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The human breath may be defined as the life force ebbing and flowing between the vertical polarity of spirit and matter (crown and root) and the horizontal polarity of the right and left sides in the human system.


The Great Breath.

In the widest sense one speaks of the great breath as being the ebb and flow of the life force between the polarities in the universal system. In fact there is a correspondence between the human or microcosmic energy system and the universal or macrocosmic energy system. One is a reflection of the other and this truth is embodied in the ancient hermetic saying 'as above so below'. The universal or great breath includes the movement of the planets and heavenly bodies in their periodic cycles, and the signs of the zodiac and the seasons. The human breath similarly has its cycles and seasonal flows. The activities of the chakras correspond to planetary cycles as the planets work through them. The human breath is not, however, attuned to the great breath in the lives of most people. This alignment or attunement of the human breath with the great breath is a goal which we have to achieve and represents the complete identification of the personal self with the universal self.


The Rhythm of Breath.

The keynote of the breath is flow, and the rhythm of breath in the human system is one of rising and falling of the energies. The fact seems to be seldom fully realized that with the in-breath the energy is drawn upwards to the higher chakras, whilst with the out-breath the energies flow downwards into the world of the senses. Thus, in the literal sense, in-breath is aspiration which takes us upwards into the realm of spirit and out-breath takes us downwards into matter. Therefore it follows that when we wish to make an effort which involves bringing energy into manifestation on the downward impulse, we should always initially take a deep in-breath. When the lungs are full, the effort itself should then be made on the out-breath. As described in Chapter Three, the breath also moves between the right and left sides of the human system. Thus, by this up-and-down and side-to-side movement is built up the spiral pattern of the Caduccus or Staff of Hermes so well known in esoteric symbolism. When electricity is generated the process can be diagrammatically represented on paper as a sine wave thus:

By a phase shits of 180 degrees when the impulse reaches its end, it returns. Therefore, in electrical terms, the Caduceus is really just two sine waves going out and returning, called a standing wave.

This side-to-side flow of the breath is reflected in the manner in which the breath varies between the right and left nostril. It predominates trough one or the other at certain times. This has already been touched on in an earlier chapter (see Alternating Currents, page 20).

By causing the flow of energy to predominate on the right or left side of our system we can produce changes in that system. When we are in tune with the macrocosm these alternations of the breath occur naturally and at the appropriate times. When the breath predominates through the right nostril we have the experience of action. When it predominates through the left nostril we have the experience of sensing. This process corresponds to the Pillars of Severity and Mercy in the Qabalistic Tree of Life. When the breath flows equally through both nostrils it has a special significance which we will deal with in the next chapter.

The relative lengths of the in- and out-breaths and the intermediate periods of retention - both in and out are also of great importance. It is possible to gradually lengthen the period of retention of the breath and this has a spiritualizing effect on one's consciousness. Conversely, lengthening the period during which the breath is held out produces the opposite effect. One notices this principle in sighing. An upward sigh reflects an aspirational mood as, for example, when one experiences a sense of wonder at some breathtakingly beautiful scene. A downward sigh reflects a feeling of lethargy as in yawning when one s energies are flowing downwards.

It is sometimes felt that the ideal is to balance the upward and downward impulses of the life force by an equal rhythm of the in- and out-breath. However, as we have seen, life is a continually changing flow requiring different qualities to manifest at different times. Therefore it seems more logical that we should be able to vary both the upward and downward as well as the left and right rhythms of breath to suit the needs of each moment. Very few people make the fullest possible use of their potential capacity for breathing.

Breath is life and the amount of breath which we can take in is vitally important. Generally, slow breathing will also be deeper breathing, and fast breathing tends to be shallow. Many yogis measure the length of life not by the number of years lived, but by the number of breaths taken. Also there are still many people who have the extremely unhealthy habit of breathing through their mouths.



By emphasizing the in- or upward breath one is spiritualizing or regenerating oneself. Degeneration is emphasizing the down-going breath. And generation is an appropriate rhythm between the two. This principle has its interesting counterpart in the field of economics where the process of regeneration corresponds to the activity of investment. By investment one forgoes immediate spending in order to create still greater income later on. It is the principle of saving, or waiting. By regeneration one is reinvesting one's energies in order to promote greater soul growth. Degeneration is too much spending. Generation is a balance of spending and saving.


Breath Mantrams.

Mantrams used in conjunction with the breath can be helpful to the student. This is a large subject which cannot be fully dealt with here, but an example of this is the Su Haam mantram used by yogis. The Su sound is uttered on the in-breath and represents the delicate sound of the finer vibrations as the life force moves upwards to the higher chakras. The Haa sound, uttered on the out-breath, repre- sents the coarser sound of the lower vibrations as the life force descends. The m at the end of Haam is produced by closing the mouth, and this m has the effect of making the sound objective. The breath seems to take on the form of the particular tattwa (shown on page 32) which is predominating in the system at any one time. It is said that this can be seen by projecting the breath on to a mirror. Recently some scientific research has been done in photographing etheric forms which seems to bear this out.


Control of the Breath.

Patient observation of one's own breathstream eventually leads to the ability to control the vital forces and focus them at will at the different levels. Gradually one learns to recognize the changes in vibration which occur as the breath or life force passes through the different levels. In this way one learns to control the elements or tattwas.

So long as the breath is ebbing and flowing we are living in the world of polarities - the world of form. The ultimate step in control is when the breath is suspended altogether and one leaves the world of form and withdraws into the spiritual realm, the universal consciousness. Only the adept can withdraw completely in this way.

Withdrawal, however, is very much a matter of degree. It is through the same gateway that one passes in sleep, death, or in deep meditation, but only the degree of withdrawal is different.



The depth of sleep varies greatly with different people. Some hardly leave the body or sense consciousness during sleep. Others leave the sense consciousness but remain active at the mental level experiencing dream states. Some are able to withdraw from the body and mind and remain at a still higher level from which they return truly refreshed when they awake.



The same principle applies to death where the level to which the suul may reach will depend on its evolutionary progress. Some souls remain practically earthbound even after discarding the physical body. Often they are already seeking to reincarnate or sometimes to experience the sense world again through an incarnate soul whom they may try to influence or possess. Others will pass pacefully to higher states. They may first renew relationships with other discarnate souls and eventually pass to still higher 'summerlands' to renew themselves completely until the impulse to express themselves in form leads them once more to incarnate.


Deep Meditation.

In deep meditation one is consciously doing, or attempting to do, what most people do more or less involuntarily in sleep and death. One is withdrawing to that level within, where one renews oneself at the eternal fountain of life - one s own spiritual source.

This process too is a matter of degree according to proficiency. The adept who has learned to control his breath or life force at all levels is able to suspend it and withdraw from his body, but without abandoning it. He is also able to return to it again when he needs to. By consciously dying at the necessary times in order to renew himself he avoids the need to die involuntarily in the common way.

Such an adept might require a long life span extending perhaps over several centuries in order to complete some important work for the evolution of humanity. Therefore he would retain the same body during that period by renewing himself in this way. This might be especially necessary in view of the difficulty for such a highly evolved soul in finding the suitable circumstances into which hc could reincarnate through birth. Such an adept would at the end of a life cycle dematerialize his body when his work at that level was completed.


Life Cycles.

The length of one's life is really proportionate to the soul or higher self's motive for living. When the soul has exhausted its purpose it withdraws having used up its downward impulse. A high sense of purpose is derived from spirit, and so when its purpose is exhausted it must renew itself in spirit by withdrawal. All life manifests in cycles. Each in - and out - breath, each day and night of waking and sleeping, each life and death in a body, these are all the same principle, but operating at a larger or smaller scale. They are all the periodic or cyclic law operating as life vibrates between its poles.