Breath Control

Yoga and Relaxation – Tony Crisp

Breath Control – Pranayama Chapter 5

Many writers on the subject of breath control start off by showing how breathing is linked with emotions, thought activity, heartbeat, even digestion. For instance, it is said that in states of high emotion one can easily notice that the breathing directly reflects the mood. Anger, passion, fear, affection, deep thought, even imagined situations, will each produce a particular type of breathing. This is all mentioned to try to impress upon the reader that there is something magical or particularly special between breathing and the rest of our being. Certainly there is such a special link, but there are also just as wonderful connections between the heart, digestion, circulation, brain and nervous systems, and even the tiny hairs and the rest of the body. Each cell, in fact, has a special relationship with the whole.

The relationship between body and psyche (i.e. mind, emotions, feeling), between the psyche and any organ, cell, or function, is nothing short of a revelation. So much is this so that an expert on any particular aspect of our body or mind, such as the way you walk, sexual activity, writing, breathing, stance, or features such as your skin, urine, hair, eyes, speech, liver, your shape, etc., can tell an enormous amount about you, even to the point, in some cases, of a minute description of personality. It is because this special relationship exists, that Yoga can take any of the aspects of your being, and through training, influence the whole self. Yoga also says that a similar relationship exists between an individual and the cosmos.

The Cleansing Breath

In using breathing techniques as a method to find liberation from ill health, nervous tension, unhappiness and futility, one has first to learn a natural breath rhythm. In doing this it must be remembered constantly that our sickness, our lack of harmony with ourselves, our fear and tension, is interwoven with the way we breath (and all our functions). When working with our breathing, or mind, etc., we are directly confronting our difficulties.

Wilhelm Reich, in his monumental work “The Function of the Orgasm,” says, “There is no neurotic individual who is capable of exhaling in one breath, deeply and evenly. The patients have developed all conceivable practices that prevent deep expiration. They exhale ‘jerkily’ or, as soon as the air is let out, they quickly bring their chest back into the inspiratory position.”

We must, therefore, approach any breathing exercises with the realisation that any difficulty we have in breathing easily and smoothly is a reflection of our inharmonious condition. In disciplining our breathing to right this, we are reaching deep into ourselves to the basic causes of our personality dis-ease. All sorts of excuses and fears will rise to the surface trying to dissuade us from continuing. It is only by gently but firmly persevering that we move through and beyond such problems.

Yoga also maintains that the breathing methods have a cleansing effect upon the system. It maintains that throughout our body are a series of non-physical pathways of energy that it calls “nadis.” These are not the nerves, although at certain key points the nadis and the nervous system relate through resonance of cells and energy. These points are at the base of the spine, the plexus that controls the sexual organs and bowels, the solar plexus, cardiac area, base of throat, centre of forehead and fontanel or crown.

You must realise that through controlling your breath you are gradually changing very deeply seated habits that have been with you a lifetime. Taking hold of the breath and controlling it is like taking hold of your nervous system, or body, and gradually altering the way it responds to events and thoughts. It is a bit like taking a wild animal and gently taming it. There should be no force or conflict involved. Gradually you will see that your way of dealing with, or responding to, difficult emotions, fears and stressful events, is changing. You feel more able to meet difficulties, allowing you to grow as a person, and be more creative.

Energy in us

It may be difficult for some of us to visualise or believe, that energy can have no physical channels, but we can see such energy at work when a magnet creates patterns in iron filings through the lines of its invisible force field. Crystals also “grow” in the pattern of these invisible lines of energy, thus having regular and beautiful shapes. But in ourselves we can feel such energy flow when we feel flows of pleasure or the variety of emotions. Such flows often flood the body with sensation.

The nadis are said to be clogged in the majority of people by very fine matter of an unclean nature in our system. This causes the body and mind to function far below its possible level. The breathing exercises, if done carefully and regularly, act upon the energy in the nadis in a stimulating manner, which circulates it and cleanses the dross. Phlegm, excess mucous, catarrh, clogged sinus, foul breath, odorous perspiration, constipation, are all signs that the body is badly clogged, and needs cleansing. Allied with a wholesome diet, the breathing methods will cleanse the whole system, and bring greater harmony.

Naturally, if you are going to practise Yoga seriously, it is best to choose one of the methods to use as your main practice, only using the others when necessary. If you are practising numerous postures, there will be little time left for breathing exercises of an extensive nature, or for meditation.

Each one of these if practised for results, needs at least fifteen to twenty minutes each day. Trying to do too many methods will result in failure in all. Better to stick to one that suits you – all will work.

Of course, deep breathing also has repercussions upon all the tissues in the body, not only the nadis. Thorough oxygenation of the system supplies each cell with sufficient oxygen to enliven its functioning, and to burn up waste products. This enables the body to utilise food more thoroughly and to repair itself. But Yoga does not use breathing techniques so much for their physical exercise value, as their value psychologically. If we understand this a little more, it will be seen what is meant, and the greater knowledge will enhance your practice.

The Breath of Life

Breathing is one of the most obvious movements of a living organism. When a baby takes its first breath it becomes capable of existing individually as a physical being; while death is often noticeable by a sudden stilling of breathing. The movement of breathing therefore has become synonymous with living, though this is only because it is so obvious, even in sleep. The other functions of the body such as heartbeat and digestion are also synonymous with life. The point is however, that the act or movement of breathing is an expression of life through the body. Like the heartbeat and digestion it is spontaneous. Like these also, it can be interfered with by the ego. That is, the moods and desires of the self-conscious part of you can interfere wish the natural response to movement and living. Thus, even while sitting still, in a position the heart would usually be slow and calm, palpitations may occur because of the way in which we have thought or spoken, or the events you are witnessing.

These spontaneous movements of breathing, when interfered with, represent self control. Therefore, controlling the breathing in any way through conscious decision, represents an intervention by the ego upon the natural or unnatural rhythms arising in the body. Reich and others, observing the breathing, also noted that holding the breath represents self-conscious, or ego control of emotions, and inhibition os frightening or anxiety producing sensations.

To control weeping or anger for instance, one usually holds the breath and grits the teeth. This also applies to sexual feelings, where, if one has feelings of guilt or fear about them, one tenses the abdomen, rectum, and holds the breath to restrain them. As all of these, along with feelings of joy, affection, pleasure etc., are expressions of spontaneous feelings, blocking them through tension or breath holding, represents an inharmonious condition between our conscious self and the source from which they arise.

The breathing, or body as a whole, can be influenced by several things, i.e., the breathing rhythm may be an expression of uninterrupted relationship between the internal development of energy, feelings and bodily expression. This may be interfered with by movement or outer activity, conscious decision, or latent tendencies such as unconscious fears, memories etc. The eventual aim of Yoga being a surrender of control to the balanced inter-relationship of all aspects of your nature. The breathing techniques, however, aims at taking control of the function from one’s unconscious conflicts that may be influencing breathing. Without conscious control, one can hardly surrender that which one does not have.

Stilling the Restless Sea of Mind

Sri Ramana says that “The source of the breath is the same as that of the mind; therefore the subsidence of either leads effortlessly to that of the other.” Therefore, to still the breath is to still the mind, which allows a glimpse of what lies beneath thoughts and the ever moving sea of emotions. It will be seen that this is very different from repression of an emotion through tension, for through discipline we have wrested the control of our breath away from fear and tension. In this way are we freeing ourselves from our negative Karma.

One other thing of importance to remember is that through any of the Yoga practices, one is awakening the Kundalini. This word can probably be used as synonymous with the Christian concept of the Holy Ghost. That is, it is the immense latent potential we each have. But it specifically refers to the potential that remains unexpressed. To put it in simpler terms, light is invisible, and always remains so. Yet colour is a manifestation of invisible light. It is only in its contact with matter that we see light. Either it is a luminous body of matter, or it makes some material object visible. If light were visible, we would see it in the night sky before it touched the moon. Therefore, Kundalini is the “colour” of the process of life within us. It is Prana manifesting within us. All our ability to sense, feel, respond, think or hope is Kundalini. That is, an expression of our psychological and biological energy.

Quoting Reich again, in talking about this energy, which he named “Orgone Energy,” he says it would have to have the following characteristics – “Contrary to galvanic electricity-it would function on organic material which is a non-conductor for electricity, and animal tissues. Its function would not be restricted to isolated nerve cells or cell groups, but would permeate and govern the total organism. It would have to explain, in a simple way, the pulsating basic function of the living, contraction and expansion, as it is expressed in respiration and orgasm.

It would express itself in the production of heat, a characteristic of most living organisms.-It would definitely explain the sexual function, i.e. it would make sexual attractions understandable. – It would explain what has been added to the chemically complicated protein in order to make it afire. – It would, finally, have to show us the mechanism of the symmetry of form development, and what is the function of form development in general.”

If one has followed what has been said about Prana so far, it will be seen that it explains all these points. It functions in the organic because of the affinity between them due to polarity, i.e. receptive and dynamic. Each cell is an expression of it, and pulsates, breathes, reproduces under its impact, producing heat. The sexual attractions and orgasm are expressions of its polarity, the receptive and dynamic, the orgasm being their unity. While form is an expression in the limitations of space, time and matter, of its innate nature.

Example: This led to me holding my breath for quite long periods and observing what I felt. In other sessions holding the breath had led to feelings of intense quietness or being merged in the one life. This time it was an experience of lifting my awareness beyond everyday thinking. An experience of expanding, of lifting beyond what had been everyday. But with it there was the feeling perhaps like a lighter than air balloon that rises, but after a short time it hits the ceiling or something preventing it rising or expanding further. So I felt as if I had hit a ceiling. I didn’t want to fall back, but hadn’t yet found a way to rise beyond the present ceiling. I want to break through into the next level.

With this experience came the observation that although the breath holding had brought this expanding or rising sense of myself, like so many other things, once the thing was seen clearly, one could achieve the same end by intention without the physically descriptive act of holding the breath. What I mean by this is that at some time one might have shifted from a mood of depression by dancing. One could believe that one could only make such a move by dancing. But in fact once one realises that a mood shift is possible, one can use other tools, or simply see how the shift occurs and use one’s will or intention to do the same thing.

Unfolding the Serpent Power

There is more to it even that this, and to explain Kundalini, the analogy provided by another living form, a flower, will be used. If we look at the seed of a rose, we realise that here is potentially a fully blown rose, but to realise its potential, the seed needs to be placed in the right conditions. Under these conditions it will first produce roots and stem. This is still not the rose bush, despite the fact the potential is expressing. Next leaves and stalk are produced and later, if allowed to mature, it brings forth bud, then flower, then seeds. As the final stage, root, leaves, seeds The developed out other so to speak. For the seed depends upon the whole cycle of seed, shoot, root, stem, leaves, bud, flower, pod. Thinking of the Prana acting upon the living matter of the seed’ in the case of the new seed, it has completed its cycle of expression as far as it could in the rose.

As a human being, we also start as a seed, planted in the fertile organic matter of the womb. A human being’s development goes beyond the growth of physical structure, into the realm of consciousness, feelings, mind. Yoga states, however, that virtually none of our race allow the Kundalini to complete its cycle of expression inns. In other words our growth is stunted to one of the first, second or third stages of unfoldment beyond the physical development. This is rather like a rose stopping at the formation of root, stem and leaves. The higher or further expressions remain latent.

Taking this explanation further, Yoga designates seven points on or in the body that act as physical centres for the possible stages of growth. It calls these CHAKRAS, or sometimes LOTUSES or CENTRES. These are: Root Chakra as the base of spine, between rectum and sex organs; Abdominal Chakra, just above sex organs; Navel Chakra at solar plexus; Hears Chakra mid-way between breasts; Throat Chakra at base of neck; Brow Chakra between the eyebrows, connected to centre of head. Lastly the Crown Chakra, on top of head. Just as the eyes are physical organs of sight, so these areas, and the plexuses and spinal nerve ganglia are the physical parts of us that correspond to the extensions of human consciousness. Each of these centres of human consciousness cannot properly awaken until the lower one has developed. If we could watch this growth of a human being to its completion we would witness something like the following.

In the beginning, beyond time, space and form, is the Satchitananda. This, through its manifestation of duality in Prana and Akasha, has built self-perpetuating forms after its own latent possibilities. The ovum and the sperm are only expressing a tiny part of the possibilities of the receptive and dynamic. when they meet under the right circumstance, a new level of possibility incarnates (i.e. becomes physically manifest) in them. This is the vegetative growth principle. As the form matures, still in the womb, yet a further possibility awakens or incarnates as the form becomes capable of expressing it. This is the dawn of awareness, for the baby becomes aware at a very basic level in the womb. This spark of awareness is like the seed, awakened into growth by the warmth, soil and moisture. Here there is only a point of awareness, not knowing shape or individuality, only a submersion and deep sharing with the mother.

At its birth, because of its individual breathing, and more direct awareness of form due to removal from the body-heat fluids surrounding it in the mother, yet another latent aspect incarnates. Here begins the possibility of relating to separate objects and people, and also with its own distinct form, along with a whole new world of sensation. These act upon the spark of consciousness, which is Satchitananda, plus sensations of separateness due body sensations.

The root chakra has to do with the basic “roots” of consciousness-the spark. The sense impressions at birth develop into what should be, for proper unfoldment, a wonderfully satisfying sensuality. Its mother’s breast, its bowel and wetting motions, the senses, tongue and whole body immerse the spark of awareness in sensations, in sensuality. Previous to incarnation Satchitananda was only pure being-consciousness-bliss, without sense impressions. Through the physical body the basic consciousness is polarised in expressing one part of its nature outwardly, although inwardly it is whole.

Thus, sensuality gradually develops into sexuality as the organs develop. Or rather, the organs develop as sexuality realises itself out of the inward growth. The abdominal chakra is the main centre dealing with this. Through the proper development of sexuality, the person begins to be able to relate to people in a new way. Not only does this mean that relationship of the body, but also a more extensive emotional awareness, giving them greater musical, artistic, social consciousness. Sexuality also makes possible a new type of love and creativeness, absent without this growth of the budding possibilities. Many of the race stop here in their development, because the ego does not know how to respond to the power of growth within itself, or else moral, political or social conditions have retarded the inner growth.

While the abdominal chakra represents the realisation of relatedness, sexual, emotional, intellectual, the naval chakra sees the development of the next logical stage interrelatedness. That is, the finer shades of understanding within a relationship. This shows in knowing how others will feel as a result of our words or actions.

Working like a very fine sense organ it informs us what affect our life is having upon people and things. This is the sense that allows us to feel atmospheres of joy or fear in people and places. Naturally it cannot exist consciously until relatedness has been developed out of sexuality and the spark of consciousness.

The centre above this, the heart chakra, carries the awakening consciousness a step further. Out of a finer awareness of relatedness, there arises an ability to sympathetically be aware of what others are feeling. Here is the first stage of supersensual awareness that some yogis, saints and seers have demonstrated. Thus one gradually becomes aware of other people’s emotions, desires, hopes, as if one were seeing them. All of us have such abilities in some -degree, but most people can only read the gross impressions of intense fear, anger, love or illness upon the face or form of others. When the heart centre develops, this ability becomes very marked. One does not necessarily have to see the person to know, for it shows in all they do. This organ of consciousness also puts us in touch with the “feelings” of the dead. This is why most of us cannot “see” the dead. We depend so much upon sight of the body, but even this does not tell us what people are feeling or experiencing within themselves. If that body is removed, leaving only the part that thinks and feels, how are we to be aware of it unless we have developed this deeper contact with living human beings in the body?

The last centre began to open the door to non-physical realms of experience. Now the throat chakra begins dealing with the thought life of others rather than their emotions, thus deepening our insight into the non-physical. As thought itself is a turning or transmutation of experience -and feelings into abstract ideas or principles, this centre also transmutes our experiences of life, physical and cosmic, into understanding or philosophy.

The brow chakra is related to the ability to sense form, colour and position in space. With this centre developed, one has visual impressions of natural forces such as heat, electricity, plant growth etc. These visual impressions relate directly to the way such things work. In other words, the impression translates what is seen, be it thought, emotion or a nesting bird, into symbols or images illustrating its inner nature. This centre is also the connecting link between the individual consciousness and the eternal Satchitananda. One’s experiences are here brought into con tact with the eternal wisdom of one’s Source.

The crown chakra is often seen illustrated in the pictures of saints as a halo. Those with brow chakra operating would see the active crown chakra much as depicted. It is the aspect of developing consciousness, where the individual merges again with the ALL that one has always been, though not realised. Thus, in the most profound Yoga, the basic expressions of life (Kundalini) within us such as awareness, sensuality, are transmuted into suprasensual awareness and an individual surrenders to union with the whole.

All this may have seemed something of a diversion from breathing exercises, but these and the other Yoga methods often precipitate unexpected glimpses into the further reaches of awareness. Coming without explanation, these can be very frightening, and sometimes make one reject the whole practice. Having said this, the breathing methods themselves will now be dealt with. Remember that these methods, in the order given, are particularly helpful in dealing with nervous tension, emotional disturbance, or inability to quieten one’s mental activity. If one is afflicted with these, then these breathing techniques should be practised before the method of relaxation. In general, however, they should be a -natural follow-on of relaxation, and a deepening of it.

Do not practise them hastily or forcefully. As with the Asanas, our own latent violence and haste will damage us. It is best to practise one method at least three months regularly, in the order given, before going on to the next. Remember that we never heal ourselves, we never produce our own growth, we only find a way of opening ourselves to the healing force, of allowing the power of growth to act upon us.

Traditionally, Pranayama in the form of breath control, should be started only in winter or spring. Unfortunately, the traditional teachings do not explain why this is so. Neither can the present author throw light on this, except to say that there is usually a perfectly good reason behind such suggestions. It is simply taught that less problems will be encountered in this way.

The Full Breath

The very first step of therapeutic Pranayama is to learn how to breathe fully and easily. There must be no blocks in our out-breathing and no difficulties on breathing in. Also, the breathing must fill our whole chest, not just part of it. One of the common difficulties in regard to this is the -inability to breathe abdominally. To see whether you can breathe abdominally, place one hand on the chest, and one on the abdomen. Breathe right out as far as possible, noticing whether this is a smooth or jerky exhalation. Then, breathe in as far as possible without moving the chest. Thus, in the beginning of this inhalation, the hand on the chest should not rise, only the one on the abdomen. Only then, with further inhalation, should the hand on the chest rise. For many people, at first try, this may seem almost impossible. The strange thing is that one is not in this way practising a breathing discipline, only trying to breathe naturally. Those who cannot do this will see for themselves, how tensions and inbuilt Karma have influenced their bodies.

If this is difficult it should be practised daily for five minutes at first, gradually working up to twenty or thirty minutes. The time should only be increased when a sense of ease is experienced at the present length of practice. On the other hand, the five minutes should not be given up because of difficulties. Even if it is easy, it should be gradually worked up to thirty minutes (provided you are using just Pranayama), doing it in an upright seated position, or seated cross legged on the floor. Naturally one can dispense with hand on chest and stomach as soon as one has the idea of it.

The Slow Breath

When this has been mastered, one can pass on to the next method, which is simply to breathe very slowly without strain. Do not feel that any breathing exercise is more advanced than another, and therefore try to practise the “advanced” methods. Each one grows out of the other, or -should. Again start at five minutes and slowly increase, also in a seated posture. This is quite different to the last, The aim is to breathe naturally-abdominally-but to breathe as slowly as comfort allows. It must be comfortable, however, as the aim is to induce quiet of mind and emotions, and if one is struggling with the method it defeats its own purpose. So there must be no gasping for breath because you are breathing too slowly. Find a rhythm that is slow but not making you out of breath.

Therefore, slowly breathe in counting to see how long this takes. Then exhale to the same count. There is no need to concentrate on anything except the beautiful slowness of the breath. If one has not already practised the previous method however, this may be difficult to experience.

With practice, one should begin to experience a dropping away of tension, emotions and thoughts. Sometimes it will feel as if something has literally fallen away from one, or as if the bottom of the spine is opening as the tensions there drop away. Eventually one will glimpse something that can only be described as a void or absence of all personal activity. There is a quiet peace and bliss in this, but it will at first only be flashes, secondary glimpses, growing gradually longer. This is achieved when all efforts and desires drop away-never by striving after it. Surrendering to this void one is cleansed by it first-then it acts upon one producing growth of inner awareness.

The result upon our nervous or emotional conflicts is one of gradual calming, cleansing and leading towards the peace that passeth understanding. Such personality growths in this practice, while we may find ease from tensions

within months, should be hoped for only in the sense of years. Like trees, we grow slowly, but there is beauty in it. See: The Slow Breath.

Controlled Breath

The third and last breathing method given here, is one of the oldest and most often used of traditional Pranayama. This one aims at not only quieting the mind and releasing the Kundalini, but also of cleansing the nadis. This also should be done cross-legged, or sitting upright. Start with ten repetitions, slowly working up, over a period of many months, to eighty-four or less, according to ability. It is done as follows.

Place the first and second finger of the right hand down on the palm. Place the thumb on the right nostril, closing it, and breathe slowly in the left nostril to a count of five. Now hold the breath for a count of twenty, pushing the chin down hard on the chest. Then, lifting the chin, and closing the left nostril with the last two fingers, while opening the right nostril, breathe out the right nostril to a count of ten. Breathe in the right nostril to a count of five, hold it twenty, then out the left nostril to a count of ten. Each in-breath counts as a repetition.

It should be noted that the breathing is done to a 1-4-2 count. So whatever one’s in-breathing, one holds it for four times the length, then out for half that. Therefore, if the 5-20-10 count is too low it can be moved up 6-24-12 or 10-40-20 etc. But it is the repetitions that matter, not struggling to hold the breath for a long time. Therefore, find a count that is comfortable, and slowly build up the repetitions. Once one has got the hang of this, then use a meditation practice with it. As the inhalation is taken, imagine the whole body is being filled with Prana, the invisible force behind life. As the breath is held imagine that all the blockages in oneself that prevent the greater manifestation of Prana, are dropping away. This is a matter of experience during the practice, for after a while one feels parts of one’s tension or personality “letting go” and a release taking place within. This release, and the changes it makes upon the body, emotions and mind, and thus upon our whole relationship with the world, is called Kundalini.

The practice of Pranayama always aims at the release of Kundalini and, or, the quieting of the mind. While the quieting of mind and release of Kundalini is to reach union (Yoga) with being, consciousness, bliss. Practising with this ever before us, realising that despite our practice, the bliss is not produced or created by the practice, only by itself, we will not go far wrong.

We can practise Pranayama for the sake of health, to overcome asthma, bronchitis and catarrh, to find release from nervous or emotional tension and fears, or, most important of all, to find Yoga. In any event, it is a very powerful method enabling us to find that part of our being that is beyond all our fears, emotions, opinions, passions and desires. Seeing this, the whole universe begins to appear differently to us. For, after all, the vital part of us lies beyond change and circumstance in the eternal.

Link to Chapter Six Link to List of Chapters




Copyright © 1999-2010 Tony Crisp | All rights reserved