The Word Foundation


Harold W. Percival



Section 8

Pranayama. Psychic phenomena by wonder-workers.

Psychic results may be obtained by breathing exercises known as pranayama, or inhalation, retention, and exhalation of the breath, to acquire occult powers; but one who advises another to practice these usually cannot foretell how such exercises will affect the nervous system and the doer of the one who practices them. The pupil knows less than his teacher. Both will suffer certain psychic and physical consequences of such practices. The teacher will suffer some psychic injury and will be held to account for the injury done to his follower. Those who practice such exercises have particularly a mental destiny.

The involuntary movements of the physical body, such as respiration, circulation and digestion, are operated by the breath-form. They are due to impressions made continually by the four elements of nature through the four senses, which communicate these impulses to the breath-form. The volitional impulses come from the doer. They, too, must act on the breath-form before physical organs can move. Nature acts on the breath-form and thereby on the physical body, through the involuntary nervous system, and the doer acts through the voluntary system. Man may by his consent subordinate that which is called his will which is really desire, to control by nature, and he may to some degree subordinate the involuntary functions of the body to his will, as is done by those who can stop respiration, circulation and digestion temporarily. Practice of certain exercises by the ignorant is intended to gain such mastery and to give them occult powers. The practices are concerned with breathing, sitting in postures, repeating words and phrases and the starting and stopping of currents in the body.

Centers for breathing are located in physical organs, principally in the throat, lungs, heart and sex organs. The doer-in-the-body is in the kidneys and adrenals; the field of operation of feeling is in the voluntary nervous system, and that of desire in the blood. Through the breath the thinker may contact the heart and lungs, and the knower may contact the pituitary body and the pineal body. Except for the portion of the doer in the kidneys and adrenals, all parts of the Triune Self are outside the body in their respective atmospheres. There are circulations in these atmospheres. They are kept up by three inner breaths, the psychic, mental, and noetic breaths, which run usually through the physical breath, and can continue when the body appears to be dead, as in trance states.

Breath is not breathing; that is merely the movement of the air through lung action. The physical breath is the movement of the physical atmosphere into and out of the body. It moves in paths of lemniscates, figures of 8. The paths are not noticed; only the air passing through the lungs and nostrils is noticed. The physical breath is the effect of the action of the three inner breaths flowing through the physical body. These matters are too far removed from the subject for detailed treatment, and are mentioned only to show the connections of the breaths of the Triune Self with physical breathing.

The psychic breath, which is the lowest of the three inner breaths, has many phases; in one of these it is a revolution, in another it acts like the swing of a pendulum, in another it is like the movement of the walking-beam which turns the paddle wheels of a steam boat. One cycle or swing of the psychic breath may comprise several cycles of the physical breath. The lesser cycles of the physical breath are related to their dominating psychic breath cycle. There is one center of the psychic breath in the kidneys and adrenals, and another in the psychic atmosphere. The psychic breath can be made to coincide with a cycle of the physical breath, and so the physical breath can be made to affect the psychic breath and by that affect thinking.

From these few statements it will be seen that there must be a science of the breath. It will be plain that any interference with normal breathing is dangerous, because it affects the physical breath and through that the psychic breath. If they are thrown out of phase it is likely that digestive, kidney, heart, skin and nervous disorders will follow.

Connected with practices for the suppression of the breath is that of sitting in postures to start certain at present inactive currents, which run through the fourfold physical body along the nerves.

One of the main hopes of such practitioners is to open channels in their bodies to allow a certain universal force, in Sanskrit, Kundalini, to flow through them, thereby giving to the practitioners occult power. If that force did really pass through them prematurely it would burn out their nerves. The experiments, while not likely to produce this extreme result, because they are more or less desultory, generally undermine physical health, loosen the finer bodies in the flesh body and disorder the morals.

Tales told about unusual phenomena produced by negro sorcerers, dancing dervishes, medicine and miracle men of various tribes, conjurers, fakirs, ascetics and holy men, either alone, in company, during religious orgies of an ecstatic assembly or among a band wallowing in debauch, are sometimes true. Deception practiced by the wonder-workers themselves, credulity of the observers or exaggeration by the narrators, do not overcome the fact that some people possess extraordinary psychic powers. Some of them can exercise their powers at any time and place, and some only under certain conditions. These people require for their sorcery, charms and fascination, certain phases of the moon or seasons of the year, caves or mountains, forests or groves, fires, sounding of instruments, chanting, dancing, blood-letting, incense and symbols, which have a magic power.

In every case the phenomena are produced by mysterious powers, that is, an unusual development of feeling and desire, and a manipulation of the breath by feeling and desire. In some cases feeling and desire, in addition, compel the four senses to obey them, thereby reversing the usual relation, which is a control of feeling and desire by these senses. In some cases feeling and desire and the breath, working through these senses or some of them, control elementals and through them parts of the elements. In almost every case thinking is necessary and it also is controlled by feeling and desire. Certain organs of the body and symbols are also used. So are produced such phenomena as eating coals of fire from a burning stick, walking through flames or over red hot coals, making people see living pictures of persons and scenes, rising or floating in the air, traveling through it, producing without instruments sounds in the air, ringing astral bells, transporting huge stones through the air and precipitating flowers, letters, pictures, food and other objects out of it. So, too, are performed walking on water, precipitating rain, locating springs, increasing or decreasing a quantity of water in a vessel. Making the earth to undulate, causing a landslide, making precious stones, transmuting lower metals into gold, making plants grow rapidly to giant size, or dwarfing trees like pines to the size of mushrooms, and passing one solid object through another, are done in the same manner. And so also men are enabled to slash the flesh and pierce the bones of their own bodies or those of others, without pain and without leaving an injury; to be entombed or buried in the ground, to become as a wolf or a tiger, to reanimate a dead form, to take possession of another’s body and operate it, to summon elementals and compel them to render service, to have them as familiars, messengers, reporters and as guards, to cast evil spells over people or places and to bring back the dead by necromancy.