Waiting to Exhale
Jul 02, 1996 06:21 PM
>Jim Meier writes>
>Pranayama is one of the examples in occultism where it is so
>easy to mistake the symbol for the substance: "regulation of the breath" is
>really just a clumsy way of saying in English "regulation of Prana" -- not
>the same thing at all.
Richard Ihle writes>
You bring up many worthy points in your reply, Jim. I agree with all of
The subject of breathing exercises has perhaps done as much as anything to
shape my approach to theosophy: I no longer assume at the outset that anyone
knows what he or she is talking about.
Certainly, the collection of techniques which keeps getting passed along from
generation to generation could also be considered "core teachings." If
anything, these core teachings often seem even more authoritative and
indefectible than those we have hitherto been talking about on theos-l. Even
many years of experimenting, I am reluctant to gainsay what can be found in
yoga books etc.; after all, the science of pranayama is the trial-and-error
product of countless yogis higher than I am, right?
Right. Notwithstanding, just let me offer a few demurrals while
genuflecting. . . .
First, Jerry S. says that I should not expect results within 40 minutes; I
have to be patient for years. Well, Jerry is a better man than I am: I want
to at least see some little indicia perhaps not in 40 minutes, but certainly
in 40 days. If I have to have faith which will have to stretch into years, I
want to first personally see my breathing instructor levitating or doing
something else I cannot do--like making a joke that will not piss Alexis off.
Second, I am getting ~very~ suspicious about the definite ~inhalation~
bias of most of the techniques. Admittedly, I can get myself pretty
supercharged with some of the breath-holding techniques; however, the problem
is that the "energy" I am adding to my mind-body package usually seems
temporary, and furthermore, it sooner or later needs to be "compensated" for
with additional sleeping time.
Yes, I keep reading and hearing about yogis tapping into some BIG ENERGY
RESERVOIR outside themselves. At first blush this seems like it would be a
great thing; however, perhaps it would also be nice to be able to tap some
BIG RESERVOIR for some heavier-duty PHYSICAL, EMOTIONAL, and MENTAL equipment
before one started pumping the BIG ENERGY through oneself. Even just using
what is probably my own "Little Energy Reservoir," all I am able to do is
impress the s---- out of people with my pizazz for a few hours and then sneak
off for a long nap to rebalance myself. With BIG ENERGY, what is supposed to
happen? Do you really cheat Mother Nature's zero-sum game, or do you
transmogrify into some sort of Tazmanian-Devil-Rip-Van-Winkle combo?
Third, and still related, I definitely don't think exhalation is understood
very well or perhaps even gets the respect it may be due. Think about it:
where is your breath in the initial stages of falling asleep? Isn't it very
heavy toward the out-breath side of things--sometimes almost stopping
completely for a few moments? It is only after the "tingling" diminishes,
the muscles relax, the dream-replays are almost over etc. that there is a
shift toward the in-breath position. If increased breathing, especially
emphasizing inhalation, were better than less breathing, emphasizing
exhalation, why are we inclined to do just the opposite when we need to
Are all those people breathing into paper bags to counter panic attacks just
Fourth, Jim's point above about not jumping to the conclusion that breath
necessarily equals prana is excellent. In fact, nothing raised my estimation
of W.Q. Judge so much as reading an essay of his someone posted on theos-l
quite a while ago (unfortunately, I can't retrieve it) where I believe he
made a similar observation. If Judge actually preceded Jim in this, both
have, if not at least a slightly different, certainly a more broadened
perspective than most of the off-the-rack breathing books I have encountered.
Finally, there seems to be so much which could be learned about breathing and
its relationship to states of consciousness etc. that I get irritated when I
start to suspect that that many yogis and others are just passing along some
stock techniques that they have inadequately tested for themselves. They are
not doing trial-and-error; they are doing smile-and-be-a-purveyor.
Naturally, the pranayama core teachings are thereby passed along in pure
form; however, there does not seem like much chance for improved
understanding if no one is willing to raise questions or report negative
But I'll share: Many years ago after I had been practicing some heavier
inhalation techniques for quite a while, I suddenly started feeling a certain
lethargy. A blood test revealed a reduced red-cell count--a slight anemia
caused by a lack of iron, the doctor said. Could the breathing have been
related some way? Who knows? I do, however, think I remember a television
show which said that the Sherpas living in oxygen-reduced mountain regions
had ~more~ red cells to compensate (someone please correct me if this is
misinformation). Would greater oxygenation because of breathing exercises
eventually lead to the body producing less oxygen-carrying cells? Well, I'm
sure I don't know, but like Ernest Wood, I'll just throw the information out
there for possible scrutiny by future "process theosophists."
Unlike Ernest, however, I am not one who is naturally inclined to
overemphasize danger. There are potentially so many important things which
can be learned from breathing experiments--especially those designed by
oneself--that I am more inclined just to tell people to buy some Geritol if
they are worried and keep going. . . .
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