[Query] Breath awareness during japa, does it help?
Initially, shAstras and the great masters advice the aspirant to forget about everything and concentrate on japa, even if it is purely mechanical. One does the nyAsas, recites the dhyAna shloka and without much attention to the dhyAna mUrti, chakra dhAraNA, mantra vimarsha etc., one just does number crunching. Reaching that akShara lakSha mark is the chief aim. When received through due initiation, the mantra has enough chaitanya, when recited sincerely, to create the dhyAna mUrti within the upAsaka, move the attention to the required chakra, illuminate the mind with mantrArtha etc. Now, after one purashcharaNa has been done, one can, with guidance from Sadguru, begin to add these extras to alleviate the quality of the Japa. Doing everything at once when even the basics are not perfected will not help.
Again, I was taught that complete concentration, while reciting the mantra, should be on the mantra and not on anything else. Of course, this is more important considering the ban of even upAmshu for reciting mahAshoDaShI. You begin to mentally recite the mantra and over a period of time, the sound grows in the head to an extent where it sounds as if thousands of people are reciting the mantra within you and eventually there is only one voice which is reciting the mantra, giving a feeling that someone is reciting the mantra and you are listening to it, like a mute spectator. Once that state is reached, all you need to do is to make sure you have not missed a single chant recited inside you. So, is this not the same process followed in ajapA etc., or breath awareness in your words? Mind gives rise to objects and nullifying it is the objective of sAdhanA. How does one control or vanquish something like the mind that does not really exist? The answer is to seek the mind and it shall be dissolved automatically. This is exactly the objective behind the practice of ajapA as well.
There are some who sync the mantra with incoming and outgoing breath. There was a great upAsaka associated with Swami Sri Lakshman Joo Maharaj-ji, who recited panchadashI in unision with the breath and had achieved sahaja samAdhi in a period of 4.5 years. What works for one may not work for another and what can work later may not work now. It is best to stick to Guru's instructions. Though prANAyAma is prescribed mandatorily in upAsanA shAstras, I can recollect specific breath work put to use only in the case of brahmAstra prayoga. Again, if you ask me for shAstra pramANa, I know of none as this was what was taught to me as a part of the prayoga. When you deploy the brahmAstra of baDabAmukhI, holding the final offering of champak flowers and yellow mustard, you recite the brahmAstra mantra holding the breath within. The breath is let out forcefully with the offering. Similarly, when doing upasamhAra, either through sharabha kAlI or by the classic way, bAhya kumbhaka is practiced during the recitation. Also, pressure is exerted on the region representing indra nAdi with the tongue during the process, which automatically brings subtle changes to the energy body. Now, though this practice does not seem to have any scriptural reference I know of, omitting the breath variations results in a considerably slower and less intense deployment of the astra. The feeling of an immense mass of energy leaving your body during such deployments is greatly diminished when the breath pattern is not controlled. A dear friend from another culture, who is a great adept of Tantra, demonstrated a similar breath manipulation during two practices I am familiar with. One was with the modality of creating Tulpas and the other was related to a particular ritual related to appeasing Vajrakilaya and his Shakti dIptachakrA, taught originally by Prabhahasti. Vajrakilaya or Dorje Phurba is one of the most wrathful of the eight Herukas or tRak-thung, depicted with a fiery Kartap Gu. The energy pattern of this ritual seemed extremely similar to bagaLA and hence I am quoting it here to highlight the usage of breath work. The breath work was taught to him by his Guru, supposedly an immortal from the mahAyoga or anuttarayoga sect of Nyingma.
namo namaH sundara tANDavAya