Mystic Art of Breathing

By R alph M . Lewis, F. R. C.

Leisure H our Series


Leisure Hour Series
“ R e a d i n g tim e d t o y o u r ta s te " is t h e p u rp o se o f th e L eisure H o u r Series. E a c h s u b je c t in c lu d e d in th is series is concisely a n d sim ply p re se n te d . I t is d e s ig n e d t o give th e re a d e r t h e u se fu l essence o f th e to p ic o f his in te re s t in as few w o r d s as possible. E a c h o f th e series b e lo w is p ric e d a t S 1 .0 0 , p o stp a id , fo r th e entire set o f six bo o^s. W h e n o r d e rin g , in d ic a te w h ich Series, A o r B. ( I f you hav e o n e o f e ith e r set, t h e o th e r five will be se n t yo u fo 8 U — k in d ly d o n o t re m it in p o sta g e sta m p s .)

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R a l p h M . L e w is, F. R .

S E R IE S “ A ” M a k e Y o u r O w n P ro p h e c ie s
L e a rn h o w t o see th e fu tu r e ev o lv e o u t o f th e p r e s e n t, logic ally a n d in te llig e n tly .

S E R I E S “ B* W h a t I s P s y c h ic P o w e r?
A co n c ise , in fo rm a tiv e e x p la n a tio n .

T h e A r t o f M e n t a l C r e a tin g
M a k in g you. your t h o u g h ts w o rk for

W h a t O c c u rs A fte r D e a th ?
H e r e is a m y stica l a n d scientific t r e a tm e n t o f t h is s u b je c t t h a t w ill fasc in a te y o u .

S e lf - H e a lin g
D ir e c tin g self. th e c u ra tiv e p o w e rs of

C o s m ic C o n sc io u sn e ss
L e a r n th e n a tu r e a n d v e lo p in g t h is p o w e r. w ay of d e­

P s y c h o lo g y o f M y stic ism
H o w to o f m in d . in d u c e th e m y stic a l s ta te

P s y c h ic P h e n o m e n a
K n o w th e b asic p r in c ip le s u n d e r ­ l y in g th e in te r e s tin g field o f psychic re s e a rch .

T he simple act of breathing suspends man between two worlds. Breathing ushers in life. From life there issues consciousness and, in humans, this results in a conception o f a physical world. F urther consequences of breathing in man are certain subjective states, such as the consciousness o f an intangible self and subtle psychic inclinations. These latter, man has associated w ith an invisible and infinite domain, which he has designated as the Divine or spiritual world. Since breath is the prim ary cause o f the phenomena o f life and the spiritual consciousness o f man, it is not strange that, for centuries, breath has been believed to be the vehicle o f Divine qualities. Those persons having a wholly objective point of view might contend other­ wise. T hey might take the position that air is only the spark which kindles the other properties o f man’s being. T hey could affirm that the so-called spiritual qualities of man actually arise out of th e organism o f m an’s being. A ir, they might say, is but the im putation that sets the organic machinery in motion. It is this machinery, the

M y s tic A r t o f B r e a th in g
H o w b r e a th in g c a n i n n e r consciousness. q u ic k e n th e

C o l o r — I t s M y s tic a l I n flu e n c e
H e r e is e x p la in e d h o w c o lo r affects y o u r life .

S u p e r s ig h t, o r T h e T h i r d E y e
I n n e r o r p sy c h ic p e rc e p tio n .

M y s te r y o f N u m b e r s
N u m b e r s a s keys t o o c c u lt fo rces.

S e n d O r d e r a n d R e m itta n c e to:

R o s ic r u c ia n P a r k , S a n Jo se, C a lif o r n ia U . S. A.
C o p y rig h t 1 9 5 0 by S u p rem e G ra n d L odge, A M O R C P r in te d in U . S . A . G -8 7 550

various somatic systems of physical man, which produces the functions of mind, the ego, and th e spiritual consciousness. T he subjectivist, th at is, the religionist and mystic, counters this view by pointing out that the chemical properties o f air alone, such as oxygen and nitrogen, cannot sustain the normal functioning o f man. T hey hold th a t an intelligence permeates the life force, which ac­ counts fo r the involuntary functions of an organism. This intelligence, in some way, has an affinity with the air we breathe. T he attributing of Divine qualities to breath, identify­ ing breath w ith soul, is partly due to the way in which men think. A ll of the qualities or characteristics which are related to the spiritual nature o f man, the ego, con­ science, and intuition, are wholly immaterial. They have no physical substance ap art from the body. These powers seem to be resident w ithin the body; yet they assume no visible form as do the heart and lungs. They manifest only in the hum an organism which breathes. They ap­ pear to cease w hen breath departs. Primitive reasoning, still common to many modern men, tends to confer the same nature upon similar conditions or things. Since self and conscience appear to depend upon breath, it is reasoned that the air we breathe must be, or must con­ tain, as a shell, the spiritual essence.

T he aborigines of W est A ustralia used one word, wang, to denote breath, spirit, and soul. T h e primitive Greenlanders declare that there are tw o souls for man, the shadow and the breath. T h e ancient Egyptians, fol­ lowing the reign of the great monotheist, Pharaoh Amenhotep IV , taught th a t breath bridged the gulf between God and man. A ir was a tenuous and invisible bond with the God beyond. T he H ebrew language likewise reveals this unity of breath w ith the spirit or soul of man. T h e w ord nephesh meant breath but eventually became neshamah which meant spirit as well. T he O ld Testam ent discloses that the infusion of breath m eant to the ancients more than the conferring of life upon man. I t m eant also the in­ clusion of soul within the body. In Genesis 11:7, we find: “A n d the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." It is to be noted in the above quotation that God is not said to have infused man w ith soul but rath er with "th e breath of life." Thereupon, man became "a living soul." T his distinction provides an opportunity for in ­ teresting metaphysical abstraction. A re we to infer from this that soul accompanies the vital life force, the breath of life, or that soul occurs as an effect of the life force acting upon the body? In other words, is hum an breath

the cause o f soul o r is it the medium by which the soul enters the body? If the latter is correct— th a t air engenders such attributes as we identify with soul— then the ancient doctrine th at the breath of life is a key to m an’s spiritual n atu re can be reconciled with the theories o f m odem science. A further consideration of this point we have reserved until later.
So u l ,

Su bstance?

T he etymologies of the Greek words, psyche o r soul and pneuma or air, are related. In classical Greek phi' losophy, soul and spiritual qualities are often made wholly dependent upon breath. T h e idea was not that breath caused life and th a t the soul later became resident w ithin the body, but rather that the air which is breathed was thought to be infused w ith the substance of soul. T h e Stoic philosophy relates th a t “ pneuma— breath or spirit— is b u t part of a great world soul.” Since mind or the rational principle was of the W o rld Soul, the in* halation o f breath brought to man this Divine intelligence which manifested w ithin him as reason or the higher intellect. I t must be admitted th at it is ordinarily extremely dif' ficult fo r the human mind to embrace the idea th at a gross corporeal substance, such as the body, can engender such incorporeal qualities as those which are attributed to soul.

It seems more probable to most minds that soul is related to a more subtle substance. A ir is invisible and, to the minds of the ancients, it was likewise infinite. Conse' quently, it paralleled those qualities conceived fo r the Divine nature o f man. It was plausible to them th at air was either a direct emanation of the Divine essence or th e carrier of it. Because of the im portance of air to life and because of the speculation on its relation to the soul, the Greek philosophers also sought to understand the mechanism o f respiration. Plutarch, in his essays, quotes the theories of breathing advanced by Empedocles, Asclepiades, and Herophilus. T h e latter’s theory shows an amazing understanding of the physical process of breathing, anticipating the explanations of modem physiology. T he identification of breath w ith soul came to in ' fluence many religious and philosophical rituals as well as social customs. In ancient Rome, the nearest kinsman leaned over the deathbed to inhale the last breath of the departing. T he soul was believed to be issuing from the m outh when the vital spark was leaving. T he kins' man might possibly inhale some of the immanent quali' ties of the soul which would infuse his own being or, at least, these qualities might be preserved within him. T he breath, as the vital life force and therefore p er' meated w ith soul essence, was likewise thought to possess great therapeutic qualities. A m ong m any peoples the

blowing o f the breath upon infected areas of the body or upon the sick was thought to be beneficial for the afflicted. Since soul was thought to enter w ith breath and to depart w ith it, then the blowing o f the breath upon others might im part the spiritual essence as well. W e even find this referred to in the N ew Testament where Jesus is related to have breathed upon the disciples, im parting to them the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is in the Hermetic and esoteric doctrines of mysticism and the religions o f India in particular th a t importance is attached to the natural act of breathing. Respiration is developed into a mystic art o r science by which the spiritual consciousness is said to be evolved. Breathing is held to be a mediator between the conscious, the mortal world, and the unconscious, th at is, the intelligence of the soul lying dorm ant w ithin most men. Breathing has been likened by these Easterners to “ the starting point of m editation.” In writings attributed to the legendary character, Hermes Trismegistus, such as the essay, “The Sermon o f Isis to H orus,” it is related th a t all things retu rn to their source. “ M ost Holy N a tu re hath set in living creatures the clear sign of this return. For that this breath we breathe from above out of the air, we send up again, to take it in (once m ore).” In Buddhist doctrines it is said th at the rhythm of breathing is but a part of the whole rhythm of the uni­ verse. T his rhythm exemplifies the cosmic motion of wax­

ing, waning, expanding, contracting, absorbing, and ex­ pelling, as witnessed in the other phenomena of nature. Philo of Alexandria said: “ T h e former, he (Moses) called the Breath of God, because it is the most lifegiving thing (in the universe) and God is the cause of life.” Paracelsus, noted physician, Rosicrucian and alchemist, in his essay on the elements, says that the other three, air, fire and w ater, arise out o f air — “ air strengthens the world and keeps it together as a dam does a marsh. . . . A ir, again, is like a skin in which is stored up a body, the whole world, to w it.” In this idea Paracelsus— just as the ancient thinker Anaxim enes did before him— prac­ tically confers upon air the nature of being the primal substance of all existence.

B r e a t h in g

T o the Hindus, however, recognition must be given fo r regarding the regulation o f respiration as a science by which certain ascetic and spiritual ends are to be attained. T h e yoga is a system of teachings which was derived from the Sankhya philosophy. It has gradually become so divorced from the Sankhya th a t only the more diligent students will come to learn o f its form er origin. T h e yoga doctrines were originally intended to bring the subliminal mind of man into a closer affinity w ith the

forces and powers o f nature. T he somatic functions, the bodily o r objective activities, are said to be maladroit and thus interfere w ith ou r effecting an absolute unity w ith nature. The body and objective consciousness must, yoga contends, be subordinated. T he regulation of the breath is claimed to achieve this end. Subsequently, yoga be­ came a method by which the individual, the inner self, was integrated w ith the universal self of which the former is an extension. T he method of controlled breathing is called pranayama. T h e latter is a combination of tw o words: prana, in­ breathing or inspiration, and a modification of the word apana, which means exhalation. T h e yoga sutras, or doctrines, relate th at the breath is to be suspended as long as possible. Breathing is to be “over as small an area as possible.” This refers to shallow breathing. It is also advocated that the num ber of respirations should be gradually diminished. A s the duration of suspended respiration becomes longer, the breathing becomes more and more shallow. Just why the suspended breathing? W h y should yoga recommend it as the objective o f all spiritual aspirants? First, it is related th at it is necessary to control the breath because it disturbs attention, so necessary for pro­ found meditation. W h en one first begins abstract thought, the rhythmic motion o f the chest does distract the con­ centration, but as one becomes engrossed in meditation,

the dom inant idea makes one unconscious of the respira­ tory motion. In the later yoga doctrines, it is asserted th a t controlled breathing is necessary for a cleansing of the impurities of both mind and body to achieve the ideal state, namely, unity with the universal self. T he yoga doctrines fu rth er state th at the regulation of breathing has a therapeutic effect on the bodily systems. They contend th a t it results in increased beauty and longevity, which condition, in tu rn , brings about poise, grace, and personal power. T he ancient Hindus, it would appear, had an excellent comprehension of both the physical and psychological effects of breathing. I t is evident th a t they made a very careful, or, w hat we would call, a scientific, study of respiration. T hey estimated the number of respirations per minute, corresponding very closely w ith those given by modem physiology. They were also apparently aware that there is a relation between the respiratory system and the emotions. W ith control of the breath, reflex actions would stimulate or depress the emotions. By in­ ducing certain emotional states, the inner o r psychic consciousness could be quickened. Subjective states could be attained w ith greater ease.
e s p ir a t io n and the



S ystem s

W e have learned, through the researches of modem science, that the respiratory center, which directs our

almost involuntary act of breathing, is located in the medulla oblongata. T h e medulla oblongata is a spinal bulb at the top of the spinal cord. It is an organ which functions for the conduction of impulses between the spinal cord and the brain. Experiments prove this center to be automatic. It has an inherent rhythmic activity similar to that of the heart muscles. It is particularly sensitive to reflex stimulation. T he respiratory center is connected with the cranial and spinal nerves and path' ways. A stimulation of any of the sensory nerves of the body, as a dash o f cold w ater, unusual sights, sounds or emotional states, affects the respiratory rate. T hat which affects the sensory nerves alters the activities of the respiratory center— it may increase or decrease our breathing, as we know from experience. Respiration is both active and passive. Inspiration or inhalation is active. The muscles are expanded. Exhala­ tion is passive. T he muscles, being elastic, gradually re­ tu rn to normal w ithout effort. It is believed that after exhalation the increased carbon dioxide in the blood stream acts as a stimulus in the respiratory center. From the respiratory center, then, nervous impulses pass via the spinal cord and nerve fibres to the intercostal muscles and the muscles of the diaphragm, causing inhalation again. Pulmonary diseases, which affect the rhythmic breath­ ing, are known to stimulate o r depress the emotions of

the affected person. T he sympathetic nervous system is affected, as well, by the breathing. T he blood is charged by deep breathing. T he energy is sympathetically trans­ mitted from the spinal nervous system to the sympathetic and, in turn, affects the psychic centers, those plexuses having to do w ith psychic functions, and thus the psychic, or inner consciousness, is exhilarated. W h en we are emotionally disturbed, as when suddenly gripped by fear, if we breathe deeply and hold the breath, it helps to suppress the emotional turbulence. The cells of the blood and the glands are revitalized by this deep breathing and the holding of the breath. T hrough reflex action, the respiratory center again stabilizes breathing which aids in the control of the emotions. Holding o f the breath, so long as it does not cause discomfort, assists in clearing the mind and stimulating the thought processes. The breath, we repeat, must be held only as long as it is comfortable to do so. Relaxation is facilitated by ex­ halation. T he breath must be exhaled as completely as possible w ithout experiencing stress. T h e duration, w ith­ out inhalation, must be for as long as comfortable. If tried three or four times, there is a noticeable relief in tension. From the Rosicrucian point of view, the air which we breathe, aside from its chemical properties, contains a polarity, that is, a quality of a dual cosmic essence. This polarity o f the cosmic essence is immaterial, in contrast

to its opposite, which arises out of the material elements of which the body consists. This immaterial element, or polarity, is positive or more active than th at arising out of the food and w ater which we consume. It carries w ith it the rhythmic order of the cosmic; by order o f the cosmic we mean the inherent harmony o f the universe. W e may even call this order, o r harmony of the universe, the soul, if we desire. M ore appropriately, however, we can say that, when we breathe, we are infused w ith an intelligence, and a power, which actuates the physical organism, our body, in such a w ay that, in a complex being as is man, there are produced those states of consciousness which we define as mortal and spiritual. T hus the seed o f the soul is in the air we breathe.

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S a n Jo se, C a lif o r n ia , U . S . A .

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