The Breath of Life
“If we are sick we have
to remember it may
have taken years of
working against our
deeper nature to bring about the illness.”
IN Genesis it says, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul”
Breathing has been linked in some way with most of the world faiths. Early man noticed and was impressed by the fact that if a new-born babe did not breathe it did not live. He also saw that at death one suddenly ceased this continuous and rhythmic movement of breathing. So breathing became synonymous with living. There is a Hindu saying which remarks, “A man can go without food for weeks, without water for days, without air for only a few minutes.’
Seen as the difference between a living and dead body, breathing certainly expresses that subtle process we call life. The mysterious rise and fall of the chest, if pondered upon, can be seen as a direct and easily discernible result of life. When life is no longer expressing through the body, the movement stops. If, by attempting to hold our breath for a long period, we stop that movement, we are pitting our will against the processes and will of life. Eventually our conscious will is overcome, if only through fainting.
Taken literally, the quotation from Genesis also directly links the act of breathing with the “soul.” In the Bible soul and spirit are used differently, although we often confuse them today. The soul usually refers to a person’s sense of being a distinct being, of individuality, of “I,” ones emotions and sensations. In brief – oneself. The spirit, on the other hand, is an expression of what is universal in us, such as the action of life. This action is the sum total of an incredible web of interconnected activities and interdependencies, not only in ones body, but also in the universe around us. For instance our need to breathe links with processes in every cell in our body, but it also links with the action of plants producing oxygen, and thereby the action of the sun and light on the plants. These interlinked processes, going beyond our awareness, are often called God. So in this sense, God touches our soul, or consciousness of self.
I breathe, therefore I feel
In this way, our soul can indeed be seen to link with breathing. Strong emotions radically alter the normal rhythm of breath. In crying, for instance, which is one of the extreme changes of breathing rate due to emotion, we have an excellent example. When passions are repressed, the breathing can be seen to be gasping between long intervals of tightly-held breath. In fact, by holding the breath we restrain the free outflowing of passion. Because passions express themselves in positive muscular movements of chest, diaphragm and abdomen, muscular tension and breath-holding block the ready flow of such feelings. While long, slow, or steady deep breathing, as in sleep, reflects a calmer mental and emotional activity. But even in sleep, if a stirring dream occurs, the breathing again changes.
Underlying any of these variations in breathing lie the nervous impulses to muscles and cells actually stimulating the type of movement we see. The act of breathing is only an outward manifestation of the flow and pulsation of what we call “nervous energy.” In many cases of heart palpitations, for instance, the heart is perfectly sound physically. The heavy, untimely, and sometimes painful pulsations are due to irregular and disordered nervous impulses.
Such disordered nervous impulses account not only for palpitations and difficult breathing, as in some cases of asthma, but also for adverse stomach and bowel activity (or inactivity), circulation, pains in various parts of the body, skin complaints, and the so called “stress conditions.”
Yet taking a step still further inward, irregular nervous impulses are usually, if not always, due to a disordered soul. We know from our own experience that if we allow our thoughts to dwell freely on the subject of physical sex, definite feelings and emotions can be released, besides the actual physical changes that can result. Our complete nervous system, believe it or not, is largely under our conscious control, as the above illustration shows. The guests, or thoughts, we entertain in our soul are the controlling factor that order or disorder the nervous currents of our body.
The great magnet
A helpful analogy is that of the pile of iron filings. When scattered about it can simply be a “mess.” But bring them into close contact with a magnet, and immediately they are whisked into patterns and defined lines of force, able to carry the magnetic influence.
In like manner our soul may be a disorderly pile of thoughts, ambitions, daydreams and fears. But bring it into contact with the great magnet of of the life process within us, with the willingness to let it bring order into our conscious life, as it does to the cells in our body, and we too can become meaningful, magnetic and extend lines of force into the world.
We might even use a similar analogy to explain spiritual healing. A magnet, by itself, may not be able to strongly influence a pin a foot away. But if pin after pin is suspended end to end from the magnet, it may easily lift up the very same pin at the same distance.
So a human being, who feels sick and far away from being truly alive, may yet be helped by the line of attraction formed by healing friends, extending from the physical world into the distance of the unseen, and thus “lifting us up.”
Although we have wandered much from the main theme of breathing, it is all to good purpose, and a little further wandering will be helpful. The mention made of controlling passions might easily be misunderstood, for instance. So also the slight reference to sexual feeling. There are such extremes of thought over these things that misinterpretation is almost inevitable. Some believe to deny all human feelings. Others stress that one should give into them entirely and be “natural.” But much to the consternation of extremists, the real spiritual life seems to be a mixture of both, complete freedom within complete control.
Getting back to the magnet, nothing is cast out from the magnet’s influence except that which is not influenced by the magnet. Bits of dust and wood fall away naturally as the real metal is attracted. Basically, all our emotions and instincts are “natural” and beautiful. But they may be misplaced, and harmful as a fire is harmful in the middle of the floor, yet the naked flame is perfectly safe in the hearth. When they are lifted up by the Great Magnet, they come under the higher discipline, where they can express freely and safely.
Neither is it compatible with the magnetic influence to let God do all the work. The pins actually become little magnets, occasionally having to renew their magnetism by fresh contact with the magnet.
Remember the rules …
But remember the rules-like poles repel, unlike attract. We give to receive, we take to lose is one way of putting it. Or-to receive from God we must become receptive. The end of the pin near the positive pole of the magnet is negative. The part of us near God’s outflowing also has to be negative, or receptive. But the other end of the pin thus becomes positive. So, the spiritual life is not only a mixture of freedom and discipline, breathing in and breathing out. It is also a mixture of being still, and being active. Not only of surrendering oneself for God’s will to act through us, but also a standing on our own feet and getting on with the job of life and personal growth through our own efforts.
So, having said that much, we can come back to breathing. We may also see that, while our disordered soul should be held up to the Great Magnet, we should also do something about it ourselves.
One of the things we can do is to actually bring to order the sequence and rhythm of our breathing. Just as the nervous impulses control breathing, so, if we regulate our breathing, we also control the nervous impulses. When we hold our breath for a long time, for instance, we hold off all the impulses that usually compel breathing. We have thus controlled them. This is not what is meant by regulated breathing. I do not mean one should hold the breath for uncomfortable lengths of time. But proper breath control is one of the most wonderful ways of helping to cure nervous disorders.
It does not replace the Great Magnet. But it does help to bring us nearer His influence, and the guidance of those linking with His magnetism.
If we are sick, we have to remember that it may have taken years of working against our deeper nature to bring about the illness. To be restored to health, we must allow at least more than a week or month. Regular patient practice will undo the nervous tangles, however, and help us to surrender to the greater magnetism. Listed below, then, are two wonderful methods of breath control.
Take it slowly and create peace
One of the least complicated and yet profoundly effective methods is slow breathing. This is much slower and more purposeful than normal breathing. One imagines a feather near one’s nose, hardly moved by the passage of air. Yet not so slow it becomes uncomfortable and one has to gasp for breath. Breathing in as fully as one can without allowing the chest to rise, one then lets the chest expand and fill.
Starting with five minutes’ practice, slowly work up to ten or fifteen minutes, and reap the reward of peace and stillness this method brings to the whole system.
A simplified Eastern practice is as follows. As always, breathe in through the nose, sitting with straight back. Breathe in to a count of four seconds, hold the breath for sixteen seconds, and breathe out to a count of eight. Naturally the count can be adapted to personal capacity. There should be no strain or hurried gasping of breath. All should be fully under control and with ease. Again start with five minutes and progress. It is the controlled easy repetitions that count, not the length of time one can hold one’s breath. Patient perseverance will bring a sense of peace and ease, a dropping of the burdens that oppress. And, above all, an easier turning to the Great Magnet.
See: The Slow Breath