Law Of The Rhythmic Breath
( Originally Published 1908 )
" BREATH IS LIFE."
IS it wontedness and use, or perhaps, that unspeakably deadening factor thoughtlessness, that has robbed the pregnant aphorism " BREATH IS LIFE " of every atom of its profound significance?
None has ever gainsaid it, yet to the mass of mankind it means no more than if one were to write omicron mu! And to that suicidal mania, fear of fresh air and draughts, and its accompanying folly, flagrant neglect of the primal function of breathing, the world pays an annual tribute of at the lowest estimate a quarter million lives; all sacrificed to preventable disease! Even without a regret for those sent thus prematurely through the " Gates Ajar," think of the crushing weight of sorrow this entails upon the world! Though not our loss, the sorrow affects all within its environment.
But not alone the mass of humanity have been thus apathetic. Until the beneficial cult of deep breathing, a growth in rational doing and thinking of the present generation., only, the man of science whose life work is to relieve human suffering equally ignored this flaring torch " BREATH IS LIFE," pointing unerringly to fundamental truths of being, but which through-out the centuries of Western civilization might as well have been a dark lantern. It is my grateful task — nay, happy opportunity -- to prove to you that it is a torch of such wonderful illuminating power that man's electric searchlights should pale before it. It was a gain, a stalwart stride in the right direction, to call attention to the error of commonly fixed habits; but all that has yet been accomplished is little more than one drop of purity in a swamp of miasma. Busy people think they have too much to do to give attention to a function they have always supposed automatic, never dreaming of the subtle sources of dis order affecting its normal activity, and as subtly feeding and sowing disease. Also, to make a bad matter worse, in all the so-called " systems" of breathing taught, good, bad, and indifferent, the fundamental principle of rhythmic harmony has attracted little attention, and is rarely understood.
Most persons who are interested in any system of breathing have become familiar with the term Yoga breathing, yet it is so completely misunderstood that it oftener excites a smile than serious attention ; but this is another instance where the precious pearl truth is in sight, and unseeing eyes confound it with a worthless pebble.
All the ridicule, misunderstanding, and depreciation of this cult are in reality due to the fact that few expositors of Yoga breathing have explained either in their writings or verbally to pupils the rationale upon which it is based. Reticence on this vital point is due to one of two reasons: either ignorance, or the belief that the age was not yet prepared to be entrusted with a Truth of Life which was till recently guarded in India as a most sacred mystery. But in our day and generation, Occidental peoples accept nothing blindly; all must know the " Why? " and " Wherefore?" We find the answer in the profoundly scientific teachings of Hindu physiology, founded upon the inspirational truths preserved to us in the Tantrik philosophy, and in those sacred Sanskrit writings, the Upanishads.
Only the arrogant egoism of Western civilization has made it possible that enlightened minds could read the Upanishads as they have done for years and overlook the significant facts they contain with reference to the union of breath with life. These facts are the foundation for the deepest, most philosophical, and only scientific cult of physical health and spiritual life; but, clothed in the most poetic imagery, they have been studied, translated, and read for that alone, as curiosities of literature.
It is a deplorable fact that these so-learned minds rejected, without the experiments which they are assured would verify the statements, but with cheerful indulgence for the " childish vagaries and the credulity of those sacred writers who believed them, all these profound truths weighted with the most beneficial results to humankind, and which, in consequence, have remained Occult mysteries closely guarded by the few who understood them.
The forms of Yoga breathing which excite the greatest incredulity, because differing radically from accepted theories of the function, are best described as alternate breathing; that is, through each nostril in turn, the exhalations preceding the inhalations from the same nostril.
This method is profoundly scientific, being based upon a phenomenon of normal breathing al-most unknown to Western scientists (eight years ago, I heard of two Buffalo physicians who had discovered it). It is that every human being in-hales and exhales for a certain period — nearly an hour — through the right nostril and then all unconsciously changes to the left for a like period.
Hindu physiology begins its surprises by teaching us that with every inhalation through the right nostril a positive electrical current flows down the right side of the spine, and with every inhalation through the left nostril a negative current flows down the left side. The lungs are correspondingly charged with positive, or solar, and negative, or lunar, currents. It is by means of the two cur-rents that all the processes of life are performed, and it is an imperative condition of health that they be equally balanced. Upon their rhythmic and harmonic flow, fed by the breath of life, depends the measure of health and vitality in the human system.
It is of interest here to state that early in 1905, the newspapers chronicled the successful experiments of Dr. Atkins, of the California Medical College, who had discovered, and succeeded in registering by mechanical means, " a positive and a negative electrical current in the air chambers of the lungs of a living person." Thus it will be seen that 'Western science is painfully discovering the truths which the Orient has had in its keeping since the earliest ages of man.
In two instances I have had substantial proof that something of this knowledge was also in the keeping of our North American Indian " Medicine Man."
But the analysis of breath does not rest here.
Of as vital importance are these facts: The universal current of life, Prâna, or vital force, which pervades all space and is commonly recognized in the body as breath (the distinction will be explained later) is compounded of atoms, or electrons, which are differentiated by their characteristic motions into five forms of vibrations. West-ern science has recognized only two of these subtle ethers, and has not yet discovered their pro-found influence upon all living things.
We are compelled to use the Sanskrit terms for these etheric forces, which are called generically Tattvas, meaning literally a form of motion (Mme. Blavatsky says the Tattvas " are both Substance and Force, or Atomic matter and the Spirit that ensouls it") . The Tattvas - referred to in the Upanishads as " the five vital airs " are specifically distinguished as (1) Akâsha, the sound vibration; (2) Pâyu, the tangiferous vibration; (3) Tejas, the luminiferous ether; (4.) Apas, the vibration of taste or gustiferous ether; and (5) Prithivi, the odoriferous ether.
These five Tattvas, every one of which has its positive and negative phases, mingle in varying proportions in both the solar and lunar currents. In normal health, their flow and proportion varies from time to time with absolute rhythmic precision, every Tattva having its period of predominance for a longer or shorter period. If human beings were automatons, the regularity of these vibrations would be as unchanging as the movements of the planets in their orbits.. But free will and emotions, every thought and act of man, have their effect for good or ill, and ages ago the Hindus discovered that the inception of every disease is in any influence which disturbs nature's intricate but symmetrical balance of these etheric life-forces; which, corresponding to the elements composing the body, are renewed with every breath and, being elemental subdivisions of Prâna, furnish and modify the activities of the whole human entity.
This explains the philosophy of alternate breathing, the many forms of which are devised to re-store the balance of the Tattvas. It also exposes the error of the statement that, " A strictly well person uses the right nostril by day, the left by night." So far, indeed, from the truth is this, that it would be a dangerous practice, and its ex-act reverse in a modified form — a shorter period — is the recommendation of adepts in Tattvic philosophy. They commend the use of the negative breath - lunar current at sunrise, and the positive breath — solar current — at sunset; the reason being that the one is cooling, the other heating. They thus impose a certain check upon the prevalent terrestrial influences, while putting us en rapport with them, since two positives repel each other, as do, of course two negative currents.
In the intense activities of our modern Western life, the positive breath is employed in excess, using up all physical and mental force under the lash of will-power. The resulting exhaustion sometimes amounting to painful prostration — is because the impact of the positive current has over-charged nerve centers; the human wires over which these currents flow slacken in this condition and refuse to respond to the vibrations playing upon them, so the negative current does not set in. There is discord and struggle in all the atoms to accomplish this, hence suffering. 1 The quickest re-lief for this condition is to close the right nostril and take a few negative breaths, with deep, full inhalations and slow, restrained exhalations from the same nostril. Only a few moments voluntary attention need be given. Once started the life- ) current will do its recuperative work.
Beneficial effects are gained by employing the positive breath when going to sleep,. which is done by lying on the left side. It counteracts a tendency to an excess of the negative principle in the heart at evening (at which time the negative — or lunar, current is the stronger), and also protects the sleeper from the frivolous and wasting activities caused by the invasion of idle thoughts (called dreams) upon the field of subconsciousness when the guarding mind is off duty. At dawn, it is well to turn upon the right side, but other movements in the night can be made according to comfort and convenience. Nature may be trusted to take care of breathing if we start it rhythmically.
The overwhelming importance of maintaining the equal balance of these two currents will be appreciated when it is known that the excessive preponderance of either causes death; each displaying characteristic symptoms, and causing negative or cardiac death and positive or spinal death. The former is commonly diagnosed as heart failure, and there is little doubt that in many cases the patient could be carried safely through the critical moment if the attendants stopped the left nostril and made the positive current of Prâna flow. There are cases where exactly the opposite treatment might be necessary. But if the nurse could not determine which breath was flowing, a few alternate breaths would assist nature to restore the balance.
In cerebro-spinal meningitis, not serum but such care as shall insure the rhythmic flow of the alternating currents down the spine is the treatment the symptoms call for, which agrees with but goes beyond the learned decision that fresh air was the only hope in this disease.
How to direct and control these life currents in manifold ways, promoting health, happiness, and efficiency is the purpose of this book. Those who wish to acquire the power should commit to memory the names of the Tattvas;: and as a preliminary exercise can practice alternate breathing on a count of four and eight pulse-beats or seconds, for inhalations and exhalations, respectively (that is, four to inhale, eight to exhale), or six and twelve, according to the lung capacity, which should not be forced, merely encouraged. Placing the first and second fingers of the left hand so that they can alternately close the left and right nostrils, begin the exercise by a thorough, deep exhalation. Then close the right nostril and inhale through the left; hold the breath for a perceptible moment, then with gentle restraint exhale it through the right nostril; next inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left. Repeat four times (four negative breaths and four positive ones; eight in all) and practice — it takes but a fraction of time — on rising in the morning, at noon, and in the evening.
The exercises can be taken standing, sitting or lying down. If the former, the spine should be held free and erect; and under no circumstances be twisted or bent from the shoulders; for it is the nervous system which should receive the first and most immediate benefit from the practice. Taken in bed, after retiring, the exercises are very calming and sleep-inducing.
It is by means of these universal vibrations that in actual fact a literal truth. The heart throbs of the Eternal Spirit pulsate through " us. It is in this way that we actually live and move and have our being in the God of Gods, the very Light of Light. This Tattvic Law of the Universe solves the mysteries of the Omniscience, Omnipresence, and Omnipotence of God, for there is nothing where He is not.