Introduction to the breath for healers
These passages, arranged in themes, can help to orient us to the nature and power of breath in developing spiritual healing. They may give us a foundation for our journey of meditation, study and practice. Further sections are in preparation: Ways for developing the breath for healing; Rhythm and breath; The mystic’s breath.
Sources: All quotations unless otherwise listed, are from Hazrat Inayat Khan. ‘Gatha’ refers to the Gatha papers on breath, called Pasi Anfas; ‘IV’ refers to Volume IV of The Sufi Message.
As health is more important than anything else on earth, and as health depends entirely on breath, which is the very life, it is necessary that the culture of the breath should be considered as of the highest importance. Gatha I.2
Breath is the principal and essential power that can help in healing. There is a silent healing, and a healing by focusing the glance, by holding the painful part with the fingers, by rubbing it, by waving the hand over the painful part, by touching and by not touching it; but behind these different ways there is one power working, and that is the power of the breath. This power can be developed by breathing practices, and when the breath is so developed that it creates an atmosphere around the healer, then the very presence of the healer heals. IV p58
Weak breath is susceptible to all contagious diseases, and a healer with weak breath could get the disease from his patient in one healing; that is why power of breath is the most essential thing before one should attempt to heal. Vol IV p74
A healer must know in the first place that breath is the very life, that breath is the giver of life, and that breath is the bringer of life. One can live without food for some time, but one cannot live without breath even for a few minutes. This shows that the sustenance that breath brings to man’s life is much greater and much more important than any nourishment upon earth. Every atom of man’s body is radiant; but if the body is the flame, the breath is the fire, and as the flame belongs to the fire, so the body belongs to the breath. As long as breath dwells in it, it lives, and when breath leaves it, it is dead, for all its beauty, strength and complicated mechanism. That is why the effect of the breath of a holy person can magnetize water, bread, milk or wine, fruit or flower. Vol IV…
Breath is life and light, and in the breath is the source of life and light. In the mastery of breath the secret of both worlds is hidden. Gatha I.5
Breath is God. If God is manifest in anything, it is in breath.
The breath is the sound, not that sound that our ears can hear, but a fine sound.
Supplementary Papers p337
All that exists in the universe exists by the breath. Every being that is manifested manifests first in the breath. Because we are human beings, we think of the angels as being human beings also. Really they are a preparation for the human being. They exist in the breath.
Supplementary Papers p337
The mystic knows that the breath which we perceive by exhaling and inhaling through the nostrils is not the essential breath, but only the result of a current which runs not only through the body but also through all the planes of man’s existence. Vol VII p102
The breath is that current which is a ray, a ray which comes from that Sun which is the spirit of God. And this ray is the sign of life. What is the body? The body is only a cover over this ray. When this ray has withdrawn from this cover, the body becomes a corpse…The action of breath in our body is limited; but in reality this current, this breath, connects the body with the divine spirit, connecting God and man in one current. IV p191-2
Breath is a channel through which all the expression of the innermost life can be given. Breath is an electric current that runs between the everlasting life and the mortal frame. Those who have attained any intuition or miraculous power or any power have achieved it by the help of the breath. Gatha Breath I.5
The spirit produces this physical body out of itself; so the body in spite of all the physical nourishment, entirely depends upon the spirit to live. One can live for some time without food and water, but one cannot live without breathing. The reason is that as the physical body is made of the spirit, it needs to breathe spirit in, in order to exist. Breath therefore does not only nourish the physical body but it gives subsistence to all planes of man’s existence.
Therefore, the Sufi takes the breath as the means of getting what he wants from the life unseen to the life on the surface; also, he makes it a means of sending what he wishes from the life external to the life within. The breath may be considered as a lift that can take you to any floor up and any floor down. By the help of breath you can send your thought anywhere and to any plane and bring about desired results. In breath abides all the mystery there is. The Sufi’s object being self-realization by the ideal of God, he works for its attainment by the means of the breath, which he calls Fikr, and an ideal so attained becomes his property, his kingdom, forever. Githa Riyazat II.1
‘Prana is the body of the Self’. Satapatha Brahmana
In other words, prana is the vehicle or the medium of consciousness. In this sense, prana can be equated with the Hindu concept of prakriti, meaning the manifest constituents of the universe in the form of matter and energy…As such we can say that prana means energy. This prana or energy, whether it is the mind, body, matter or any form of energy, acts as the medium for carrying consciousness. Without prana, consciousness would be totally unable to express itself in the phenomenal world to manifest myriads of life forms in the universe. Prana is the active aspect of existence and consciousness is the all pervading, inactive and witnessing principle. For life to exist both must be present.
[ie prana is all forms of energy, material and non-material, gross and subtle]
A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Breath, vital forces, the physical body and even the mind are all no more than forms of prana or energy. Ramana Maharshi
The breath makes a circuit through the body, and the channel through which it makes the circuit is the spine. The mystics give this channel great importance; they call it the serpent. They picture it as a serpent holding its tail in its mouth. In almost all symbols the serpent represents the channel of the breath. In the terms of the Yogis it is called Kundalini. When this channel is made clear by the method of breathing then this is not only a help to the physical health but it also opens up the faculties of intuition and the doors that are within, where lies the real happiness of man. In order to clear this channel of all that blocks the way one must follow the rules of mystical ablutions and of rhythmic breathing.
Gatha Breath I.5
the body is a plant of the breath
The breath spreads through the whole body like a tree, and its stem is felt by man, and it is this stem which man in his everyday language calls breath. All the branches of this tree the mystic calls by different names. A mystic sees the whole body as a plant of the breath. Gatha I.3
According to the physician the lungs are the channel of the breath, but to the mystic the lungs are the branches of the tree, and other branches reach all parts of the body. This tree has a root in the body, and has centres where the branches meet the stem. There are five such centres in the body of man. The breath has its particular work in every centre. By the study of mysticism one finds that man’s life depends upon the working of the centres. Generally the centres are blocked up on the inner side of the body. Therefore they give but a dim light, if the breath be pictured as a gas and centres as lanterns. When the centres are not in a fit condition they are wasted; not only this, but man is deprived of the full experience of life.
Gatha Breath I.2
A mystic becomes capable of sending breath to any part of his body; thus he is able to send life, radiance and magnetism to any particle of his body. The question, ‘Does he send the breath by his power of will?’ can by simply answered by ‘Yes,’ and yet that is not enough. If there are no strings on the violin, you cannot play on it by will power. So long as the adept has not balanced his breath, and controlled it, and purified it, and mastered it, it cannot bring about the proper result. Therefore it is of no use to try to make use of breath for physical or occult attainments until one has caused the breath to be in such a condition that it can work properly in the body. Many therefore, are not successful in spiritual attainments because before making use of the breath in the body, they want to produce physical phenomena. You cannot play Beethoven perfectly on a piano, which is out of tune. The body is the instrument for every experience, worldly or spiritual, and it is not right to say that the body does not matter, only the spirit counts. It is just like saying that it does not matter whether the instrument is tuned, it is the music that counts. The mechanism of the body is so made that in each direction breath accomplishes a certain work, even to such an extent that the degree of its strength differs on the right and left. By a deep study of breath a seeker after truth will find that, as every particle of his body is formed and nourished by breath, so from that and according to that his character is formed. Gatha I.3
The first essential thing is a pure channel for the breath, and that channel is the human body. If the channel is blocked, there is no possibility for the breath to flow freely. Air in itself is not bad, but when it touches the earth, it partakes the influence of the earth, and therefore can become polluted. So it is with the breath; breath in itself is pure, but if the channel through which it works is not right, it becomes impure. Gatha Breath I.5
Breath is the very life in beings, and what holds all the particles of the body together is the power of the breath, and when this power becomes less then the will loses its control over the body. As the power of the sun holds all the planets so the power of the breath holds every organ. Besides this the breath purifies the body by taking in new and fresh life and by giving out all gases that should be put out. It nourishes the body by absorbing from the space the spirit and substance that are necessary, and more necessary than all that man eats and drinks. The whole mechanism of the body works by the power of the breath, and every disorder in the working of the mechanism is caused by some irregularity in the breath. Therefore physicians feel disorder in the health of a patient by feeling his pulse or the beats of his heart. The physician will say that it is the physical illness of the body which has caused the change in the pulsation and in the beats of the heart, but the mystic knows that it is caused by the breath. Gatha I.1
Every activity of the body, outward and inward, is directed by the breath. Therefore it is disorder of the breath which causes illness, and its order regulates the health. Gatha I.2
The mechanism of the body is so made that in each direction breath accomplishes a certain work, even to such an extent that the degree of its strength differs on the right and left. By a deep study of breath a seeker after truth will find that, as every particle of her/his body is formed and nourished by breath, so from that and according to that his character is formed.I.3
There are atoms in man’s body which form a certain organ, which are more or less active in different rhythms according as the breath reaches them. The atoms which do not receive the proper breath remain undeveloped, and therefore are inactive. Gatha I.4
If a person wishes to study the self, to know the self, what is important is not the study of the mind, of the thought, the imagination, nor of the body, but the study of the breath. The breath has made the mind and the body for its expression. It has made all from the vibration to the physical atom, from the finest to the grossest. Supplementary Papers p336
the nervous system
The mechanism of the body shows the nervous system as its principal battery, in which magnetism is prepared by the action of the breath…The nourishment of the nervous system is what breath attracts from space….not only oxygen, but that life and intelligence, that power and radiance which makes the nervous system in perfect order, the result of which is not only good health but ever-increasing magnetism, which comes forth from the person in his thought, speech, movement and action, charging his atmosphere with magnetism, which surrounds him as a fortification against all influences, physical and mental; thus making man live a fuller life. Gatha III.8
The life exists in the breath. When the breath is gone, the mechanism of the eyes is perfect, but we do not see. The mechanism of the ears is perfect, but we do not hear. The essence is in the breath. If we can see and hear by the physical organs, why should we not see and hear much more by the breath, since the essence is there? Supplementary Papers p338
Every emotion is caused by the breath flowing in a certain direction, also the degree of the force of the breath. Gatha II.4
Right breathing makes the mind vibrate, and vibration is the sign of life. All that vibrates more is more living…Inspiration comes from above, but as a light. It is the work of the mind to receive it. If the mind is not ready to receive it, the inspiration will come but will not be realized. It is just like the difference between the gong of metal and the gong of wood. The former will resound, the latter will not resound… So it is with the mind which is receptive to the inspiration and the mind which cannot conceive it. Gatha II.3
Mind is creative and thought is living, but out of what does mind create a thought? Out of the atoms of the mental sphere. But the current which attracts the desired atoms to complete a thought is the breath, not that breath which is outwardly manifest, but the part of breath the action of which is not felt by every man. Gatha III.1
the power of thought, word and action
The thought is created out of breath, the word is manifested out of breath, and action is done by the strength of breath. When the breath leaves the body the action is finished, when it departs from the mouth the word is finished, when it even passes from the mind then the thought is finished. Therefore all the power of thought, word, or action is in reality the power of breath, breath being the very life itself. The purity of breath purifies thought, word, or action, and the purity of thought, word, or action purifies breath. It is for this reason that Namaz, Wazifa, and Fikr are taught in the course of Sufism. Githa Amaliyyat I.3
being the slave or the master of life
Breath is the most important part of our life; in other words, breath is our very life. The one who is ignorant of its nature is ignorant of life. The one who is led by the breath is the slave of life, and the one who controls breath is the master of life. The words ‘led by breath’ mean that it is the breath, its speed and its change into different elements and into different directions, which conducts all the affairs of man’s life. Man, ignorant of this fact, is led by the breath and experiences conditions in life as they happen to come, and therefore life becomes not his kingdom but a prison. Githa Riyazat II. 6
According to the point of view of the mystic a natural full breath gives perfect health… The first lesson of a natural life is right breathing. Many people breathe a half breath, many a quarter and many still less. Many diseases such as lung diseases, and nervous diseases, can be avoided by right breathing. It is a certain direction that the breath takes that brings about sleep, and it is the direction of the breath that brings vigour or fatigue. Gatha I.2
The breath is the principle thing in life which absorbs the real nourishment for both body and mind. It is therefore that those who cannot breathe rightly can never be healthy; no food can nourish their body. And it is always the disorder of the breath which is the hidden cause of unsoundness of mind. The breath absorbs from the sphere nourishing properties for both mind and body. Therefore, there is no psychic who has developed his power without the development of the breath. Githa Amaliyyat II.4
One who does not breathe fully, in other words freely and deeply, can neither be well physically nor make use of his mental faculties. Very often one finds most learned and intelligent people unable to work as they wish and incapable of finishing a work which they have taken up. Sometimes a person thinks it a bodily weakness or mental weakness or lack of enthusiasm or loss of memory, not knowing that it is very often a matter of regularizing the breath. Most often people think that it is the external senses being tired or exhausted that prevents their thinking, but in reality it is the absence of right breathing, for right breathing can make the mental faculties clearer and the outer organs of the senses more capable of perceiving. This shows that the mind can live a fuller life by what I call full breath. For a Sufi, therefore, breath is a key to concentration. The Sufi, so to speak, covers his thought under the breath. Gatha II. 4
As the mechanism of the body depends upon the breath for its subsistence as well as for its health, so the breath is important in sustaining the mind and keeping its work regular. Mostly confusion, depression, or any other disorder of the mind arises from the disorder of breathing. All such diseases as hallucinations and delusions are caused by wrong breathing. For instance, if a person comes running or is hurried for a moment, he loses the regularity of his breath for that moment, and at that moment he is incapable of thinking rightly. If science and the State knew this, they could surely cause some change to be made in the present law. Many who are put in prison for some crime caused by them during moments of irregular breathing, the State would send to be cured and taught how to breathe, instead of sending them to prison. For neither does the prison cure them nor does it benefit by their presence there. By this I mean to say that not only a disorder of mind that comes at a certain time is caused by irregular breathing, but also a disorder which comes and goes so often during the day, whenever breathing is not rightly done. People who become impulsive, or show irritability in nature, who become impatient at times, who get fits of anger, passion, or laughter, who get spells of tears, all have an irregularity of breathing as the cause of all this. The physician has no remedy for their ills, modern psychology has not found the link, but the mystics of old have for years believed it – not only believed it, but practiced it – and have found in the end that balance of mind entirely depends upon regularity of breathing. Gatha II.2
All our life depends upon the breath, its length, shortness, depth.
Supplementary Papers p337-41
When a person has eaten very much, when he has drunk much water, when he has worked much with the earth, his breath is very heavy. You can hear it when he is sitting at dinner, or wherever he is. It becomes heavy from its contact with the matter, just as the air in a town becomes heavy from its contact with the houses, the walls. In the country, in the jungle, it is light because it is free. The people of normal life have a light breath. Normal means eating a normal amount, drinking a normal amount, healthy. They live longer. The material person, who eats very much, drinks very much, indulges in all the pleasures and comforts, has a short life. We always see that the athletic people, whose breath is normal, healthy, live long. Therefore the mystics keep all the passages of the breath open. They fast. They practice abstinence. Supplementary Papers p337-41
You may say, “Why are we not all conscious by the breath?” There are two things that make a person less sensitive. One is the impurity of the breath, the physical impurity, and the impurity of mind. For this purification is needed, not merely the outward purification, but the purification of the veins and tubes, of the lungs and all the passages. The body becomes impure because of the artificial life that we lead. The animals lead a much more natural life than we, and they are much more sensitive. If we go near a horse or a cow, an ox, before we put our hand on it, it shivers all over. Such a thick skin as the horse’s is so sensitive…There are the mystical ways of purification, the purification of the earth, water, fire, air, and other. Supplementary Papers p337-41
Then the breath must be made vital. Sometimes the breath is not vital, it is weak, and for that reason it cannot be discerned. What must be done to make it vital? When we want to strengthen our muscles we exercise them. The breath must be exercised. The Jalal breath has a connection with the sun. The Jamal breath has its connection with the moon. The breath flows either through one nostril or the other, but there are times when it flows through both nostrils. This is Kamal, the uniting of the two currents which brings about the destruction of the effect of both. There are ways of changing the breath from Jalal to Jamal, from Jamal to Jalal. Supplementary Papers p337-41
inhale and exhale
Inhaling is called ‘Uruj’ and exhaling is called ‘Nuzul,’ and each has its particular part in the life of an individual. Breath is life, and its work is to take the condition from within to the external plane, and to take the conditions of the external plane into one’s inner being. When one exhales, the condition of the inner plane is brought out, and when one inhales, the condition of the external plane is taken in. When exhaling, the harmony or inharmony of the soul is brought out, its influence first working on one’s mind, then on the body, then on surroundings. When inhaling, the conditions of the external plane – harmony or inharmony – are drawn into the body, then into the mind, then into the soul, which sets the soul either in calmness or in disturbance. When exhaling, one’s feelings and thoughts first work on one’s body, then on surroundings. When inhaling, the thoughts and feelings from the external plane are drawn into the body and into the mind. The same is the case with the physical body; it sends out the gases with exhaling, and inhaling, takes in all the fine properties from one’s surroundings. Githa Asrar ul-Ansara Mysticism I.6
The breath extends for miles together, farther than we can see. It reaches from here to Russia, to New York, and much further. By it you can send a message to your friend. By it telepathy is possible. Of course it depends upon the strength and length of the breath. The longer the breath, the further is its reach. For this reason the mystic lengthens his breath. He controls the rhythm. In each breath there are two parts, the inhaling and the exhaling.
During the exhaling you become dead to the world around you, to the external impressions. It is said of the mystics that they are absent-minded, that they are lost. That is because by the length of the breath they become dead for the time to the world. By this deadness they become alive to the world within, they experience that world. They experience before death what their condition will be after the death of the physical body. … The mystic experiences this journey in life. He does not stay there. He goes there and comes back.
subtle waves of breath
It is not only the inhaling and exhaling by the nostrils which accomplishes these two functions, absorption and rejection, but there are minute waves of the breath working in different directions of the body, which perform in their own way and in their own rhythm of speed…when any of these subtle waves of the breath working in any direction of the body get out of order, then an illness originates in that particular part of the body, spreading its influence gradually to other parts. Gatha III.9
All the elements are in the breath, according to the direction which the breath takes: the earth, water, fire, air and ether. We can taste them in the breath. There are five directions, four outward and one inward……If you say, ‘We cannot feel, perceive the elements in the breath; we do not know where they are,’ I will say, ‘This is a science. It cannot be understood in a moment. It is a study.’ Supplementary Papers p336