“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts.”
Anand Singh • Thich Nhat Hanh
The breath affects our physical, emotional/mental and spiritual bodies. The physical aspect is considered the exoteric or the outer part of us and the spiritual is the esoteric or the inner. The inner part of us is the blueprint of our individuality which includes all the impressions and traumas and experience we have had in this lifetime and beyond. Past impressions are also stored in the physical, emotional and mental bodies. For example, people may go to a series of Rolfing massages and start to unleash old emotions stuck in the tissues, such as anger or sadness. The breath, when used correctly, has the power to help release all the past impressions stored in the subtle body, or etheric body, taking you into higher state of happiness. These stored past impressions have dulled the inner light that once used to shine as a young child and gradually got buried through layers of conditioning. Seekers from all spiritual paths understand this. By dedicating their whole energy to the release of the limitations or ego, they return to their spiritual nature of joyful and boundless freedom.
The author of the book of Genesis knew the difference between the oxygen we breathe and the life force within it. He speaks of neshemet ruach chayim, which means "the breath of the spirit of life."
This translation refers to the same principle as the Eastern philosophy known as Prana or Chi. This Vital Force, is the essence of life in everything that we experience with our senses, not only living creatures but also inanimate elements such as the sky, the sun, the stars, the plants, the rocks, atoms, the DNA even the buildings built by human hands may contain a certain level of Prana in them. "Prana" is the universal principle of energy or force. The entire universe is a manifestation of that principle. Prana is all pervasive. It is found in all things and as the yoga philosophy teaches: everything is Pure Consciousness which is the essence of all manifestation charged with Prana. The apparent lifelessness of certain things may be sign of lesser Prana, however, Prana is everywhere, in everything.
Consciousness and Ego
Prana and ego are closely related. The term ego is often misunderstood. Spiritual seekers believe that ego is that individual part of ourselves that keeps us bounded and enslaved in the cycle of birth and death called in Sanskrit the Samsara, or the wheel of reincarnation. So with this particular understanding, the whole purpose of spiritual practices is to attain Self-realization, which is perceived as a state of total liberation from our ego and false identification with it. Other people who are not following these spiritual concepts often think of ego as a negative aspect of human tendencies such as pride, arrogance, selfishness, etc… However, from an optimal perspective of reality or Truth, nothing is either good or bad, inferior or superior, better or worse. This universe is just a manifestation of Pure Consciousness dancing its eternal favorite choreography of light and darkness. That dance of Pure Consciousness is called in the yogic philosophy: The “Lila”, which means the dance or the play of Universal Consciousness. Out of its boundless blissful nature and unlimited freedom, Consciousness manifests itself as this universe and blows the life force into all things as the very essence of life. So Consciousness is in everything and Prana is the bridge between Pure Consciousness and its creation. Ego, as part of the creation, is nothing but Consciousness in a contracted form. As the bible says: “God created man in its image” therefore we have unlimited creative power, we just need to learn how to access it.
Ego is neither good nor bad, it is not even a block to any spiritual attainment as most spiritual paths teach. Ego is an individual expression of the omnipotent and omniscient Universal Consciousness. Consciousness cloaks its unlimited power and chooses out of its own freedom to manifests as the individual soul, our ego, to experience itself with infinite possibilities. Ego is not an obstacle to liberation as some spiritual paths suggest. It is rather our identification with ego that causes us trouble.
When we learn how to breathe and connect to our essence, we begin to take life more lightly, we are more detached from particular outcomes and enjoy life in a whole new way. We start to understand Prana as our gateway to Source and use the breath to increase that connection. This results in a life of deep fulfillment where gradually all attachments, dependencies, addictions and non-supportive habits are released completely, living space for a life of purpose and deeper meaning. At this level, one understands that ego is no longer a barrier from spiritual attainment but rather a springboard into the mystical discovery of our true nature as one with Universal Consciousness.
The difference between human being and other creatures is our neocortex. Animals can not make choices that are contrary to the universal laws of nature, however, man can. With this free will, our ego gets to choose to either align with Nature, and feel its blissful essence, or to move away from it. In that case ego will either experience pain and suffering or engender pain and suffering to others. Even though this choice of misalignment may create suffering, ego is not good or bad. It simply acts in alignment or out of alignment with its Source.
The Five Types of Prana
Prana is everything. It is not only the energy within the breath. Prana is responsible for all functions of the entire body. Prana, as energy, is in constant motion. Sickness and disease is the result of the stagnation of Prana. The direction or flow of Prana is called Vayu. Prana Vayus moving in an optimal way insures healthy functions of the physical body. There are five different Prana which regulate these functions.
The Five Prana Vayus
Prana Vayu, flows upward. It is responsible for the heart beat, absorption of nutrients and the breath. Prana enters the body through the breath and is distributed to every cell through the blood.
Apana Vayu, is responsible for the downward movements of prana, elimination of Malas which are the waste products from the body via the excretory systems, and the lungs. It also controls menstruation.
Udana Vayu, flows upward. It is responsible for speaking, singing, and all types of sound like laughing, crying etc…
Samana Vayu is responsible for inward movements of Prana such as digestion of food and cellular catabolism (break down and recycling of old cells) and thermo-regulation. A visible source of the Samana current is the Aura. By meditating on Samana Vayu one can produce a lively aura.
Vyana Vayu is responsible for outward movements of Prana, extending muscles and the pumping action of the heart. It governs the circulation and the skin.
When the Individual Consciousness leaves the body, the Prana helps the body decompose and all elements return to their original state and Prana merges back with the absolute. One who has mastered Prana, through proper breathing and learned how to store it in the body, radiates vitality and strength which is felt by those come in his/her presence, and such a person may impart this strength to others, and give them increased vitality and health. Similarly, you may recognize that the air in certain places possesses a greater amount of something and sick people are directed to seek such places in hopes of regaining lost health. This is due to the charge of Pranic energy of these places. The village of Lourdes in France, is famous for its miraculous healing. Even after millions of people visiting from all over the world in search of a cure, the place is still charged with Prana which has healed so many.
The Goal of Yoga
The term yoga means the union or yoking between Universal Consciousness and our individual consciousness. Yoga is both the path and practices that takes us to this union and the goal of Self Realization as a permanent experience of oneness with the Universal Essence. Universal Consciousness as was mentioned before has been given many names from various spiritual paths and religions, such as the Source, The One, Brahama, The Atman, the Higher Self, Shiva, God, Allah, Zeus, and so on. Yoga describes the essence of Universal Consciousness as Satchitananda which means existence, consciousness and absolute bliss. The goal of yoga is to merge with this source and experience its descriptive blissful nature as our true essence. The yoga sutra which is a spiritual text, written by Patanjali is the first time the yoga was structured with a series of practices and moral conduct called the yamas and nyamas. Applying these various disciplines would result in an increase of prana in the body and therefore a shift in consciousness for the practitioner, moving closer to the goal of Self Realization.
Meditation is a practice that brings balance on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels. Meditation has been used to develop insight and spiritual expansion. A healthy diet, regular exercise and living in alignment with our Dharma (life purpose) allows the mind to naturally experience the rejuvenating inner space of meditation. The mind is constantly focusing outward. This tendency is disconnecting us from our center which is calm, fulfilled and content. Meditation allows us to retrieve and cultivate the deep virtues of our heart: Courage, generosity, gratitude, openness, contentment, sensitivity, joy, peace, unconditional acceptance, compassion and love.
Like any new practice, it takes a regular commitment to experience the state of deep meditation. At first we may just concentrate using mindfulness (staying centered in the present moment) or concentration (on point, object of the breath).
Through meditation our awareness increases and we begin to experience the world around us with an all new perspective and feel more connected to our intuition and to others.
If you are a beginner, practice daily for a short period. Begin to commit to only 30 days 15 minutes daily and write your progress in your journal.
Prayers versus meditation
Prayers are powerful when blended with a pure intention and a deep desire to receive the object of the prayer for yourself and the world and an unwavering faith in the fulfillment of the prayer. Prayer is communicating to God. Howard’s prayers in the Forum are powerful. They teach us the healing power of unconditional forgiveness. You may create your own prayers or use Howard’s prayers.
Meditation is letting God communicate to us by getting our mind out the way. We empty ourselves to allow the divine presence to fill us up from within and purify ourselves physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
Meditation and Brainwaves
Meditation is a powerful technique that regulates all body functions and provides peace and clarity to the mind. We can induce the state of meditation using breath techniques that involves alternate nostril breathing to balance both atmospheres of the brain and using the three part breathing also called the full yogic breath. Meditation is simply a state of consciousness where our frequency is more closely aligned with Universal Consciousness.
The Monroe Institute has measured meditator’ s brainwaves with an EEG (Electroencephalogram) and showed that in deep meditation the brainwaves are between eight to four cycles per second which are theta waves and sometime in alpha and with rare people in delta.
The four main brainwaves are beta, alpha, theta, delta:
• Beta is when you are in fight-or-flight response or waking state, which are fourteen cycle per second and above,
• Alpha is when you are in a relaxed state and is measured between twelve and eight cycle per seconds,
• Theta is the flow state or meditative state where great enlightened ideas may come to you or dream state and which cycle is between four and eight.
• Delta waves are a sate of deep sleep and are four cycles per second and less.
The state of Samadhi, which is the experience of merging with the Universal Consciousness, is the highest form of meditation. I have been meditating for 17 years. During this time I have experienced the inner bliss coming from the deep silence of my inner being.
Coming out of such deep state of meditation I experienced radical shifts in my life where everything seemed to flow perfectly. Meditation not only affects you for the duration of the practice; the meditation energy stays with you as you go into your daily activities. Meditation is the practice that aligns you with the zero point field.
While all the different brainwaves and Prana Vayus in the body may remain active, your Individual Consciousness may be at one with Universal Consciousness and experience infinite stillness even while being in action. The ultimate state of meditation is not dependent on stilling fluctuations of the mind.
Meditation is the absorption into Divine Consciousness; observing the mental and physical activities without any disturbances from them. Classical yoga teaches that the attainment of Yoga, or Samadhi, is the complete cessation of all mental activities. The tantric translation of the same yogic aphorism, from the Yoga Sutra, offers a new perspective where the goal is really to embrace all manifestation as an expression of the highest reality. It is my experience that the transcendental state, such as Samadhi, is not influenced or limited by anything including the thoughts called Vrittis in Sanskrit. In fact the brainwaves described above can still be active in meditation. When the energy works on purifying the body, you may feel a sense of great inner peace even though the mind may flash rapid images that seem to be separated from you as if they are being projected on a movie screen. This is a very healing state of meditation. Although the mind may be active, your awareness is established in the deep inner silence like a witness , totally detached from all mental activities. Coming out of such meditation, you feel deeply relaxed, rejuvenated and grounded.
The breath is the bridge to such a state of meditation. That zero point field can easily be experienced when focusing on the space between the inhalation and the exhalation. The practice of retention of the breath in Chapter V is a powerful gateway to higher states of meditation. When meditation is practiced regularly, you will experience a greater connection to your intuition and creative power. As your energy realigns with the Universal Consciousness, you will experience synchronicity, which is what happens when you are in the flow state, where you may think of someone and suddenly they call you on the phone. This is a magical way to go through life and know that in that place everything is always provided to you at all levels.
The Etheric Body
The Etheric Body may be described as the energetic body and is filled with subtle channels called Nadis. There are 72,000 Nadis in the subtle body according to an ancient yogic text called “Hatha Yoga Pradipika” (see Figure 6). As you see in the picture, the Nadis are channels that connect us beyond the limitation of our physical body.
The Sushumna Nadi is the central channel of the Etheric Body that is a vertical channel along the spine. When this channel is open through breathing techniques, it can stimulate a latent spiritual energy that is coiled at the based of the spine in the spiritual center called the Mulhadara Chakra. This energy, called Kundalini Energy, or Kundalini Shakti, is often represented metaphorically as a coiled serpent at the base of the spine waiting to be awakened to begin its ascension up through the Sushumna Nadi.
In her ascension, she pierces all 7 energy centers called Chakras, along the Sushumna. The awaken Kundalini rises up through the Chakras, and supercharges all the Nadis and equalizes Ida and Pingala which regulates all the body functions (see Figure 7). Ida Nadi is represented in pink and Pingala Nadi, in blue, crossing back and force across the central channel, the Sushumna Nadi. The 7 Chakras are represented by the 7 spheres along the Sushumna Nadi.
Once Kundalini Energy pierces all the chakras or energy centers along the Sushumna Nadi, it takes the spiritual seeker into completion of his/her journey back to Self Realization of Oneness Consciousness with the Absolute. Pranayama are techniques designed to awaken the seeker’s Kundalini Shakti. Kundalini Shakti is often viewed as the feminine creative power.
Once she opens all the Chakras and reaches the 7th chakra at the crown of the head, called the Sahasrara, she merges with the Universal Consciousness or Shiva, the masculine aspect of Shakti. The goal of Kundalini Energy’s ascension through the seven chakras is often viewed in yoga as the dance of Shiva and Shakti, the beloved and her consol merging back into oneness. According to Yoga this is the completion of the final attainment of Self Realization. The spiritual seeker experiences the ultimate bliss as the source of all and happiness within, free from all external substances.
Interestingly, many cultures have used this mystic symbol of Kundalini rising up the Sushumna. The representation of the Caduceus (see Figure on the left) used in our medical field has an interesting parallel. The Sushumna Nadi along the spine is like the staff of the Caduceus. The wings are a clear representation of ascension and the serpents are moving up like the serpent Kundalini creating the same spiral shapes as the Ida and Pingala Nadis. Although it is not an exact representation of the Etheric picture in the figure below, we certainly see an interesting comparison with the Caduceus which originated in ancient Greece.
As mentioned before, one powerful way the Kundalini Energy can be awakened is with breathing techniques. So as you see, the breath not only brings health to the physical body, but it provides access to the most powerful and mystical states of consciousness. Practitioners can attain this state of total self mastery, including the control of involuntary body functions like the heart beat or the breath, and have mystic powers, such as psychic ability, that some people call miracles. Kundalini Shakti is the same power or energy that holds the planets and the galaxies in place within the entire universe. Its power is unlimited. That same energy dwells within us and our breath is the bridge that connects us to it.
When we are born we have a natural ability to breathe the whole breath, belly, chest and clavicle. Tensions and past impressions, saturated in the physical body, combined with toxins and mind agitation create a shallow breath. The best way to begin to re-introduce the whole breath is to lie down on your back on a solid surface (not on a soft mattress). Make sure that the bottom of the shoulder blades are tucked under and that the body is fully relaxed. You may use a low pillow as long as this maintains the natural curve of the cervical vertebrae. The best alignment for your head is when the bottom of your chin is neither tilted back nor forward and the tip of the chin bone points straight up. The body and mind associate lying down with relaxation. Therefore, is easy to relax. Also, it is easy to feel the belly breathing in this position as there is no muscle contraction. You may prefer to sit. If so, if you are seated on the floor, make sure that you maintain the natural curve of your lower back.
Seating on a chair can help achieve proper pelvic alignment If the lower back is rounded, the Prana will get stuck and the practice will results in back issues and limited benefits. Very few people have their hips open enough to sit cross legged. The lower back has to tilt as shown in the figure on the left, and the knees must be either even or below the hip level. If you are not able to create such alignment, sit on the sitting bones on the edge of a chair without using the back which would completely collapse the spinal alignment (see figure on the left). If you are open enough to sit on the floor, make sure you elevate your hips by sitting on enough blankets to help lift and tilt the pelvis. I am insisting simply because Prana moves through the Sushuman Nadi along the spinal cord. With good alignment the flow of Prana is not interrupted and this supercharges your body with a wellspring of vital energy.
The Whole Breath
This is also called the three part breathing or the full yogic breath. This is typically the way we should normally breathe all the time. If you were breathing this way all day long, you would be so saturated with Prana that the quality of your life and health would be really at its optimal level. I had the great fortune to meet great masters who breathe this way. My teacher Gurumayi is one of them. Their energy level is so high that they only sleep a couple hours a day without taking any stimulants during the day including no sugar. Their vibration is so soothing that in their presence people’s own state and breath shifts to a more optimal and conscious place. This attainment can be achieved from anyone who applies a little dedication and commitment to the practice.
If you have difficulty sensing these 3 different parts you may explore one part at a time and place your hands flat on the designated part. Feel the hands rising and lowering with the movement of the breath will give you a kinesthetic awareness of the breath. Where you have more challenge expending the breath is usually where the Prana is stuck and where you need it the most. Breathe in that area only, to help release tensions. Belly breathing only is very calming and soothing for the nervous system. You can utilize this simple technique when ever you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Make sure that you are breathing through the nose, unless you have a medical condition preventing the use of the nostrils.
So let’s begin… the whole breath begins with filling the lower part of the lungs first, your belly, then you fill the middle, the mid-chest, and upper part, the upper-chest or clavicle. With each part make sure you breathe slowly, evenly and at full lung capacity in each section, bottom of the lungs, middle and top. At the top of your inhalation, become aware of natural pause, holding the breath in for a very short time without any contractions or tensions. Make sure that when inhaling in all three parts, the breath fills up the respective parts in a three dimensional way. Often the intercostal muscles are extremely tight because of past trauma and also the back body is not properly inflating. You may place your hands by the side of your ribcage and invite the breath to expand more laterally. You may also focus on breathing into the back of your body.
When you exhale, simply release the breath evenly with the same length and rhythm as your inhalation. The classical way teaches to exhale emptying first the upper part of the lungs, then the middle, and last of all the lower part. However, this is contrary to nature’s way. When you blow air in a balloon, the air fills up the bottom the balloon expands all the way to the top. Then when you let the balloon deflate, you may notice that the bottom will deflate first. So If there were any order in the way to exhale in this technique, I strongly suggest you exhale belly, mid-chest and upper-chest. However, this is so subtle that an even exhalation of all three parts will be just as efficient and powerful. Watch a baby breathing, they are demonstrating perfectly the whole breath just like nature intended. At the end of the exhalation, becomes aware of a natural pause, holding the breath out effortlessly. So there are many ways the breath can be used for the sake of health and wellness. However, we are not practicing the breathing exercises to feel the buzz that is usually associated with them. We practice to move toward optimal health and develop conscious contact with Source. From that conscious connection, life flows and we open the door to new possibility at all levels. Celebreath combines the breath with movements. It is very important to strengthen the physical body to create a stronger vessel for the breath.
This article is a sample from the book: "The Power of Breath", by Ishwari Jay.