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Journal of Psychology in Africa 2008 18(2); 311-318

Printed in USA - All rights reserved

Copyright 2008

Journal of
Psychology in Africa
ISSN 1433-0237

Jungs Breath-Body and African Spiritual Healing

Stephen D. Edwards
David J. Edwards
University of Zululand
Address correspondence to: Stephen D. Edwards, Ph.D, D.Ed.,Emeritus Professor and Research Fellow, Department of
Psychology, University of Zululand, Private Bag X1001, KwaDlangezwa, 3886. E-mail:
Breath-Body and African Spiritual Healing

Psychology essentially refers to the study and use (logos) of the breath, soul or spirit of life (psyche) that leaves a
person at death and continues in some other form. From such a fundamental perspective, all forms of ancient and
modern caring, helping and healing have their foundations in breath-based behaviour, experiences and spirituality. This
article examines Jungs image of the breath-body or spirit-body in relation to various spiritual healing traditions with
special focus on their source in African spiritual healing.

Keywords. Jung, breath-body, spirit-body, spirituality, African spiritual healing.

Jung had deep insight into the prevailing European, materialistic and natural scientific zeitgeist, which had brought
about great splits in the individual and collective Western psyche. In striving for balance, harmony and healing, he pioneered the reintroduction of ancient African and Eastern
wisdom into the Western world.
Jung insisted that the psyche is antecedent and a precondition for that phenomenon now called mankind (Brooke,
1991:59). The psychological moment in time for this realization occurred during his visit to Africa and culminated in his
experiences of dawn on Mount Elgin in Kenya where the
world appeared as a shining temple (Brooke, 1991; Burleson,
2005). An Elgonyi elder had described and demonstrated an
ancient ritual ceremony of going out of the hut in the morning,
spitting and blowing vigorously on the hands before holding
them up to the sun. For Jung this was a sacred offering to the
sun, where the spittle and breath represented the life-force
and spiritual healing power.
"If they breathe into their hands, breath is wind and spirit-it
is roho, in Arabic ruch, in Hebrew ruach and in Greek
pneuma. The action means: I offer my living soul to God. It
is a wordless acted prayer, which could equally well be
spoken; Lord into thy hands I commend my spirit." (Jung,
1931a, pp.72-73).
In his commentary on the Secret of the Golden Flower,
Jung (1957) notes that the Chinese alchemical metaphors of
diamond body or holy fruit refer to the purified, incorruptible
breath-body or spirit-body sought by Taoist adepts in their
search for spiritual immortality. For Jung this also covered an
essential quest for all humanity of special relevance in the
second half of life.
"Psychologically these expressions symbolize an attitude
that is beyond the reach of emotional entanglements and
violent shocks- a consciousness detached from the world.
I have reason for believing that this attitude sets in after
middle life and is a natural preparation for deathChinese yoga philosophy is based on this instinctive preparation for death as a goal. In analogy with the goal of the first
half of life - procreation and reproduction, the means of

perpetuating ones physical existence - it takes as the goal of

spiritual existence, the symbolic begetting and birth of a "spirit
body" or "breath body" which ensures the continuity of detached consciousness." (Jung, 1957, p.46).
To heal means to make whole; to transform from illness to
health. With the image of the breath body Jung expresses the
body-based essence of established traditions of spiritual healing,
building spiritual community and communal spirituality. The aim of
this article is to explicate this theme with special reference to the
African source of various spiritual healing traditions.

Jung and the Breath-Body or Spirit-Body

Jungs (1931b) investigations into ancient spiritual healing traditions led to the conclusion that "the ancient view held that the
soul was essentially the life of the body, the life breath, or a kind of
life-force which assumed spatial and corporeal form at the moment of conception, or during pregnancy or, or at birth, and left the
dying body again after the final breath" (Jung, 1931b, p.345). He
recognized the vital importance of the various spiritual healing traditions and their archetypes as precursors and correctives for the
type of natural scientific psychology that had developed during the
early twentieth century in Europe, the UK and USA. This meant a
psychology that gave proper recognition to spirit as the universal
expression of soul and soul as the individual expression of spirit,
"a psychology with the psyche that is, a theory of the psyche ultimately based on the postulate of an autonomous spiritual
principle" (Jung, 1931b, p.344).
For Jung the psyche refers to an "open realm within which the
world is constituted as a human world" similar to what Heidigger
meant by dasein (Brooke, 1991, p.93). On various occasions
Jung referred to his approach as essentially phenomenological in
orientation in its attempt to give proper recognition to all phenomena of human experience. His view was that psyche is essentially
revealed to humanity through images from which it is indistinguishable in a form of relational balance requiring ongoing collaboration. While constantly shaping us environmentally and through
archetypal images arising from the collective unconscious of our
evolutionary past, the revealed world is also what we make and
imagine it to be, for example in our language, actions, gestures,
drama, poetry and other events of the individuation process.

In an empirical attempt to examine the soul, Jung (1931b, p.
345) investigated such names people have given to their experiences as the Gothic saiwula and old German saiwulo from
which the German Seele and English word soul derive as well
as the old Slavonic sila or strength. These words are etymologically linked to the Greek ailos (quick moving, twinkling iridescent), anemos (wind), animus (spirit), anima (soul), psyche
(butterfly), psychein (to breathe), pneuma (wind or spirit), psychos (cool) psychros, (cold, chill) and physa, (bellows) and connote the experience of a moving life force. The Gothic us-anan,
(to breathe out), the Latin anhelare, (to pant) are linked to Old
High German, atum, (breath). In Arabic, wind is r h and r h is
soul, spirit. These connections indicate clearly how in Latin,
Greek, Gothic, German, English, Slavonic and Arabic the
names given to the soul are related to the notion of moving air
and breath and the basis for endowing the soul with an invisible
Although he visited India, collaborated with Richard Wilhelm
on the Secret of the Golden Flower, introduced Eastern philosophy to the West and found that the rich symbolism of yoga provided "invaluable comparative material for interpreting the collective unconscious" Jung did not apply Yoga methods in or
advocate yoga for Western persons. His reasons were the different lines of spiritual development, the much older and more
advanced spiritual traditions of the East, greater emphasis on
Christianity in the West, the principle that nothing ought to be
forced on the unconscious by consciousness with its typical intensifying and narrowing effect, and need for Western civilization to free itself from its barbarous one-sidedness and gain
deeper insight into human nature. He predicted that the West
would ultimately produce its own yoga along Christian
foundations (Jung, 1936, p.537).
Critical analysis should include Jungs insight into the splits
within his personal psyche and other related personal, family
and religious conflicts (Jung, 1961; Hayman, 1999). His prediction has not come to pass fully as Yoga is popular throughout
the Western world today. Moreover his method of active imagination to help Western clients make the unconscious conscious
and free it from its rigidity essentially uses a form of meditation
and imagery recognized in Yoga. Central to this method is the
focus on images arising from archetypes from the collective unconscious. In describing his method of proof for establishing the
existence of the archetypes, Jung (1917) described the
essential features of active imagination as follows:
"Another source for the material we need is to be found in
active imagination. By this I mean a sequence of fantasies
produced by deliberate concentration the patient is simply
given the task of contemplating one fragment of fantasy that
seems significant to him- a chance idea, perhaps, or some
thing he has become conscious of in a dream-until its context becomes visible, that is to say, the relevant associative
material in which it is embedded. It is not a question if the
free association recommended by Freud for the purposes of
dream analysis, but of elaborating the fantasy material that
adds itself to the fragment in a natural manner" (Jung, 1917,
p. 49).
Variations of this method of amplifying imaginative material
are described, using expressive techniques through concentrating on inner images, voices, drawing, painting, movement,
sculpture and automatic writing. The therapeutic value of the intensity of clients emotional disturbance related to archetypal
energy and the regulating and transcendent influence of the unconscious through creative formulation and understanding is

Breath-Body and African Spiritual Healing

thus given proper recognition and expression. Although care
must be taken with the method so as not to unleash a psychosis
(as is the case in kundalini yoga), once clients have fully confronted and owned disturbing archetypal material, faith, trust
and confidence to overcome similar future threats becomes
established (Jung, 1916; 1917; 1955).

The Breath-Body in Various Spiritual

Healing Traditions
The etymology of the term spiritual healing is derived from the
Latin roots spiritus, (spirit), the German terms heilin (whole), helig
(holy) and related old English terms hael (whole), haelen (heal)
and halig (holy). The adjective spiritual is added here only for thematic emphasis, as strictly and etymologically speaking, to be
healthy is to be whole or holy, which embraces both the physical
and spiritual aspects of humanity. For example the ancient Greeks
viewed the universe as a kind of organism sustained by pneuma or
cosmic breath. In similar fashion, spiritual healing is characterised
by a holistic, holographic attitude, where all parts of the universe
are viewed as fundamentally inter-related (Wilber, 1998). Nature is
perfectly replicated in each person, so that every cell in the human
body is a microcosm of the cosmos and all levels of an individuals
being, physical, psychological, spiritual, social and ecological are
of equal importance in the prevention of illness and promotion of
health (Chopra & Simon, 2004; Graham, 1990; Reid, 1998). In essence the healing task is to balance and harmonise various patterns of energy flow within and without our physical and subtle
bodies and in our interpersonal, social and ecological relationships, through tuning in to the rhythms/vibrations of the cosmos,
nature and humanity.
The theme is further contextualized as follows. Complementing orthodox Christian faith healing, the spiritual science of Rudolf
Steiner (1999) distinguished four main energy layers or bodies
which surround the physical body; the etheric/health, emotional/astral, mental/I am and causal/I AM energy bodies
(Dziemidko, 1999). There are over eighty hospitals world- wide
that are now run by the anthroposophical medical model (Evans &
Rodger, 1992). Attempting to integrate Western and Eastern traditions, with special reference to the chakras, Judith (2004) has defined soul as the individual expression of spirit and spirit as the universal expression of soul, symbolizing the energetic pull of mind
and spirit on the one hand and that of soul and body on the other in
terms of ascending currents of liberation and manifestation respectively. Viewing matter and spirit as exterior and interior aspects at all levels of evolution and involution, Wilber (2007) has integrated traditional, modern and postmodern views on the great
chain of being linking matter, life, mind, soul and spirit into an integral psychological model consisting of four quadrants: representing inseparable dimensions of human being-in-the-world first-person, second-person, and third-person accounts: the "I" of self and
consciousness; the "we" of culture and world view; the "it" of brain
and organism and the social system and environmental "its".
From a breath-body perspective, ancient practices of spiritual healing, modern forms of counselling and psychotherapy,
art, dance, music and other expressive therapeutic techniques,
progressive relaxation, systematic desensitisation, crisis intervention and all other forms of caring, healing, illness prevention
and health promotion have their ontological foundations in
breath-based behaviour patterns and are mediated by various
breathing experiences. Our following discussion traces such
practices to their roots in African forms of breath-based healing
The breath-body and spirit body may be regarded as
phenomenological equivalents of the concepts of soul and spirit

Journal of Psychology in Africa 2007 18(1); 311-318

respectively, two fundamentally interrelated aspects of the psyche. Jungs interpretations reflect breath-based, spiritual healing traditions used since ancient times by indigenous healers in
Africa, India, China and other areas of planet earth (Chopra &
Simon, 2004; Reid, 1998; Taub-Bynum, 1984). Healing traditions variously extol a form of healing energy called Ra and Ka
(Ancient Egypt), N/um (San), Umoya (Zulu), Elima (Congolese),
Ruach Ha Kodesh (Hebrew), Prana (Hindi), Nafas Ruh (Moslem), Baraka (Sufi), Spiritus Sanctus (Latin for Holy Spirit),
Pneuma (Greek), Chi (Chinese), Mana (Figian), Ni (Sioux),
Manitu (Alonquin), Chindi (Navajo) (Elinwood, 2004; Reid,
1998; Taub-Bynum, 1984). This healing energy is typically experienced through the life-breath as a form of bridge between
nature, God, ancestors, body, mind and world. Breath-based
spiritual healing may be viewed as holistic, contextual and essentially psychological, in the original and literal meaning of this
term, in its concern with the logos (study) of the psyche (breath,
energy, consciousness, soul, or spirit of life that leaves a person
at death and continues in some other form). This vital life force
of breath-energy is recognized as the most fundamental essence of life, to which we have direct, phenomenological access
through intra and interpersonal experiences, behaviour and in
all other environmental relationships as in the following
Islam. Various stages and levels of spirituality are outlined in the Islamic mystical tradition of Sufism. For example,
seven unfolding levels of soul are distinguished in all people; the
mineral, vegetable, animal, human, angelic, secret soul and
Soul of the secret of secrets. The term nafs, refers to a process
involving breath, soul, essence, self and nature of the incarnated soul in its quest to return to the realm of spirit though
(Frager, 1989:307): commanding nafs, of physical and egoistic
desires; accusatory nafs who cause repentance and intention to
improve; inspired nafs motivating compassion, morality and
service; tranquil nafs bring trust and gratitude; fulfilling nafs motivating spirituality above selfish bodily desires; perfected nafs
bringing realisation that individuality and separateness are
illusions and only God exits.
Christianity. John 20:21 reads: Again Jesus said, "Peace be
with you! As the father has sent me, I am sending you." And with
that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit."
The Life Application Study Bible (1991, pp.1927) reads "through
the breath of Jesus God imparted eternal spiritual life. With this
inbreathing came to the power to do Gods will on earth." The
Holy trinity consists of father God, son Jesus and the Holy Spirit
also called Spirit of Truth with the function of providing divine
counselling and guidance to humanity. Priests carry on this tradition during baptisms, catechisms and last rights "in the name
of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" with the Latin term
"spiritus conveying this essentially spiritual communication.
Jungs family history, personal experiences and extensive research has provided deep insights into the psychology of Christianity (Hayman, 1999; Jung, 1936; 1961).
Buddhism. As a vast spiritual tradition, based on the life and
teachings of Gautama Suddhartu, who became known as the
Buddha (enlightened one). Buddhism teaches the encountering
of suffering and meaningful world engagement. One particular
branch of Buddhism, Zen, places great emphasis on the
life-breath. Zen Buddhism developed in the fifth century A.D,
through the influence of the Tantric Buddhist monk from India,
Bodhidharma, nicknamed Tamo, who taught pranayama at the
Shaolin monastery in Honan Province in northern China. Tamo
was responsible for fusing various Hindu, Buddhist and Taoist

traditions in developing and improving various meditative, martial and medicinal breathing styles. In Zen breathing techniques,
special emphasis in on breathing as a grounding and meditation
technique, through life-breath stored in the energetic, intestinal
area of the belly, referred to in India as the second chakra or
svadisthana, in China as the lower tantien and in Japan as the
hara (Brasier, 2003; Galante, 1981; Reid, 1998).
Taoism. Unlike Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, Taoism
had no particular founding figure. It grew out of treasured writings such as the Tao te Ching and the ancient book of divination/changes known as the I-Ching, leading to the development
of Chi gung, the first branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Chi gung took root some 10,000 years ago as a form of tribal,
ceremonial, great dance (da-wu), which was discovered to have
therapeutic benefits (Reid, 1998).
In its meaning of breath, air and energy, the Chinese and
Taoist concept of chi or qi indicates the vital role that breathing
plays in transmitting the atmospheric energy of air, oxygen and
negative ions into the human system. Gung connotes any
movement, action, work, skill or achievement that require much
time, effort and practice to cultivate and perfect. Chi-gung therefore refers to a form of energy skill or control, which is typically
associated with breathing and movement (Reid, 1998).
The first written references to Chi-gung are found in texts
dating back 4000 years, when another slow moving aerobic and
therapeutic dance was specifically developed to prevent illnesses arising from dampness and flooding in the Yellow river
basin and to promote health through guiding and gathering chi
(dao-yin). This dance combined breath control with rhythmic
bodily movements patterned on those of animals in nature
(Reid, 1998, p.26). Since these early times, Chi-gung breathing
skills have developed into a form of health and energy care with
medical, martial and meditative applications. The system was
further developed in the fifth century A.D, by the Tantric
Buddhist monk, Ta Mo (Reid, 1998).
Taoist systems of breath control emphasize breath
co-ordinated movement. In the focus on stimulating internal energy through soft continuous external movements harmonized
with deep, diaphragmatic breathing under conditions of mental
calm and quietude, Chi-gung is often referred to as moving
meditation, which balances yin and yang, stillness and activity,
medicine and the martial arts. Tai Chi is a special, internationally popular form of Chi-gung (Reid, 1998).
Hinduism. Like Taoism Hinduism has no individual founding
figure. It grew out of sacred writings such as the Vedas and
Brahamans and settlements in the valleys of the Indus and
Ganges rivers, has been tolerant of all paths to spiritual truths
and gave birth to yoga. In the Yogic conception prana or life
force, is experienced and conceptualised as the connecting link
between matter, life, mind, energy and consciousness in the cycle of life and death, reincarnation, karma and nirvana (Hewitt,
1977; Reid, 1998; Taub-Bynaum, 1984).
"Prana, which exists on all the planes of manifestation, as
the connecting link between matter and energy on the one
hand, and consciousness and mind on the other. Consciousness expressing itself through the mind, cannot come
into touch with matter and function through it without the intermediate presence of prana" (Hewitt, 1977, p.421).
Many specific Yogic breathing and meditation techniques
have been developed to realise the main goal of yoga: union
with ultimate reality. One branch of yoga, kundalini, practises
spiritual refinement of the life-breath through seven chakras or


Breath-Body and African Spiritual Healing

spinning wheels of energy, associated with particular anatomical locations of the spine and brain, plexuses of the nervous, endocrine and other human functional systems as well as colours,
sounds, patterns and symbols (Judith, 2004; Mumford, 2005,
Ralston, 1999; Reid, 1998). For example, from perineum to
crown, the chakras muladhara, svadisthana, manipura,
anahata, vishudda, ajna and sahasrara are respectively associated with energetic, systemic functions of elimination, reproduction, digestion, circulation, respiration, nervation and ultimate
cosmic realisation.

The Source: African Spiritual Healing

Ancestral reverence, which forms the foundation for all spiritual traditions, is nowhere more alive than in Africa. This is appropriate in view of general agreement across diverse scientific
disciplines, with regard to central Africa providing the original
fountainhead, over one hundred thousand years ago, from
which all streams of humanity flowed. From this source, it
seems that homo sapiens gradually emigrated across the Sinai
Peninsula some fifty thousand years later, settling in the near
east before migrating into Asia, Europe and the rest of planet
earth (Jobling et al., 2004; Myers, 1993; Sykes, 2001). Sykes
(2001, p.353) has pointed out how we use our ancestral
mitocondrial DNA formula constantly:
"Every atom of oxygen we take into our bodies when we
breathe has to be processed according to the formula that
has been handed down to us by our ancestors. This is a very
fundamental connection in itself."
While an infinity of factors such as language and creative intelligence would have played a role, it is clear that contemporary
humanity has survived primarily because of a remarkable facility to form and maintain social relationships (Jobling et al., 2004;
Myers, 1993; Sykes, 2001). The fundamental form of these
links in human relationships is poetically portrayed in the Zulu
saying "umuntu umuntu ngabantu". This saying, which literally
refers to the fact that a person becomes a person through other
people; only through you do I become an I and I am because we
are; has the deeper implications of a shared sense of self in
both temporal and spatial dimensions that include the common
ancestral heritage of contemporary humanity.
Inspirational South African healing. Direct information we
have about the earliest history of spiritual healing comes from
rock paintings tens of thousands of years ago in many cave
sites in Southern Africa. It is therefore appropriate to describe a
typical spiritual healing dance by the "first" or "real" people, as
the Southern African Kalahari !Kung refer to themselves.
"!Kung healing involves health and growth on physical, psychological, social, and spiritual levels; it affects the individual, the group, the surrounding environment, and the cosmos. Healing is an integrating and enhancing force, far
more fundamental than simple curing or the application of
medicine. Sometimes, as often as four times a month, the
women sit around the fire, singing and rhythmically clapping
as night falls, signalling the start of a healing dance. The entire camp participates. The men, sometimes joined by the
women, dance around the singers. As the dance intensifies,
n/um ("energy") is activated in those who are healers, most
of whom are among the dancing men. As n/um intensifies in
the healers, they experience !kia ("a form of enhanced consciousness") during which they heal everyone at the dance.
The dance usually extends far into the night, often ending as
the sun rises the next morning. Those at the dance confront

the uncertainties of their existence and reaffirm the spiritual

dimension of their daily lives" (Katz & Wexler, 1989:23).
Contemporary indigenous Zulu healing is based on the
breath-energy of the ancestors. This energy takes different
forms as reflected in ukububula/ nokubhonga kwedlozi, the religious, spirit-power and supernatural force of the ancestors
breathing through the Zulu divine-healer (isangoma). The energy is strengthened by healing and good deeds, and is weakened by evil spirits and abuse. During a typical divinatory session (vumissa), after contacting the spirit of the ancestors, the
isangoma may breath this spirit into the divinatory bones, before
throwing them. Likewise clients may be required to inhale this
ancestral spiritual breath-energy from the bones and use it in
various healing rituals. Depending upon the depth of the past
evolutionary ancestral call, diviners may breathe like roaring
lions (ukubhodla kwengonyama) or even pythons in their silent
communication (inhlwathi igingile). However, typically the
isangoma is breathed by recently departed ancestors who had
previously appeared to her in dreams, called her to become a
diviner and accompanied her through a creative illness in the
form of a religious conversion experience until she completed
her apprenticeship under a qualified diviner in a spiritual rebirth
macro-process called ukuthwasa. This is a perennial way of society caring for and being cared by persons, first spiritually afflicted and then purified (Edwards, 1986; Mfusi, & Edwards,
1985; Ngubane, 1977).
The micro-process of being breathed by the ancestors during divination occurs in response to a request by clients, who
consult the diviner for various reasons, such as illness prevention, health promotion, prosperity, and romance. While diviners
differ in divinatory methods, the essence of the process consists
of the diviner invoking her ancestors and acting as medium for
their messages concerning the client. In an ongoing emotionally
charged dialogue, clients verbal and nonverbal responses become progressively more enthusiastic with the divination experienced as becoming more true and real, in a form of consensual validation as to the assessment of the problem and
solutions offered. The end result typically consists of agreement
as to some form of culturally accepted ritual ceremony for the
ancestors, for example involving protection, appeasement
and/or thanksgiving (Edwards, 1999; Gumede, 1990; Ngubane,
As noted above, there are various methods of divination.
South African Zulu diviners were also originally called izanuse
(smellers). Gumede (1990, p.80) notes that similar word isanusi
is used in North Africa to describe a diviner involved in a smelling out type of public divination in which praises are sung to the
king, followed by frenzy of bellowing, yacooning, sneezing, and
roaring, as ancestors are implored to identify an evil doer in the
community. In Zulu history the story is often told of how the
great king Shaka once secretly poured blood in the kraal in order to test his diviners and only one true diviner was able to correctly identify Shaka himself as the responsible person.
Psychosocial dynamics of ancestral healing. The term
psychosocial dynamics refers to an umbrella concept explaining the often hidden, unapparent, psychological, familial, social
and cultural tensions, forces, mechanisms, reasons and/or
causes underlying otherworldly or spiritualistic phenomena, in
the form of visions, dreams and hallucinations, that may appear
to persons concerned with ancestral visitations. Such phenomena can become amplified under conditions of stress, death,
and bereavement. Nocturnal dreams lose their distortions and
intensity in the light of day, and reality becomes clear and sharp

Journal of Psychology in Africa 2007 18(1); 311-318

when we have eaten and slept well. Skilled helpers and personal insight may be needed to interpret reality as phenomena,
which may seem confusing and threatening, become readily
From a psychodynamic perspective, ancestral visitations
and their communications will be as threatening or reassuring
as these personages had been in their former physical
existences and as perceived by the perceiver. For example,
verbal abuse, corporal punishment and familial rejection by
powerful parents and/or elders are clearly very threatening experiences for a vulnerable child. Such experiences will remain
rooted in the consciousness of the child, be amplified and corroborated by familial and sociocultural belief systems and, after
the death of such elders, may assume gigantic proportions and
readily manifest as "abaphansi basifulathele" (ancestors have
turned away), requiring appropriate appeasement rituals. On
the other hand, if deceased parents and grandparents had been
affirming, kind and loving, their continued recognition
(abaphansi banathi), kindness and love is more likely to be experienced by future generations. In terms of reciprocal parent-child relationships, bad behaviour is punished/rejected and
good behaviour rewarded/praised. Such patterns are recognised by various schools of thought in psychology. Children
learn to bring about rewards of parental recognition, love and
praise through proper behaviour. These are very good reasons
for surviving generations to continue to communicate and
honour their ancestors, be well behaved and perform
appropriate ceremonies to ensure continued health, protection
and prosperity.
Generally speaking, the ancestors are protective of their living progeny and descendants. It depends on the attitude of the
living towards the ancestors that determines whether they turn
away or whether they remain and protect. If there is discomfort
about whatever abuse or conflict occurred in this life, then a ritual can be performed which informs the community of the situation, thereby effecting reconciliation and in that way the link to
the deceased is restored.
From a local African perspective, ancestors are regarded as
custodians of the lives of future generations. They occupy a position of dignity and awe among their descendants. From time to
time through certain ritualistic procedures that differ from group
to group, they are celebrated and consulted for guidance. As
they are dead, ancestors are believed to know more than anyone alive, to have extra-ordinary powers and to be at any place
at any time. It is believed that they can bring good luck and bad
luck equally if they are pleased or angered respectively.
Healing by ancestors may be achieved through provision of
a sense of rootedness; anchoring and confirming their descendants identity. Taub-Bynums (1984) concept of the family unconscious and Jungs collective unconscious explicate different levels of this ancestral connectedness (Ivey, D Andrea, Ivey
& Simek Morgan, 2002). The knowledge of having superior beings as custodians provides a sense of security. Doing all that
needs to be done in order to secure future destination promotes
identity, a sense of belonging and purpose in life. When a new
person joins the family, s/he must be reported to the departed
elders of the family (abaphansi); e.g., a new bride or a newborn
child. It is believed that illness and misfortune could result if the
expected procedures are not followed correctly.
Faith healing. There are basically three categories of an indigenous Zulu healer, the traditional doctor (inyanga), diviner
(isangoma) and faith healer (umthandazi) all of whom work with
breath/soul (umphefumulo) and spiritual power or energy

(umoya). The doctors methods are usually based on the active
ingredients of local herbs, plants, roots and bark administered in
a culturally appropriate, holistic and ceremonial manner. The
faith healer typically belongs to an African Indigenous Church
(AIC), whose Christian faith embraces ancestral spirituality
(umoya), which gains further meaning with reference to the third
person of the trinity or Holy Spirit (Umoya Ongcwele). Christ is
regarded as the ancestral, divine, Son of God and the peace,
truth, power, love, and wisdom in inspirational African indigenous healing is experienced at one and the same time and
place in the body and breath of the individual, group and communal ancestral spirituality as graced and mediated by God,
Christ and Holy Spirit.
As noted above, healing implies a transformation from illness to health in becoming whole again. In South African society, this means caring humanity (ubuntu) and an ongoing everyday form of healing, beyond truth and reconciliation, that is
slowly making its way in the experience of generations of people
growing up together from childhood in freedom. To care for over
forty-five million people in South Africa, it means the harmonious collaboration of all community healing resources; some five
thousand psychologists, ten thousand social workers, thirty
thousand medical doctors, one hundred and twenty-five thousand nurses, two hundred and fifty thousand traditional healers
and one million AIC faith healers (Edwards, 2002).
Gumede (1990) estimated that indigenous healers cater for
80% of the health needs of the African population and are usually consulted before modern doctors, particularly in the less developed and rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal. The AIC movement,
whose earlier religious roots also formed an apolitical foundation for the African National Congress in 1912, deserves special
mention for its role as buffer in preventing violent civil war between warring political groups during the Apartheid struggles.
The AICs continue to promote communal spirituality, spiritual
community, and practical public health in the form of food,
money, surrogate family and work to anyone who asks for help
(Bakker, 1996; Berglund, 1976; Dube, 1989; Gumede, 1990;
Nyembe, 1994; Oosthuizen, Edwards, Wessels & Hexam,
African Indigenous Churches meetings can be found at any
time throughout Africa. In their brightly coloured attire, groups
gather wherever convenient, at the river or the mountain, near
the sea, at a vacant plot in town or at the bus stop. Spiritual energy (umoya) is invoked through bible reading, prayer and singing in a healing circle. In more formal meetings held in churches,
community halls or houses of faith healers or prophets
(abaprofethi) may close windows and doors to keep out distractions and amplify spiritual energy for an evening, day or weekend of intense individual, family and community healing and
spiritual purification (ukuhlambuluka) in a religious ceremony
which include rituals, music, drama and dance. This is a form of
pastoral community psychology where community development, healing and education are harmoniously integrated
(Nyembe, 1994; Oosthuizen, et al., 1989). The African Indigenous Church movement revolves around receiving the Holy
Spirit (Umoya Oyingcwele) through various circular symbols of
spiritual perfection. For example, a common occurrence observed at South African beaches will be a Zionist group dancing
in a circle, while chanting "come spirit, come" (woza umoya,
woza umoya) (Oosthuizen et al., 1989:175).
Familial and communal spirituality. Taub-Bynum (1984) has
described the family unconscious in terms of an active, intense,
and immediate shared energy field, characterized by affective


Breath-Body and African Spiritual Healing

interactional patterns, communal dreaming, telepathy and various other psi phenomena. Such phenomena are fully experienced in African extended family kinship ties, through ongoing
communication with the world of the recently deceased and
older living dead ancestors, all of whom continue to be freshly
experienced as responsible for shaping the lives of
contemporary humanity.
We should not neglect to mention that inspirational and spiritual healing is not the sole province of the priest or psychologist
and occurs readily in everyday life. It is more common in ceremonial, ritual, communal spiritual gatherings (umsebenzi). For
example, a sneeze is believed to be an indication of ancestral
presence and is followed by an exhortation to the ancestors
(makhosi!). A six year old child may be required to breathe
deeply (ukuhogela) the burning fumes of izinyamazane (pieces
of animal skin and fat) as a preventive and strengthening tonic
when being given a second name which characterizes his/her
earthy existence to date. A woman in labour will be told to
breathe like a dog (hefuzela) during contractions. Men working
together in a slow motion physical activity such as digging a
trench may chant in time to deep abdominal breathing rhythms
before taking a breather (ukhukhokh umoya) in order to regain
energy and strength. Such deep breathing, rhythm and
harmony are characteristic of traditional singing and dancing.

Jungs insights during his central African visit changed his
life, work and contribution to humanity. Taking his image of the
breath-body in relation to various spiritual healing traditions as
point of departure this article has examined African forms of
spiritual healing. The breath body is experienced as a natural
form of life-force, energy, consciousness, soul and spirit that
may be accessed in various ways such as meditation, prayer
and ceremonial dance for healing purposes. The earliest forms
of conscious breathwork seem to have been related to spiritual
beliefs and practices such as those concerning nature, ultimate
reality, ancestors and human existence with special reference
to such matters as survival, growth, health, life and death. In
harmony with the ceaseless cycles and forces of heaven, earth
and ancestors, life-breath skill forms the essential, experiential
foundation for spiritual healing of self and others in its prevention of blocked, stagnant or unbalanced energy and promotion
of nourishing, protective and harmonised energy. This indicates
an archetypal core to healing practices throughout the world, of
which breath, particularly in relation to spirituality, is an
essential component.
Emphasis on the breath body ensures that we are grounded
in our experience of the lived body and world, yet also tuned to
our spirituality. An essence of this bodiliness is the comforting
presence of our breathing, which is the precondition for transcendence in terms of liberating spirituality. During times of clarity and equanimity we are comforted by the rhythmic regularity
of our breathing and its harmony with the bodily phenomena
that appear to our consciousness. Sitting and moving forms of
breath co-ordinated behaviour form the foundation for all forms
of healing and transcendence as exemplified in alpha conditioning, biofeedback, transcendental meditation, !Kung healing
dance, izangoma divination, yoga and Tai chi. Healthy breathing and related spirituality experiences, that have been bodily
re-experienced as anchors, provide a phenomenological foundation for various forms of imagery, light, sound, colour, touch
and movement used in breathwork, expressive therapy, progressive relaxation, systematic desensitisation, crisis interven-

tion and other forms of caring, healing, counselling, psychotherapy, illness prevention and health promotion. As exemplified in
past and present African contexts, such breath based healing
encompasses all of these forms in addition to building spiritual
community and communal spirituality.

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