Pranayama: The Power of Breath

pranayamaPranayama is a Sankrit word meaning “control of life-force energy” with prana meaning “life-force energy” and yama meaning “control.” Breathing is an automatic process for all living beings. If we tried to stop ourselves from breathing, our body would desperately on its own try to inhale and exhale with all its might. However, humans are the only creatures that can control their breathing by simply bringing their attention or awareness to their breath. We take in our first breath the moment we are born and do not stop breathing until our last exhale when we die. Our first breath when we are born is always an inhalation and the last breath before we die is always an exhalation because breathing is the vehicle through which life-force energy from Spirit flows through our mind and body. This life-force is called Prana by the Hindus, Chi by the Chinese, Breath of Life by the Hebrews, Holy Spirit by the Christians, Pneuma by the ancient Greeks, Spiritus by the Romans, Num by the Kung San indigenous people of the African Kalahari desert, and Mana by the Kahuna people of Hawaii. There is a direct link between our physical¬† breath and our connection with the Divine. The English word respiration came from the Latin word respire. The prefix re– means “return” and spire is the root of spiritus which means “spirit” and literally describes how the spirit of life leaves our body and then returns with every cycle of breathing. The Latin verb expire is composed of the prefix ex– which means “out of” and pire is the root of spiritus which means “spirit.” The word expire means not only “to breathe out,” but also “to die.” Translated literally, expire means “the exiting of the spirit.”

How We Got Disconnected From Our Source

Thousands of years ago, it was discovered that our breathing pattern and depth of breath changes when we experience different kinds of emotions, different states of health and illness, and different states of consciousness. In fact, all forms of illness exhibited patterns of breathing that were shallow and irregular. Our breathing became irregular when we started experiencing pain or fear. All other negative emotions such as anger, hatred, depression, frustration, jealousy, doubt, guilt, disappointment, or despair, are just variations or different combinations of pain or fear. When we are in pain or fear, we hold or stop our breath as if the only way to stop the pain and fear was by attempting to kill ourselves by holding our breath. This is why when we hurt someone else, not only are they suffering, but we are also killing ourselves by stopping our breath because we can only hurt others when we are in a negative emotional state. The holding of the breath is temporary because the body struggles to fight for its survival. What results is a compromise as breathing continues but erratically by starting and stopping, and shallowly by breathing in only part of the way and then stopping to exhale before the breath is complete. Since the breath is Spirit or the Divine itself, our connection with our Divine Self becomes irregular or weak which explains our emotional highs and lows through life.

The Power of Breath

It was discovered that by manipulating our breath, we could transform fear into confidence, mental and physical illness into wellbeing and health, and elevate our consciousness to connect with the Divine. The famous Gautama Buddha was said to attain enlightenment by meditating on his breath and following its life-force energy back to its source. Eastern martial artists discovered that all pain and fear can be controlled by the breath which made them almost invincible during battle because it gave them extraordinary courage, strength, stamina, razor-sharp focus, awareness, reflexes, and extrasensory perception. The breath is the key to freeing up emotions, getting emotions to move, or raising the vibration of negative emotions. The best thing is that the breath is accessible to everybody, even those who are completely paralyzed can utilize the power of their breath. As on as you can breath, you can use this potent power.

Oxygen for Bright Eyes & Glowing Skin: Pranayama works to increase your lung capacity, thereby maximizing the amount of oxygen you breathe in which makes your blood oxygen-rich producing the light or sparkle in your eyes and radiant, glowing skin.

Slow Long Deep Belly Breathing: When you need to calm down, de-stress, release all negativity, and feel complete peace, do the slow, long, deep belly breathing technique. This is also great to do before going to sleep or to prepare yourself for meditation. Slow, long, deep belly breathing is the most effective organic form of psychotherapy because it draws the breath down to your navel chakra, which is the only chakra in your energy body that is connected to all 72,000 nadis or energy lines that go through your entire being out to the universe and beyond. Together with your intention or visualization this type of breathing can direct all unwanted energies out of your system. You start the slow, long, deep belly breathing first with an inhalation where you slowly inflate your belly as full as you can and then inflate your lungs. Then when you exhale, start by pushing the air out of your belly and then pushing the air up out of your lungs. Then repeat the inhale and exhale as long as needed. Try to make the inhalation equal in length and rhythm to the exhalation.

Fast Long Deep Belly Breathing: When you need to speed up your metabolism, crank up your energy levels, heat up your body, improve your blood/energy circulation, focus, concentration, discipline and will power, do the fast, long, deep belly breathing, otherwise known as the Breath of Fire in yogic traditions. This is great to do in the morning when you need a good amount of energy and focus to take on the day, or when you do not have the energy to exercise due to illness or physical disability, but you need the energetic benefits of exercise. The Breath of Fire is like the slow, long, deep belly breathing only it is speeded up or done fast. In order to do long, deep, belly breathing fast, you need to really use the muscles of your belly, chest and throat to push the air in deep and out fast. Make sure the breath is deep and goes all the way down to your belly, otherwise you will be only hyperventilating (fast, shallow breathing) which could weaken you instead of strengthen you. The Breath of Fire is also great for increasing your control of your breathing by strengthening and toning your breathing muscles. It also helps to expand your oxygen capacity since your muscles will be strong enough to expand and contract to their maximum with very little effort or automatically.

How to Reconnect with the Divine

To restore a healthy connection to our Divine Self, we need to change our breathing from an automated process that we have no conscious control over to a fully mastered or controlled process. In order to control anything, we need to be in control of ourselves. Though we may think we are in control of ourselves, most of us are not in control of our mind or our body. For example, how many times have we had negative thoughts enter our mind without our permission and tried desperately to get rid of them, avoid them, or let them take over us? How many times have we made an intention to do one thing but ended up doing the opposite or not do it at all? How many times have we reacted to something automatically to which we later regretted and wished we had better control over our self? Thoughts in our mind seem to have a mind of their own. Instead of us choosing what we want to think about, the mind is constantly distracting us with thoughts, visions, event replay, judgments, and internal dialog which leads to foggy thinking, procrastination, and lack of direction. As for control over our body, most of us can control how our arms, legs, and bodies move only up to a certain extent. For example, we may want to do a split but our body will only go down to a certain level before protesting with pain depending on how well we have conditioned, trained, or mastered our bodies.

Mastering Body & Mind

In order to be able to master our breath, we need to first master our body and then our mind. One of the best ways to master the body is through the practice of yoga (see Yoga article) and one of the best ways to master the mind is through the practice of meditation (see Meditation article). Most of us identify ourselves as our body and mind, not realizing that we are more than that. It is very difficult to control something that we are identified with, but it is much easier when we separate our self from it and can manipulate it like an object outside of us.

Since the body is more concrete than the mind, it is the easiest to start with. When the body is tight and tense, we have a hard time separating our identity from our body. It is almost as if we become trapped in our body when it is tight, tense, and inflexible. Once our body is flexible, we begin to feel free and can separate our self from our body and therefore can exert control over it.

Mastering the mind means to remove our identity with it, make it quiet, and turn it into pure awareness, a witness or observer instead of its usual activity of producing one thought after another. It requires a separation of our self from our racing thoughts which is hard to do if our body is too wound up, tense, and inflexible. Once we realize that we are not our body, we can work on realizing that we are not our mind either. We actually recommend as a daily practice a yoga that incorporates pranayama and ends in meditation on the breath since yoga is a perfect preparation for meditation.

Mastering the Breath/Spirit

Once we have mastered our mind and made it into a quiet witness or observer, we can perceive blocks in our breathing more easily and direct the life-force energy in the breath to areas of our body and mind that need it the most as well as use it to unite with the Divine. There are advanced breath control techniques that are so powerful that they are only taught to those who have achieved a certain level of mastery over body and mind. Without the proper controls or stability in body and mind in place, there is a danger of extreme imbalance that can result in sudden physical illness or mental breakdown. For this reason, we will only teach it to those who have reached a certain level of mastery in yoga and meditation. Some may not need to learn these advanced breathing techniques at all since yoga and meditation are usually enough in themselves to achieve high states of spiritual consciousness, mental wellbeing, and physical health.

Beyond the Breath

Probably the most notable contribution to humanity from the Buddha was his discovery of meditation on the breath. He discovered that when the breath slows down, thoughts slow down and when the breath stops during deep meditation, we transition from the denser physical and semi-physical energy of breath to the non-physical manna of Heaven and the thoughts stop completely. When we stop talking to ourselves, we can hear more clearly the voice of God, or the intuitive voice of our Higher Self. Things become much clearer, answers come easily, problems resolve themselves, or solutions present themselves. Meditation on the breath does not attempt to control the breath, but it does attempt to bring consciousness to one’s breath by simply watching it or observing it without judgment, paying attention to where the breath is coming from and where it is going, tracing it back to its Source. During this state when our breathing stops, we realize that we can survive without the breath when we are fully connected to Spirit, that we are much more than the breath, and we transcend our fear of death.

How to Learn

Pranayama training is available through Ardent Light Life/Health/Spiritual Coaching sessions. You can also teach yourself more advanced breath control or meditation techniques to heal specific types of physical, mental and spiritual ailments by reading Andy Caponigro’s book The Miracle of the Breath: Mastering Fear, Healing Illness, and Experiencing the Divine.