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Volume VIII - The Art of Being

Health and Order of Body and Mind

Chapter XVII

1 Questions about Breathing

Question: Should we observe a certain form of breathing?

Answer: there are five different things to consider in connection with breath: the far reach of breath, the depth of breath, the volume of breath, the centralizing of breath, the rhythm of breathing. If the breath is not far reaching it causes weakness, if it is not deep enough, it is a cause of weakness too; if it is not centralized it creates uncertainty in life; if it has no proper rhythm it causes lack of balance; if it has no volume it takes away vitality. Therefore, breath must be trained in these five different ways: it must be rhythmic, centralized, deepened, it must reach far, and its volume must be spreading.

Breath must have the quality of covering a large ground. The atmosphere of one person is felt, of another person it is not felt. A person may have so much atmosphere that it may fill a large horizon; it is the breath which gives that atmosphere. Besides, in the atmosphere of some person you may feel uneasy, restless, out of rhythm, because he has no rhythm in his breath, his breathing is not right.

Question: How is rhythmic breathing acquired?

Answer: This is a science in itself. We are far away from a natural life. We have to run after tramcars and taxicabs, we have to catch our trains; a thousand things like these disturb our rhythm. Do you think that in the East a sage or an adept who practices meditation will run after a tramcar and spoil his rhythm? All these things disturb the rhythm of breathing. What we think natural is not natural; from morning to evening our life has no rhythm.

Question: Do you recognize a system, which includes positive and negative breathing?

Answer: Yes, it is just like the two wires in the electric lamp a negative and a positive one. If one wire is absent, there will be no light. In order to have light there must be two currents and these two currents make positive and negative energy. They have a relation with the rising and setting of the sun: the current of the breath changes. And if it does not change in accordance with the time, if it is not in consonance with the rising and setting of the sun, then either a person is ill, or unbalanced; something is wrong with him.

Question: What means centralizing the breath?

Answer: In music we have many notes, but we call one note the keynote. Really speaking, every note can be a keynote, and there must be a central point for everything. For a plant it is the root, which is the center, and for the breath there is a seat in the body. If the breath is properly seated there, it is just like a plant, which is well rooted into the ground, and will grow nicely and bear fruit. If the plant is not rooted well there is always a chance of its being destroyed. So in the life of man, if the breath is not centralized in its center, in the seat where it ought to be, then it is doubtful whether the person will live long and be happy.

In the East sages know for six months or a year before their death that their time has come, and,they know it from this secret: they find that their breath no longer centralizes in the place where it ought to centralize. My spiritual teacher told his family a year beforehand that he was to leave the earth. Sages know this, because they practice every day. Therefore, breath for them is an object they feel, see and know.

Not every person can feel whether he is breathing from the left or right nostril, but those who practice know it instantly. There are times when one breathes through one nostril, and there are times when one breathes through two nostrils. Breathing through the two nostrils is a passing moment, and then the breath goes from one nostril to the other; it is a critical moment.

Question: Does the position of the body during sleep control the breath?

Answer: Yes, this also concerns posture. Whichever side you lean or lie upon, every direction towards which you strike with force, all bear upon the rhythm and the direction of the breath. But the subject of breath is a deep one, and it is not only related with health but with the affairs in life.

Question: Can everyone have the power of far-reaching breath?

Answer: A certain condition is necessary for far-reaching breath; it is just like the wireless. Far-reaching breath is the most wonderful thing there is. As far as your breath reaches, so wide is your kingdom.

Question: Do you mean by breath: as far as one can blow?

Answer: What we call breath is not all the breath that is there. For instance, what we call voice is only the voice that reaches so far and is not heard any farther. At the same time, on the wireless it travels farther. This shows us that the voice, which reaches as far as it is audible to the ears, is limited. In reality it reaches far beyond. And so the breath is far-reaching; if only we experimented with it we would be surprised. Others cannot readily believe it, it should be experienced by ourselves, and we should keep quiet about it. To speak about it will create difficulties. Many disbelieve, or have wrongly experimented; therefore mystics have kept this for the initiated. That is why initiation is given.

2 The Mystery of Breath

Breath seems to be the sign of the beginning and the end of life. With the first breath that is drawn, the body is said to be alive, and when the breath departs, the body is spoken of as dead. It is for this reason that the Yogis have called breath prana, meaning the very life. Besides this, all slight changes that take place in man's body come from an alteration in the mechanism of breath. That is why physicians in all ages have observed the signs of a person's condition in different illnesses from the beat of his pulse, which is caused by the breath.

Mental changes are also caused by breath. For instance, there are people with whom it is better not to talk when they first rise from sleep; they are excitable and irritable at that time. Again there are others who listen better at that moment than at any other time. Some people coming home from their work or their office in the evening are irritable and difficult; if one lets them rest for an hour or so they gradually change.  All this shows that the condition of the breath changes the mental condition of that moment. Immediately after concentration upon work the rhythm of the breath is very rapid and exercises its influence on the mind. After a while this rhythm changes and becomes normal; so the condition of the mind changes also. In sleep some people work up the rhythm of breath and the condition of mind becomes unsettled and disturbed; but as a rule, sleep helps the breath to be normal and its influence produces tranquility of the mind.

It can be seen how various emotions, passions and sentiments change the rhythm of the breath. Sometimes breath goes out of man's control in emotions such as anger, passion or fear; he then has no control over his words or actions. When man loses control over himself, the first thing he loses is control over breath.

It is the basis of this philosophy that by gaining control of breath, man can gain control over himself; the one who controls his breath is the ruler over his mind and body. How few really know how to breathe right and what are the methods of keeping the channels of the breath clear and in order! Breath, uncontrolled, is dangerous.

In mystical terms the two different directions of the breath have been called by different names, and have been considered to be like the sun and the moon, representing the positive and negative aspects of the power and influence of breath. How few really know how many times in the day and night the breath changes its direction, and how it works through different parts of the body and mind producing different effects and results. How often man's ignorance of the science of breath makes him act or think or speak against its influence – which is like swimming against the tide. We often notice in life that at one time success is achieved by the least little effort, and at another the greatest effort produces nothing but failure. Shiva, the great Lord of the Yogis, said, 'He who has the knowledge of the breath knows the secret of the whole universe.'

What we generally know as the breath is that little inhaling and exhaling which we feel through the nostrils. We think that is breath and attach little importance to it, while in reality, breath is a life-current running through the innermost part of man's being towards the surface. It would be no exaggeration, according to the mystical point of view, to say that the breath connects heaven and earth. It is the mystery of breath which shows the mystic that life is not the material part of man's being, but consists of the part of his being which is unseen. Breath is the bridge between body and soul, keeping the two connected, and the medium of their action and reaction upon each other.

In the Quran it is said, 'We have made man to be king of Our creation,' which in other words, means that man himself is the dominion as well as the king of that dominion: that dominion being man's body and mind, and the king being his spirit, his soul. As a horse can be controlled and directed by getting the rein in hand, so life can be controlled and directed by gaining control over breath. Every school of mystics has, as its most important and sacred teaching in the way of attainment, the control and understanding of the mystery of breath. Modern science has discovered the importance of physical culture and correct breathing, and for all diseases of the lungs there is no greater or more beneficial remedy than sending the patient to a place suitable for breathing freely. Psychologists will some day come to realize that for all illnesses and disorders of the mind the way of breathing also is the best remedy.

For the mystic, breath is not only a science, but the knowledge of breath is mysticism, and mysticism to the thinker is both science and religion. The mystery of breath is not a thing that can be comprehended by the brain only. The principles of mysticism rise from the heart of man. They are learned by intuition and proved by reason. This is not only faith, though it is born of faith: it is faith with proof.

Therefore study and practice of breath have been kept a mystery – not in order to monopolize them for a certain school, for no true mystic can be without generosity. The first sign of a mystic is that he is ready to give to everyone. The first and last lesson is to give – to give to the end; to give everything one possesses. There is no end to the giving of the mystic, as there is no end to the inspiration he receives. If breath has been made a mystery, it is only as one would keep an object of glass from a little child, fearing that he might break it, hurting himself and others.

Think what an intoxication life is in this world! Realize what are man's needs, temptations and desires! What would he not do to attain them? Man is so absorbed in striving after all these things that he does not know what he really wants or how rightly to obtain it. He does not know what harm he may cause to himself or others; he uses power not knowing what will be the result. Therefore, to give mysticism to all is like giving a sword, unsheathed, to a drunken man. One does not know whom he will kill, or how he may wound himself. But apart from mysticism, it is necessary that everyone should know how to live a balanced life, a life of power and tranquility, and how to use and control the power of breath that he may be better fitted to manage his life.

If we consider the conditions of life today, we see that, however much man thinks he has progressed, certain aspects of life are neglected in the way of health, repose, balanced thinking, and in the way of kindness and love to one another. All these things are lacking, and the spirit of the present time seems to be going in quite the opposite direction. Selfishness seems to be so much on the increase; real religion, the spirit of forgiveness, generous giving, regard for old age, refinement, culture – all seem to be disappearing. Man in general, does not know even if there is a God or Truth. If this is the spirit, how can we expect to find that harmony, peace and love which make heaven on earth?

It is useless to discuss the peace of the world. What is necessary just now is to create peace in ourselves that we ourselves become examples of love, harmony and peace. That is the only way of saving the world and ourselves. Let man try to become more considerate of others; let him ask himself, 'Of what use am I in the world? Am I born for a certain purpose?', and then try to train himself in self-control by the mystery of breath, the best means for accomplishing that purpose.

3 The Science of Breath

The nature of every creature can be known by his breath. Animals such as the lion, tiger, or bear, who kill and eat other animals, show from their breath strength, power, and yet an upset condition which gives them upsetting of mind, temper, jealousy, a fighting nature, greed and a tendency to bloodshed. Other creatures like the cow, sheep and goat have a settled breath which keeps them thoughtful, considerate and sociable to their own kind, which is proved by their living together in herds. They content themselves with feeding on grass, avoiding the presence of cruel animals.

Among all creatures a change of breath can be found through their spells of passion, anger and fear. The breath of man likewise shows his nature. A man who works and is always busy with material things has a noisy breath, similar to that of the animals, and the irregularity of his breath shows the unsettled condition of his life; the breath of a thoughtful person is much more rhythmic and fine. Of course more physical energy makes breath grosser, and a person becomes thoughtless. When his breath is normal, man becomes thoughtful. When the energy is less, a person becomes still wiser, but incapable of making a right use of his wisdom, owing to the weakness of the means: his physical body.

The value of breath is more than all the wealth and power one can have in life, for every breath gone has lessened that much life. Suppose a person is made with the energy of a hundred breaths – he may take them in one hour and die, or by controlling them through rhythm he may finish a hundred breaths in a day. It is just like a clock: it its tick goes slower it will last much longer than the hours of its limitation, and when the beat is quicker it will stop long before its winding hour.

When lying down, the breath is least strained, by sitting, it is more strained, by standing, still more, and by walking and running, still more again. The influence of passions quicken it most; for this reason the life of celibacy has been practiced by ancient mystics, and that is why the Sufi finds it necessary at times to lead a secluded life, which settles his external self as well as his mind. This does not only help to create peace and harmony in man, but even to prolong life much longer than the allotted time.

There is a vast distance between the finer plane and the grosser; they are linked by only one source and that is the breath. The nature of breath is just like the air; when the air is farther away from the earth it becomes finer, and in the same way it becomes heavy when nearer to the earth. Such is the case with the breath; when it enders the body, it materializes itself and becomes audible during sleep and even when awake, according to the fineness or grossness of a man's nature. But when breath approaches the spirit it loses its weight. That is why the average person feels his breath to a certain limit, beyond which he cannot even imagine that it could flow. Breath in its highest reach spreads all over, and in its lower flow it is confined to the least portion of time and space.

Breath is a chain, which links the Infinite with His manifestation. In other words, it might be called a lift in which the Infinite descends to earth in order to experience life, and again through the same lift He makes His return journey to His origin. The speed of the journey depends upon the power of the breath and its control. Breath can reach every being, thing and atom of the universe, regardless of time and space. It is also the source of all inner and outer communication. In fact, as the length of breath joins the Infinite with the manifestation, so the width of breath connects the whole universe. Lack of consciousness keeps man in limitation; otherwise, through breath, he could expand his knowledge to the whole universe.

Breath is vouchsafed to the senses as far as their reach of perception goes. Breath makes a complete circle within the body, entering through the nose, passing through the brain and down the spine, ascending again through the abdomen and lungs, going out the nose. When breath reaches the higher spheres, the senses, unless developed, cannot follow it there. Though one circuit of the breath takes a circle through earthly and heavenly planes, yet to an average person it seems as if some air goes out and comes in. But the mystics follow this chain of breath in the pursuit of the Infinite and, by holding on to it at the sacrifice of all earthly temptations which lead one to death, they drive their lives toward immortality.

When this condition is brought about by a mystic of his own will in meditation, then he becomes the controller of his life, and death becomes his servant. By dying every day in meditation and again experiencing this momentary life, the mystic becomes familiar with that state which every man fears and calls death. The greatest punishment that man can inflict on man is death – which to a mystic becomes his everyday playground. Thus he gets beyond the interest of this life and the fear of death. The difference between the mystic and another person is as that between the swimmer who quite fearlessly would swim and dive into the water and the non-swimmer, who would die with fear even before sinking. That which is a comfort to the one, becomes death to the other. So death, most alarming to the average person, is peace to the mystic. In all religions, directly or indirectly, this secret of mysticism is suggested. Of course the truth cannot be revealed plainly before everybody; that is why the study of the breath is kept secret and is termed mysticism.

4 The Philosophy of Breath

As the books, the precepts and doctrines of a religion are important to the follower of that religion, so the study of breath is important to the mystic. People ordinarily think of breath as that little air they feel coming and going through the nostrils, but they do not think of it as that vast current which goes through everything, that current which comes from Consciousness and goes as far as the external being, the physical world.

In the Bible it is written that the first was the word, and from the word, all things came. But before the word was the breath which made the word. We see that a word can make us happy, and a word can make us sorry. It is told that once a Sufi was healing a child. He repeated a few words and then gave the child to the parents saying, 'Now, he will be well.' Someone who was antagonistic said to him, 'How can it be possible by a few spoken words anyone can be healed?' From a mild Sufi an angry answer is never expected, but this time the Sufi turned to the man and said, 'You understand nothing about it, you are a fool!' The man was very much offended. His face was red, he was hot. The Sufi said, 'When a word has the power to make you hot and angry, why should not a word have the power to heal?'

Behind the word is a much greater power: breath. If a person wishes to study the self, to know the self, what is important is not the study of mind, thought, and imagination, nor of the body, but the study of breath. The breath has made the mind and body for its expression. It has made all, from the vibration to the physical atom, from the finest to the grossest. The breath, a change of breath, can make us sad in the midst of happiness, it can make us joyful in the saddest, the most miserable surroundings. That is why without reason in some places we feel glad, in other places a melancholy comes over us. It is the air that makes us so. One may say, 'How can breath do all this? How can it make the body?' I have seen people in the course of years become as their breath is. What exists in the breath is expressed in the form: as the breath is, so the child becomes.

There are three sorts of breath: there is the stronger breath, Jalal, and the weaker one, Jamal, and there is the breath that unites the Jalal and Jamal, and by uniting them, destroys, annihilates both: this is Kamal. By uniting Jalal and Jamal the breath forms a circle. This explains the circular form of guns, shells and cannons: the circle is the form of destruction.

All elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether – are in the breath, according to the direction it takes. We can taste them in the breath. There are five directions, four outward and one inward. You may ask, 'What influence can the direction have?' I shall answer that if you take a ball and throw it in every direction, the ball will not go equally far at every throw; it will sometimes go farther, and sometimes not so far. Even in our words the direction of the breath has its effect. Sometimes we say, 'Yes, I see,' directly. Sometimes we say, 'Yes,' sarcastically, 'I see,' and our head is thrown back, the breath comes obliquely. The effect is quite different. If you say, 'We cannot feel, we cannot perceive the elements in the breath, we do not know where they are,' I shall say that this is a science. It cannot be understood in a moment; it is a study.

You may ask, 'Is the direction the only thing that has influence upon the breath?' There are two other forces that influence it: uruj and nuzul, the rise and the fall. In the jets of water in a fountain some of the jets rise very high, others less high, others rise only a few inches, according to the force by which they are predestined. So it is with the breath.

5 The Control of the Breath (1)

Reading books cannot give anyone control of the breath: practice is needed. Reading theory of music cannot make anyone a composer, a singer, a piano player. Ask composers, singers, violinists how much they have to practice. The practice of the breath is very difficult and arduous. We see Yogis sitting or standing for hours in the same position, practicing for hours in the night or before dawn. Through control of the breath all things are gained. If a man is a great writer, it is because his breath holds the thoughts that are in his mind. Sandow (a famous 'strong man' in the century), through control of the breath, developed ideal muscles. Before control of breath is learned control of the body must be gained by the practice of postures and positions. For instance, if a small child is trained once a day to sit still four or five minutes, not to run about, if it is trained not to begin to eat at dinner until everybody eats – that will give it control.

The ways of control of breath are many. It must be done by realization of the self. But as long as we think that this body is our self, we cannot realize our self. And often we not only think that our body is our self, but we think that our overcoat is our self! If it is miserable we think that we are miserable; if it is very grand we think that we are very grand. It is natural to think that what is before our view is our self. We always remember the words of our great poetess Zebunnisa, 'If thou thinkest of the rose, thou wilst become the rose; if thou thinkest of the nightingale thou wilst become the nightingale. Thou art a drop, and the Divine Being is the whole. Whilst thou art alive, hold the thought of the whole before thee, and thou wilst be the whole.'

The mystic always consults his breath in the evening and in the morning in order to know whether it is harmonious with the sun, with the moon and with the planets. He is always conscious of the breath. This is achieved through concentration; the Sufi gives a lesson to teach it, which is called fikr. My spiritual teacher, my Murshid, once said, 'People say that there are many sins and virtues, but I think there is only one sin.' I asked him what it was, and he said, 'To let one breath go without being conscious of it.'

6 The Control of the Breath (2)

We say that the hand is in control, when it can grasp something and hold it in its grasp. The fingers we say are in control, when they move up and down the piano, when they strike B when B is wanted – not striking E. Control is both in repose and in activity. Sometimes we find that we have become angry, we have become impatient, we have lost control over our mind, but before losing control of the mind we had lost control of the breath.

Since I have been in the West, people have said to me more than a thousand times, 'We cannot control our mind, we cannot keep our mind fixed on one point.' The first step is to lessen the activity of the mind; then thoughts come more slowly. One should first control the breath, and make it slow and regular. By this the health of the body is improved as well as the health of the mind.

People have invented a fan to purify the air by fanning it very rapidly. By the practices of qasb and shaghl breath also is fanned, and this rapid fanning changes it from one element into another and purifies it.

In the Quran it is said, 'Surely, we revealed it on the night of power.' What was the night of power to the Prophet whose whole life was a revelation? It was the sending of the breath within. It is natural that we always look outward. The breath is directed outward. We see what is outward, we hear what is outward, we taste what is outward, we are touched by what is outward. When the breath is sent within, then a person sees what is within, he hears what is within, he tastes what is within, he is touched by what is within. When this is done and the breath is purified, the mystics see forms and colors in it, which reveal past, present and future to them. They know the past, present and future of every person whom they see. But if the control of the breath teaches them past, present, and future, it is too little, it is not worthwhile. It must tell them more: from this limited being it must bring them to that unlimited existence, from this mortal being to that immortality.

In the account of the miraj it is said that a buraq was brought for Muhammad to ride, an animal like a horse with a human face. This buraq was the breath: the horse whose rein is in the rider's hand.

If a person exercises the breath and practices concentration with a scientific idea only, he soon becomes tired. He thinks, 'Why take so much trouble? For what result?' If it is done with the thought of God, with the repetition of the names of God, then – by the thought of the idealized God in whom is all perfection, all beauty, who is the Friend to whom we can tell our sorrows, all our sorrows, all our troubles – a happiness comes, a bliss. Sadi says, 'In the thought of God is the blessing that it draws us every moment nearer to Him.'


checked 16-nov-2015