Oriental Rhythmic Breathing Techniques

In the Hindu practice of Pranayama, in which prana is generated, directed, and applied in various ways by certain methods of breathing, it will be found that the principle of rhythm is present in all these techniques. This is based upon the recognition by the Hindu Sages of the important part played by rhythm in the activities of the Universe.

Everything in the cosmos is in constant motion. The difference in things arises chiefly by reason of their varying rates of vibratory motion. All motion proceeds according to a definite rhythm or measured beat. As scientists express it, "Everything beats time—in measured rhythm."

A leading authority in physical science says, "Rhythm is a necessary characteristic of all motion. Given the coexistence everywhere of antagonistic forces—a postulate which is necessitated by our experience—rhythm is a necessary corollary. All motion alternates, be it the motion of planets in their orbits, or ethereal corpuscles in their undulations, be it in the cadence of speech, or the rise and fall of prices, it becomes manifest that this perpetual reversal of motion between limits is inevitable."

In nature, on all sides, in all phenomena, we find the evidence of the universality of rhythm. The atoms, the electrons, and the even smaller particles of matter which science has recently discovered manifest a regular circular swing. The planets swing in measured rotation around the sun. The tides rise and fall in regular movement. Day is followed by night, and night by day, in rhythmic measure. Summer and winter succeed each other in measured rhythm. Sleeping and waking states proceed in rhythmic sequence. Every pendulum swings backwards and forwards in measured time. Work and rest, in rhythmic beat, is manifested by all living things. Involution is followed by evolution, and evolution is succeeded by involution, in rhythmic order. All things physical, and all things mental, manifest their rising and falling tides. The pendulum of Nature is always swinging backwards and forwards, over and over again, according to the great law of universal rhythm.

The Hindu sages attach great importance to the maintenance of rhythm in the Pranayama breathing. They hold that in this way they "become in tune" with the rhythmic vibrations of Nature, and are thus able to partake of her energies and strength. They hold that by falling in with certain established rhythms of Nature, the magician is able to manifest power which otherwise would not be at his disposal. Accordingly, by mastering the inner rhythm of certain manifestations of prana, the magician is able to master, control, and direct the energies and forces of prana according to his desires and will. In the rhythmic beathing in Pranayama, the Yogis seek to establish a rhythmic motion of the prana, and thus awaken, arouse, and direct the action of the kundalini, or to direct the forces of prana in any course desired.

Yogi Ramacharaka, in his consideration of this phase of the subject, says, "The body one occupies is like a small inlet running into the land from the sea. Although apparently subject only to its own laws, it is really subject to the ebb and flow of the tides of the ocean. The great sea of life is swelling and receding, rising and falling, and we are responding to its vibrations and rhythms constantly. In a normal condition we receive the vibrations and rhythms of the great ocean of life, and respond to them. But at times the mouth of the inlet seems to be choked up with debris, and we fail to receive the impulse from Mother Ocean, and, as a consequence, inharmony manifests within us. You have heard how a note on a violin, if sounded repeatedly and in measured, regular rhythm, will start into motion certain vibrations which in time will destroy the bridge. The same result occurs when a regiment of soldiers cross a bridge, the order always being to "break step" on such an occasion, lest the vibration bring down both bridge and regiment.

"These manifestations of the effect of rhythmic motion will give you an idea of the effect on the body of rhythmic breathing. The whole system catches the vibration and becomes in harmony with the will, which causes the rhythmic motion of the lungs, and while in such complete harmony will respond readily to orders from the will. With the body thus attuned, the Yogi finds no difficulty in increasing the circulation in any part of his body by an order of the will, and, in the same way, he can direct an increased current of nerve force to any part or organ, strengthening and stimulating it. In like manner, the Yogi by rhythmic breathing 'catches the swing,' as it were, and is able to absorb and control a greatly increased amount of prana, which is then at the disposal of his will."

The Yoga teachings concerning rhythmic breathing hold that while the element of rhythmic breathing exercises is an all important feature of Pranayama, it is equally true that there can be no fixed and invariable rate of rhythm to be practiced alike by all persons. Rather, it is held that each person has his or her own individual rhythm that must be ascertained and then followed in the practice of Pranayama.

This individual rhythmic rate is discovered by learning the pulse beat rhythm of the individual. This, when learned, is to be regarded as the rhythmic measure of the person, and is to be adhered to in all his or her practice of rhythmic breathing.

The pulse beat of course, is due to the rhythmical expansions of the arteries caused by the repeated currents of blood sent through them by the beat of the heart. These rhythmical expansions are plainly discernible to anyone who places his finger upon an artery. There are several points on the body in which this may be detected. Simpliest, and most used, is the point on the thumb side of the wrist, which is employed by phsicians for "taking the'pulse" of the patient. At that point the artery is near the surface, and is readily pressed back against the wrist bone, making it easy to take the pulse.

The pulse beat varies considerably in a healthy person according to age, temperament, exercise or rest, emotional states, time of day, posture, atmospheric pressure, and personal idiosyncrasy. Before birth, the average number of pulsations each minute is 150; in the newly born, from 140 to 130; during the first year of life, 130 to 115; during the second year, 115 to 100; about the seventh year, 90 to 85; about the fourteenth year, 85 to 80; in adult life, 80 to 71; in old age, 70 to 60. In the female and in persons of a sanguine temperament, the pulse rate is more rapid by several beats per minute than in males and individuals of a phlegmatic type. The rate is also higher after a meal and during exercise, in the evening than in the morning, and in a standing than in a sitting or recumbent position. High temperatures also accelerate it. During sleep the pulse is usually slower than in the waking state. Forty is not an uncommon rate. In disease, the pulse presents wide variations in rate, regularity, and pressure.

The ancient Hindu teachings hold that in addition to the regular pulse beat of the body, that there is a special circulation in the brain which has a special rhythmic beat of its own. This special beat, it is claimed, does not throb in unison with the beating of the heart, but, instead is measured by the rate of breathing in the individual.

An American writer touches upon the subject, "While it is well covered in Eastern philosophies, it is little known in the Occident—in fact, I have rarely spoken to a doctor who knew it, there is unquestionably a different rate of circulation within the brain than in the rest of the body. The pulse rate is the same all over the body, even in the covering of the brain, regulated by the heart beat, But the circulation of the brain itself is synchronous with not the heart pulsation, but the breathing rate: that is, twelve or fourteen beats to the minute. This is a very striking fact, and has been demonstrated by anatomical experiments made in England which certainly seem to bear out the Hindu contention that there is a definite connection between brain activity and the breathing rhythm."

The ancient teachings have even gone further in this direction, and explain that there is a positive relation between the pulse beats and the special "beat" in the circulation of the brain; that is to say, so many pulse beats to so many brain beats. By ascertaining this, they have been able to work out a system of rhythmic breathing in which just so many pulse beats are taken as the unit for certain inhalations and exhalations of the breath. The method is worked out precisely. Here follows the rules for Yoga Rhythmic Breathing. I suggest you study them first, before practicing any of the methods which will be presented. RULE ONE. Ascertain the rate of your normal pulse beat in this special manner:

Forget about time in relation to the pulse beat, as is customary; in other words, do not try to discover "how many beats to the minute," as physicians do. Instead, after acquiring a quiet state of mind and body place your fingers on your pulse, and then mentally count the beats, thus: one, two; one, two; one, two; etc., associating the pulse beats in your mind as one would the ticking of a clock. Catch the rhythm of the beats so they are impressed clearly upon your mind. Catch the time, as it were, just as you would in listening to music, the beating of a drum, the cadence of a marching parade, or the clickety-click of a passing train as its wheels strike the rails in regular time.

Having captured the "time" of the rhythmic pulse beats in your mind, begin to put them together in groups of six units, as you count one, two, three, four, five, six; one, two, three, four, five, six; etc. Practice this often, and you will soon find that you will instictively "catch the time." Your subconscious will soon take over the task for you, and you will become like a musician who is able to count time without conscious effort.

Once you have acquired proficiency in counting the time of the pulse beats and feeling their rhythm, you are ready to put into operation the next rule in the oriental breathing techniques.

RULE TWO. Employ the rate of your pulse beat as your unit of rhythmic breathing. Each beat counts as 1. When you are told to count to six, or 3, it means you are to count six or three pulse beats. When you are told to inhale six units, it means that you are to inhale your breath while counting six pulse beats of time. As you have learned how to automatically "catch the rhythm" of your pulse beats, you will soon be able to do this mentally without having to keep your finger on the pulse in the process.

RULE THREE. The time for each inhalation is always 6 units. The time for each exhalation is also always 6 units. Thus your inhalation and exhalation measure alike. The time for each retention of the breath is always 3 units. Accordingly, you will observe that retention measures only one half of inhalation or exhalation, and your exercise proceeds as follows: Inhale the breath for a count of 6 units; retain the breath for a count of 3 units; exhale the breath for a count of 6 units; then repeat this rhythmic breathing in like measure over and over. You may commit this measure to memory, as, 6-3-6; 6-3-6; 6-3-6; 6-3-6; etc.

RULE FOUR. Do not hurry through the Rhythmic Breathing Exercises. Take your time. Proceed leisurely. Never practice the exercises when you are hurried, or rushed.

RULE FIVE. Do not tire yourself in the exercises. The exercises are intended to rest you, not to tire you. Do not overdo the exercises. If you feel a slight dizziness, stop at once, for that session. The best results are often obtained with but a few moments of exercise at a time.

RULE SIX. Avoid anything like over straining or exertion in the exercises; they are designed to give you psychic strength, not to see how much air you can pump into your lungs. Never breathe in more air than is comfortable for your lungs to hold. Use moderation in the amount of air you inhale and in the time devoted to the exercise.

RULE SEVEN. Above all, do not try to retain the breath in the lungs beyond the measured time unit of three pulse beats. You are warned against prolonged holding-in of your breath; 3 units is exactly the right amount of time to retain it, and then exhale in the 6 unit rhythm.

Having learned the rules, you are prepared to proceed with the Oriental Rhythmic Breathing Exercises, always remembering the 6-3-6 count of inhaling during the time of 6 units, retaining the breath during only 3 units, and, finally, exhaling the breath during 6 units. The culminated result is a rather slow breathing in and breathing out, with an ordinary pause for the holding in of breath, all tuned in timing to the rhythm of your pulse beats. The process will soon become automatic for you everytime you sit down to practice the exercise. At other times, it is not necessary to breathe rhythmically.

The Temple ofSurya (The Sun God) at Konarak, on the Bay of Bengal. The entire temple was conceived as a horse-drawn chariot with twelve great wheels on either side. Courtesy Oxford Book and Stationary Company, Calcutta, India.
Hindu Fakir
While crowds of natives watch, this Hindu Fakir sleeps upon a bed of thorns, showing absolute self-control.

This native magician of India sits for hours immobile in meditative contemplation.

This native magician of India sits for hours immobile in meditative contemplation.

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