"When the breath is unrestrained, so is the mind. On the contrary, when the breath is under control, the mind will be tamed as well."
Hatha Yoga Pradipika
"Breath is life" states a famous yogic proverb. In the absence of breath, life fades out.
When a child is born, his first breath is life. Any obstruction or delay of this process equals his death. On the other hand, the last breath of a person signifies his passage into another dimension and his parting from this world.
Between these two points in time, birth and death, the human being breathes incessantly, even if unaware of this process most of the time.
The yogic teachings have always stressed the importance of a correct pattern of breathing. According to the teachings, a healthy person breathes approximately 21.600 times in 24 hours. This means one breath at four seconds.
Normally, a person breathes slower when relaxed, and faster when acting. The act of love usually accentuated the breath, the heart is more active, and the blood flows more easily.
However, the oriental sages tell us of certain prolonged erotic games where breathing is deep, rare, and fully controlled.
According to the yogic tradition, life is in close relationship with the pattern of breathing. One can easily notice this in the case of reptiles.
Take, for instance the turtle: it breathes rarely and has a long life. On the other hand, the mouse has a breathing pattern that implies fast breaths and lives a short life.
According to Gheranda Samhita, "By slowing the rhythm of your breath, the vital energy will reach high levels; by increasing the frequency of the breath, this energy of life will diminish".
Another Hindu important text, Shiva Samhita, states:
"The body of the one who regularly practices breathing techniques develops harmoniously, has a nice smell and becomes strong and attractive. The sage practicing these techniques will destroy all Karma from this life or from his previous lives.
Thus, many yogis devote their lives exclusively to this desiderate, that is obtaining the conscious and complete control over breathing, knowing that this will make them gain the control over their destiny."
METHOD FOR BECOMING AWARE OF YOUR BREATH
Try it even now, without having to change your ordinary rhythm or pattern of breathing. Place one hand on your abdomen, a little higher above the navel.
First, notice if the abdomen is completely relaxed when you breathe in. A normal breath occurs when the inferior part of the abdomen enlarges as the air gets inside the lungs and it contracts when breathing out.
Yet, many people breathe in a different manner. In addition, many people breathe only through their mouths instead of their noses. Such practice leads to losing the capacity to focus, to physical weakness and heart diseases.
Many works deal with the posture (asana) and the science of breathing (Pranayama) in yoga. We believe that is extremely important to notice a few major aspects.
First of all the practitioner should pay attention to the stages of breathing: breathing in, retention of the breath and breathing out.
Breathing in should be natural, never forced; the air should get inside the body as the result of the enlargement of the abdomen. When we are retaining the breath inside, the inferior part of the body has to take the form of a vessel; the yogic term for this is kumbhaka, which means "the one that contains".
Retaining the breath is the milestone of breathing techniques. This is where the great force springs. During this stage, the air is partially absorbed by the lungs out it energizes the whole body.
The Yogi adept is advised to imagine that he absorbs the life-giving energies of Brahma. While on retention, the attention of the adept should be directed on extracting the vital energies and making them circulate through the body.
Finally, during breathing out he/she should imagine that all impurities, diseases or nervous tensions leave the body and go back into the ground in order to be purified.
All these three parts of the process of breathing should be linked together, without interruptions or sudden moves. Moreover, one should always be aware and focused during the act of breathing.
The most important moment is the retention of the breath after inhaling, when the flow of the energy is improved and the subtle channels of the body are being reopened.
There is also an increased amount of gland secretions, especially saliva, which, according to the yoga learning, strengthens and nourishes the human being.
A yogic treaty, Goratsha shatakam, strongly sustains that:
"The practitioner should breathe in slowly and breathe out the same way, trying not to retain his breath for too long, and yet not to let it out too quickly either. The control of the breath destroys all karmic residues, bringing harmony and equilibrium to the whole body."
Complete breathing - inhalation, retention and exhalation represents the first step in using breathing techniques as modalities of reaching the ultimate state of freedom.
Once you get accustomed with a healthy and harmonious pattern of breathing, you will have the possibility to experience other specific rhythms of breathing.
For the example, the healing breath is an extremely simple technique and can be practiced anytime, as described below:
The rhythm of this type of breathing is 1:4:2, meaning that the retention lasts four times longer than the inhalation and the exhalation - two times longer. In the case of Pranayama (breathing exercises), the inhalation is taken as the measure.
Prolong inhalation at first, and then do exactly as said before. Then gradually increase the time of inhalation, keeping the proportion of the other two. The result of such practice is that the process of breathing is slowed down, and will relax and refresh both body and mind.
Nonetheless, do not practice this technique too much too soon. If you feel dizzy or tired, or if your heart is beating too fast stop practicing it as these are signs indicating that you are forcing things. It is recommendable that you gradually increase the period of retention.
The proportion between inhalation, retention, and exhalation should be counted in terms of heartbeats (they can be noted by simply moving your fingers), or by using a clock.
It is not indicated that the counting be done mentally, because if the mind is not focused entirely on the technique, its benefits will not be as powerful as they would normally be, that is if you are completely focused on the technique.
This recommendation is because the mind should focus on the process of meditation, and not on the logic, rational process of counting. An effective method for concentration is to focus on the sounds produced by the air when inhaled and exhaled.
The Yogic treaties describe a large number of sounds that appear while breathing in and out. For instance, Gheranda Samhita:
"When the air gets in, it makes the "sah" sound and when it gets out it makes the sound "ham". These two sounds give birth to the words "saham" (or "soham" which means, "I am HIM") or "hamsa" (which means "the Great Swan", referring to "The Bird of the Soul").
Each living being produces these sounds, unconsciously. This subtle sound can be heard in three places: in the so-called 'root' centre (situated between the anus and the genitalia), in the heart centre and in the third eye (placed between the eyebrows).
The Yogi will consciously repeat these sounds, gradually increasing the duration of the inhalation, and preserving the proportion between the retention and exhalation."
Another method for keeping track of the proportion between inhalation, retention and exhalation is to create and repeat a phrase with a powerful, positive meaning, such as: "I am surrounded by a benefic aura of protection", using the length of these words as a unit of measure.
During all this time, you may try to visualize this aura as a yellow light around your head. You can use a mantra in exactly the same way. It will be repeated at every stage of the process of breathing, respecting the already established proportion.
Walking is an ideal moment for practicing and developing the healing breath because you can use the number of your steps in order to improve your technique.
The correct practice of the 'healing breath' technique will refresh your entire body. Your mind will take advantage from its practice as well, as it gradually reaches a state of profound calmness.
"Prana, the vital breath, originates in the Self. As the shadow and the person who generates it are inseparable, so are the Prana and the Self. Prana enters the body at birth so that the mind's wishes, which have come down from another lives, to be fulfilled."
In fact, the final goal of all breath techniques is that of prolonging the retention until the practitioner reaches higher stages in Yoga (such as supernatural powers) and his karma is destroyed.
The control of the mind over the vital forces of the body will have an immediate and direct effect over the sexual centre, in the sense that the overall level of energy is higher.
The practitioner will notice an increased amount of energy and of his receptivity. The senses become sharper.
The flows of prana, the mind and the sexual energy are interdependent. Controlling one of the three will result in controlling the other two, as well. In the following, you may see the close interdependence between breath, erotic act and mental subtle processes.
This is the key for obtaining huge powers.
A secret technique consists in bringing together the lateral margins of your tongue and sticking out the tongue through your lips; breathe in forcefully, retain the air inside your lungs for as long as you can, without forcing and then breathe out through your nose.
According to Shiva Samhita,
"The yogi who practices the Raven's Beak in the morning and at sunset, is free of all diseases. This practice leads to obtaining clairvoyance and other miraculous powers."
The Yogic tradition speaks about five vital breaths (prana or the force of life). It is said that, just like a king empowers certain authorities to govern territories of his kingdom, in the same way the primordial prana contains other four types of prana, each designated to coordinate specific functions in the body.
Of all these five types of prana, the primordial prana (which has an ascendant direction) and apana (which has an descendent direction) are the most important.
Yoga aims to inverse the 'natural' course of apana, making it unite with prana, determining thus a complete transformation of the being.
The distribution of prana (absorbed through the lungs) into the five types of vital energy takes place during the retention after inhaling the air. This process may also be the support of profound meditation.
Imagine the air coming in through your nostrils as if it were less thick than water. Pour it into the inferior part of your abdomen, as if it were a vessel. When breath is complete, move on to the retention and imagine that all the openings of your body (ears, eyes, nose, mouth and anus) are shut.
Imagine the prana circulating to the five parts of the body. Try to visualize this process with your mind's eye. While on retention, try to take out the best and most valuable parts of the air you have inhaled. Then breathe out imagining how all impurities and physical disorders leave your body and go back into the earth in order to be purified and regenerated.
These breathing techniques will never be practiced immediately after having a meal or after making great effort.
You should always be aware of your individual breathing pattern. You should not be afraid of the force of your breath. On the contrary, aim to learn how to use it in a careful and conscious manner. By being aware of your own pattern of breathing, as well as of your lover's, the ecstasy is quite close.
"The wise men do not talk about the capacity of uttering words, about the sight, the hearing, or meditation; they speak only of the different types of prana-s that make all these things possible. For all the rest is nothing but the manifestations of prana."