The Word Foundation


Harold W. Percival



Section 27

The breath. What the breath does. The psychic breath. The mental breath. The noetic breath. The fourfold physical breath. Pranayama. Its dangers.

Breathing is one thing, the breath is another. Breathing is the indrawing and expulsion of air into and from the lungs and is only one of the ways in which the breath enters the body. The breath is an elastic tie that binds the physical body to the breath-form. This tie is a magnetic tidal flow of invisible physical matter through the physical atmosphere from the breath-form to the body and back. The three inner bodies make the contact between the body and the breath-form and the movements are kept up by the breath, the breath being the active aspect of the breath-form. The breath becomes nervous force in the nerve channels. There are nerve centers, the plexi, where the nerves are interlaced and from which the currents in them are controlled by the flow of the breath. The breath pulsating in the physical atmosphere enters and leaves the body through the lungs. This entry and exit of air is recognized as breathing. But the breath enters and leaves the body also through the openings other than the mouth and nostrils. The intake and outlet through these other openings, including the pores of the skin, is not accompanied by air and is not noticed. It has as regular a swing as that part of the breath which comes in with the air. There is a center of the breath inside the body in the heart, and a center outside which changes its position while swirling in the physical atmosphere. Between these two centers, the one fixed, the other moving about, the breath ebbs and flows. It enters the tongue and swings out through the sex organ, and when it swings back it enters through that organ and leaves through the tongue. Its path is that of an ever moving lemniscate, the figure 8, the lines of which inside the body are definite, while they vary in the physical atmosphere outside.

At conception the breath of the breath-form acts through the breathing of the father and mother during their union, and then or later the form of the breath-form bonds the seed with the soil through the astral counterparts of the two cells which it fuses. The breath is the force which compels elementals to build out with solid matter those symbolic lines on the breath-form which prescribe the physical destiny of the future human. The breath of the mother activates the embryo directly until a placenta is formed, and causes the fetus to grow. At birth the breath of the breath-form unites with its form and the physical breath begins to swing directly into and out of the body of the newborn. The swing of the physical breath continues until the time of death. Then the elastic tie which is the breathing is snapped. The breathing swings physical matter into a body, maintains the body during life and takes up the swing in the new body, although the breathings are not active between death and conception. When the doer comes into the baby, some years after birth, the swing of the psychic breath continues from where the swing stopped at death in the former body.

The worlds—the light, life, form, and physical worlds— have their influences conveyed to the physical body by the breath-form. Nothing can be built into the body except with the flow and through the force of the breath. The matter of the worlds flows in by way of the senses and the four systems, through the three inner bodies and through the involuntary nerves to the breath-form. According to signatures already on it, the breath-form compels some of these influences to build themselves into the physical body. The breath-form does this while the breath swings into the four systems and bodies. The inflow of the breath makes possible digestion through influences from the physical world, circulation through influences from the form world, respiration through influences from the life world, and vigor and generation through influences from the light world.

The force of the breath affects these systems directly, and merely through breathing air. The nature influences are built in by the inswing of the breath, and what is to be carried away leaves with the outswinging breath. The breath-form performs its functions by controlling the nerves of the four systems. In this way the breath-form controls through the breath the involuntary functions of the body. The influence carried by the breath from the nature-side of the four worlds to the breath-form includes the sense impressions of sight, hearing, taste, and contact by smell, which become memories. The breath so far mentioned is the fourfold physical breath.

Impressions from the doer are conveyed to and stamped on the breath-form by means of the three breaths of the Triune Self,—the psychic, mental and noetic breaths— through the physical breath. The psychic breath circulates in the psychic atmosphere of the human and flows in and around the physical atmosphere and the physical body. As the physical breath is the action and reaction between the breath-form and the physical atmosphere, so the psychic breath is the action and reaction between the doer portion in the body and the psychic atmosphere; the mental breath is the action and reaction between the thinker and the mental atmosphere; and the noetic breath is the action and reaction between the knower and the noetic atmosphere of the human.

The psychic breath is a movement in the psychic atmosphere and is like that of rolling, surging and breaking waves beating in on the physical body, or like a welling-up or sinking-in in the physical body. The psychic breath has one center in the kidneys and another in the psychic atmosphere outside the physical atmosphere, and through these two centers it breathes. This breath has a path which cannot be seen and streams along with and supports physical breathing. In the physical body the breathing of the psychic breath acts as feeling-and-desire. It keeps up the communication between the psychic atmosphere and the doer. The psychic breath carries to the human, through the physical breath, the impressions which the breath-form bears. Feelings of joy or sorrow result as the psychic breath carries the impressions to the doer. The psychic breath flows through the psychic atmosphere, as the Gulf Stream flows through the Atlantic; the stream is different from the ocean, but any part of the ocean may become part of the stream. So any part of the psychic atmosphere may become part of the psychic breath, but at any time the breath and the atmosphere are different.

The mental breath is a movement in the mental atmosphere and is intermittent like air currents. It is the active part of the mental atmosphere, which is passive to it and through which it flows. It is the channel that brings diffused Light of the Intelligence during thinking. It stimulates thinking and increases its power. It is not connected with the breath-form directly, but by way of the psychic atmosphere, part and breath.

The mental breath has a center in the heart and two centers in the mental atmosphere of the human, one of these two connects with the noetic and the other connects through the heart with the psychic atmosphere. It does not flow as steadily as the psychic and noetic breaths. When desire is at an ebb, the mental breath slows down; when desire is wild, the mental breath is agitated. The mental breath brings diffused Light of the Intelligence from the mental atmosphere and so is the means by which thinking is carried on. Thinking is active and passive; and the mental breath acts on and is acted on by both kinds of thinking. In passive thinking the mental breath streams steadily but slowly. In active thinking it is fitful and jerky, made so by efforts to focus the Light on the different subjects which rush in and claim attention. If thinking is continued, the mental breath becomes more regular in expanding and contracting. This is its ordinary movement in thinking. Usually this movement continues until the thinking stops. But if the thinking is so perfected and controlled that there is a focusing of the Light, the expansions and contractions become slower, until they cease; then the Light flows steadily, and something like a focus is maintained. When the mental breath—meaning that of the human—stops, then the psychic and physical breaths also stop. This is an unusual achievement.

The noetic breath is a movement like that of constant sunshine, in the noetic atmosphere. It has a connection with the pineal body, and through that with the genitals in the human; and it is connected with the spheres of the Intelligence. In the ordinary human the pineal body is too inert for the noetic breath to make proper use of it. Because of this state the noetic breath contacts the physical body at the pineal, but does not operate through it. This contact makes the human conscious of identity, of responsibility, of faith and of his conscience. The noetic breath does not contact the generative organs at all. There is in the physical breath only a slight current of it, most of which is turned off at the kidneys and is lost through the sex organs from time to time.

The physical breath consists of a fire, an air, a water and an earth current. This fourfold breath connects the fourfold physical body with the physical atmosphere, and relates it to the atmospheres of the Triune Self. With and through the physical breath flow the psychic, and the mental and noetic breaths of the human, during the life of the human. Though the physical breath ceases at the death of the body the three other breaths continue until the end of the heaven period. When thereafter the doer sinks into a coma these three inner breaths also cease to flow, the three atmospheres are quiet, and the doer is at rest in the atmospheres of its Triune Self. When the doer resumes activity, the psychic breath begins to flow in the psychic atmosphere. This flow starts the aia which starts the breaths and vivifies the form of the breath-form, causing it to glow. At conception the form of the breath-form through the physical breath of the parents fuses the seed with the soil. When the baby is born and the cord is cut, the physical breath enters the heart through the lungs; then it takes possession of and operates the body. In childhood the psychic breath enters the body, and with advancing years the mental and at last the noetic breaths make contact with their centers in the body.

After puberty the three inner breaths, with the physical breath, flow until death. The psychic breath is the cause of passive feeling and active desire; the mental breath is the cause of rightness-and-reason in thinking; the noetic breath is nearly inactive except at sexual fits. All actions of the doer are done by means of these three breaths, and their record is stamped on the breath-form by means of the fourfold physical breath through the fourfold body and the nerves.

In this vast system the only part of the breaths with which the run of human beings comes consciously into contact, is that small part of the fourfold physical breath which enters and leaves the body with the air that is inhaled and exhaled. Through that small part may be reached and affected the inner breaths which there, as elsewhere, stream through the physical breath. They may be acted on by interception of physical breathing, especially when the interference is accompanied by sitting in certain postures and by muttering mantrams.

These practices are a branch of the science of yoga and they have been made attractive to the West through the efforts of missionaries from the East. Here they are used by many persons who do not know what the breath is and how it acts, or the disasters they are challenging in their search for power through their practices of breathing. The functions, the power and inner connections of the physical breath here shown make apparent some of the dangers incurred by the interception of breathing. Indeed, when Westerners, whose constitution is different from that of the Eastern races, practice yoga they often get out of it nothing more than heart trouble, consumption, paralysis, skin disease, increased immorality and psychic and mental derangements, instead of the psychic powers and “spiritual” enlightenment promised them—if they actually do practice pranayama.

Normally the breath flows for a certain length of time more through the right nostril, then it changes and flows evenly through both nostrils alike for a little while and then it flows more through the left nostril for the same time as through the right. After this it flows evenly through both and then again more through the right nostril and so on throughout life. When the breath comes through the right nostril it is the positive or sun breath; when it flows through the left it is the negative or moon breath. The breath is neutral when it flows evenly through both nostrils. All the inbreathings and outbreathings, while the breath flows through one nostril, make a cycle. Several of these cycles make another cycle. These larger cycles make up still larger cycles. All these cycles affect the body in different ways. The breath pulsates around man in waves of varying lengths. The fourfold body is the center of an atmosphere containing breath currents of varying fourfold curves, swirls, ripples, vortices and densities which are working around the body as the center of their movements.

The practice of pranayama consists in part in voluntarily changing the flow from the left or the right nostril to the right or the left, as the case may be, before the natural change sets in; in voluntarily preventing the flow, and in changing the wave lengths. There are many ways; this is one. The would-be yogi proceeds by closing one nostril with a certain finger, then by exhaling through the open nostril for a certain number of counts, then by closing with a particular finger the nostril through which the air was exhaled; then by stopping breathing for a certain number of counts; then by removing the first finger and by exhaling through the first nostril; then by stopping breathing and holding the inhaled air for a certain number of counts and then by exhaling as before. So the practitioner inhales only through one nostril and exhales through the other, and has his lungs filled with air when the inhalation stops and has his lungs empty when the exhalation ends. The outbreathing and stopping and inbreathing and stopping are continued for the time that has been set by the would-be yogi. These exercises are mostly practiced in some posture different from any usually assumed by Westerners.

The object of such exercise is to master one’s lower nature and to unite the “lower” with the “higher self,” and thereby to gain psychic and “spiritual” powers which will lead to “spiritual” liberation—according to the missionaries. By suppressing and regulating breathing they seek to turn and keep the breath in one or another part of the body for a time and to get hold of the power of the breath. Then they turn the breath into certain nerve currents to open special nerve centers as a lotus is opened. As each of these nerve centers is opened and the force flows through it, the yogi becomes conscious of certain states and realms and becomes acquainted with the gods or powers that act in the forces playing through him. He enters into states of ecstasy and attains superhuman powers. Finally he reaches the highest state and attains liberation. Such in part is their doctrine.

Pranayama, if practiced at all, is safe only for one who is free from vices. He must have health and be clear in his thinking. He needs courage and strength of character to go on. He must have progressed far already in the practice of “meditation,” and must seek the external means of pranayama only as an assistance in his progress in raja yoga training. Such a person should be the pupil of a sage who has gone through all stages of pranayama and who is able to sense and to observe all that the pupil is going through in the practices. In this way the disciple will be guarded against the many dangers he must encounter. For the result of the regulation and suppression of breathing will be that, if the pupil’s heart and lungs are not strong enough, he will develop a weakness or disease in those organs. If he has not control over himself in the ordinary affairs of life he will have a nervous breakdown. Unless he has overcome allurements of the senses, the sights and sounds he may see and hear will mislead him in the astral states. When the gates in his body are opened and astral forces pass through him, they are likely to burn out or paralyze his nerves if he is not ready.

All that the pupil can do by the physical practices of pranayama he can do more safely by thinking. The path of steady thinking is the only proper way. Pranayama at best invokes passive thinking to induce active thinking to purify the breath-form; and opens the three inner bodies and the inner side of the four senses, which makes the practitioner conscious in several astral states and, instead of liberating him, binds him to the phenomena of nature. Pranayama cannot give any knowledge about the Triune Self. It can do no more than put one in contact with forces of nature.