How To Acquire Rhythmic Breathing
( Originally Published 1908 )
THE whole Law of the Rhythmic Breath is now unfolded to you; you know its importance ; you know that the vibrations surrounding every human being (as also all living things from plants upward) are exactly symptomatic of internal conditions, being outward manifestations of those conditions; and you must realize the importance of the character and purity of the invisible color-forces which compose the human aura. Therefore, there remains but to consider some details of the constant effect of the Law.
If we would hold ourselves receptive to the finer, purer Tattvic currents flowing about us, it is imperative that the irregular fleeting waves of color which commonly sweep rapidly as before gusts of wind through the aura, be reduced to regular rhythmic vibrations, otherwise they present a repellant wall. Given an earnest desire to improve, with control of those emotions generally recognized as evil, nothing else so degrades and lowers the colors as the all-too-common habit of depression; nothing else so purifies and refines them, and enlarges the aura, as the regular habit of deep, rhythmic breathing.
We must give a glance at some of the reasons for our having to learn carefully and slowly, what should be perfectly natural to every human being. The first function of life which is aborted and perverted is that of correct breathing, and no other function is so little understood or so ignored and abused. It is this perversion and abuse that sow the first seeds of weakness and disorder in the human frame, because preventing any possibility of the harmonically balanced rhythmic flow of vital-force.
The babe, before he has submitted to discipline's unnatural methods of development, breathes deeply, moving his abdomen more than his chest; because the diaphragm is superintending the normal function, and, when lowered, thrusts the viscera downward which distends the elastic muscles of the abdominal walls, and leaves the thorax above much enlarged for the full expansion of the lungs. Only thus can the lower lung-cells be filled or have their stagnant residue of air changed and renewed. Everything stagnant is impure and invites germs of disease.
The moment discipline treats the child as some-thing that must be bent to civilization's standards instead of growing up naturally like a flower, constraint and fear begin their deadly work of tension and cramping, and nerves and muscles respond instantly to the iniquitous maldirection. Discord has set in and there is no more normal freedom. Fear clamps the lungs in a vice more harmful even than the external strictures of senseless clothing.
The long-suffering body, restored to its rights, and relegated to its true position in the septenary chain of human principles, becomes a totally different thing from the incubus which generations of men have dragged through life in the belief that ills of the flesh were the natural and unavoidable evils of living. Only the gross ignorance of the primest necessities of healthful living has created and fostered most of these ills, an ignorance which in spite of a decade and a half of the most active propaganda to spread the cult of health and prevention of disease through healthful living, still blinds the majority of mankind; and to the neglect of no one prime need is so much suffering due as to deprivation of fresh pure air! The purer the air the purer are the Tattvic vibrations and the higher their potencies.
As life exists only from breath to breath, he who but half-breaths only half-lives; and reduces his tenure upon life to but a slender thread. The vital forces which are the source of all life and which maintain and renew it, enter our bodies with every breath; are rhythmic in the degree of its regularity? and their harmony and normal balance depend first upon the freshness and purity of the air in-haled. Every exhalation expels from the body noxious principles, wastes generated in the physiological chemistry of combustion processes, which are virulent poisons to all living creatures. Domestic animals and pet birds are even more susceptible to their deadly influence than is man him-self, in whom unfortunately, the effects are slower and more subtle; else would mankind have awakened long ago to the loathsomeness of re-breathing these foul exhalations.
The cult of deep-breathing broke the first link in these self-forged shackles that mankind has dragged for so many weary centuries. But, unhappily, the cult was no sooner launched than it was split by theorists into many " schools " ; and according to the teacher the student was drilled in diaphragmatic, intercostal, or clavicular breathing; systems which divide the thorax into lower, middle, and upper registers respectively, and inhibit more than slight, imperfect movements of air through the practically unemployed cells of the lungs. It seems never to have occurred to these experimenters to ask (much less could they answer the query!) why so much space was taken up in the chest by masses of spongy substance that was of no use in the human economy, yet was so alarmingly susceptible to painful disorders !
It was never intended that only a part of the lungs should be used, but men and women have each adopted their special method of defeating Nature; the former, from neglect of clavicular (upper chest) breathing, furnishing the more victims of tuberculosis; and the latter, from their constriction of the waist-line, inhibiting all the lower muscles from activity, thus often causing atrophy of the lower lobes of the lungs, and rendering practically immovable the vital organs just beneath the diaphragm ; which encourages a long train of suffering. Semi-invalidism and early decay are inevitable under such conditions. Yet a New York authority upon voice-culture says that with correct deep-breathing, " no voice need lose its beauty till one, two, or even three, decades after the fortieth birthday is passed."
Now, deep, rhythmic breathing uses no one of these restricted " registers," but does employ all three in one. Habitual inhalations should be pro-longed till every respiratory muscle has been called into action and every lung cell is distended. This cannot be accomplished without a perfectly free and strong elastic diaphragm. It is profoundly important that one learn not only how to make it so faithful practice will do it but also its exact office in this life function.
The diaphragm is nearly the shape of an inverted basin, an irregular arch or crescent in every dimension. Acting like a bellows, when thrust out and downward, it expands the thorax, creating a vacuum into which the air is drawn, and it presses downward and outward all that is beneath it. Normal, deep breathing, which is rhythmic and harmonious, is thus an internal massage of all the vital organs. Every breath moves them gently in position, and consequently increases the circulation of the blood, and stimulates their secretions and excretions. The movements in both directions are partly contraction and partly expansion.
If you are not certain that your habitual breathing thus lowers and raises the diaphragm so the whole lungs are alternately filled and emptied, practice deep breathing while lying prone upon your back upon an unyielding surface. You will thus both see and feel the downward and outward stretching movement of the diaphragm as it flat-tens out when you inhale; for the abdomen is distended by the lowering of the viscera and you will distinctly feel the pressure upon the small of the back where the diaphragm is connected with the spine just below the lowest rib. Its great anchoring muscles, there contracting, pull it down forcibly. This part should be distended as much as the abdomen, but at the beginning of practice is apt to be found inactive.
It is in the filling of these lower lung-cells that the favorable Tattvas, Prithivi and Apas, put in their finest work of upbuilding and renewing. With every inhalation the abdomen should rise gently, falling with the exhalation, when the diaphragm is arched upward pressing upon and emptying the lower lung-cells.
When you have mastered the method, resume a sitting or standing posture for practice. In habitual breathing, the exhalations should be in rhythm with the inhalations, counting from six to eight during a movement according to lung-power, which will increase amazingly as the chest-walls and all muscles gain elasticity through regular practice.
The pulse heart-beat should be the unit of count, for the two functions are most closely associated. Thus: inhale during six pulse-throbs; hold breath during three; exhale during six counts; hold lungs empty during three counts. Repeat a dozen times or more; lengthen the breath as power is gained; and practice according to convenience several times a day. In normal, rhythmic breathing, the solar current flows in and out through the right nostril, and the lunar current through the left. When it is desired to make one or the other current flow, close the nostril or press the fifth rib on the side you wish to make inactive, and inhale and exhale through the other nostril. Inhale slowly and always through the nostrils,, in which passages there is provision to arrest impurities which, if carried to the lungs, would irritate their delicate structure. Contagious diseases can be contracted by the unlovely as well as unclean habit of mouth-breathing.
Do nothing automatically. In all your practice, make your thoughts follow and direct the vital currents. For example: Think as well as feel the pressure and distention in the small of the back. You will thus greatly facilitate the forming of the habit of doing involuntarily what you must now practice. Moreover, indulgence in automatisms is dangerously apt to encourage absent-mindedness, a fault which leads to grave mistakes, the results of which are seldom confined to the immediate offenders. All the accidents due to the " Didn't-think " folk can be traced to the encouragement of automatisms.
The habit should be acquired of holding the breath perceptibly before the exhalation, for only thus do we take from the inhaled air all its vital elements. It is possible through faithful practice to wont ourselves to deep, rhythmic breathing as the rule; and with the help of the corrective exercises Alternate Breathing and Held Breath to develop a dynamic energy which we can divert at need to any organ or nerve of the body and hold there long enough to stimulate a revitalizing process.
When we gain control of Prana for which purpose the Held-Breath exercises are practiced we are able to feel its subtle activity all over the body, and can concentrate it wherever an exhausted nerve needs renewing energy. It is only in these corrective exercises, or when the need is felt to change the currents, that the nostrils are closed and the breath arbitrarily directed to left or right. When the balance of the alternating current is restored, we leave Nature to take care of their regular alternation.
Human beings are electric batteries; and when either current of vital force the negative or positive flows too long, the vehicle of life becomes the engine of destruction. That is all; it is just a simple problem of electro-chemical action; and the Tattvic Law is the only thing that explains the mystery by which human life hangs on so slight a thread, and indicates to you the remedy for time of need. The knowledge thus put in your hands is a treasure beyond price.
In all practice, the promptness of the body's response to the revivifying influence will be exactly according to the clearness with which you realize the thought and the fixity with which you can hold it. Directed consciously with your soul-force vitalizing your mental vibrations, the current of Prβna increases in strength and electrical power, so that all the atoms are drawn into synchronous action, which means enormously increased power and activity.