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
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
Question: Can everyone have the power of far-reaching
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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 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
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.'