished the zazen pratice. Amazing.
I wonder if zazen or other meditation works to alleviate other physical symptons of illness or allergy, such as hay fever. If I find out, I might write an article about it.
Posted on Saturday 9 June 2012