Yoga of Breath

Adi Da Samraj, 1993

Excerpt from a dialogue with a devotee in 1993

DEVOTEE: Beloved, I wanted to talk to You about the breath, because I feel that the breath is such an important factor in my surrender to You.

SRI DA AVABHASA: In the various traditions, life is measured by the breath. Many things could be said about the traditional teaching about the breath – and I have said many things – but most simply the traditional teaching can be summarized as follows: The mind is active, feeling is active, the body is active, all the time the breath, or energy, is active, connecting all these functions. The breath shows itself through two fundamental gestures – inhalation and exhalation. The traditional lore indicates that there is a deficit of inhalation, that there is more exhalation. It goes out farther and takes longer than inhalation. This deficit could be called “entropy”, because there is more to the throwing off, more to exhaling than to inhaling.

You are breathing moment by moment, but you are constantly creating a deficit and the body wears down eventually. Its death is built into the mechanism. Many in the traditional setting, having observed this, were very clever. They devoted themselves to exercising the breath to overcome the deficit. Such exercise is recommended in the Chinese tradition, even in the Chinese medical tradition of longevity. It appears in Indian medicine and in many other traditions. It is a kind of effort to equalize the breath and minimize, or, perhaps, even eliminate, the deficit. Instead of exhaling more, or longer, one compensates by working, in one way or another, through what in India is called “pranayama”, or the exercise of breath; through changing diet; and through other exercises to create equanimity, a balance in the breath, or a balance between yin and yang, to use the Chinese description. Through such exercises, one tries to equalize the cycle of breath so that it is essentially balanced. Such exercises, which generate at least a physical well-being, require great discipline.

Hyperactivity, to which Westerners are addicted, is full of exhalation, full of physical exaggeration, all the time throwing off equanimity and working toward death, in fact. By contrast, those who have some sense of what the breath is all about are trying to live a life of equanimity. The origins of such intention are generally associated with a kind of physical Yoga, the Yoga of longevity of the Chinese, for example, or the Hatha Yoga of the Hindus. Such physical forms of Yoga seek benefits in the physical, or gross dimension of the body-mind, rather than in the subtle dimension and beyond, but the whole life is disciplined for the sake of equanimity. Therefore, exaggerated physical activity, exaggerated emotional activity, exaggerated mental activity, exaggeration of any kind, in fact, is avoided. The whole purpose of such Yogas can be summarized as equanimity. In other words, undoing the deficit in the energy cycle, so that instead of running down rather rapidly, you at least run down much more slowly. Those who are most adept at this intention claim, or at least hope for, extreme physical longevity.

Without suggesting that the extreme intention toward physical immortality should be the purpose of your living, nonetheless I Say to you that equanimity is part of true Yoga, and it is associated with the breath, or the opposites. The opposites are all summarized in the breath. All of conditional existence – tamas, rajas, sattva, all of it – is summarized in the breath. All the pairs are summarized in inhalation and exhalation. Therefore, all the efforts toward equanimity are about a balance in the breath, most fundamentally, and balance in relation to everything else as well. There must be a fundamental practice and intention, then, to create a balance between the opposites.

To establish such equanimity, without searching for physical immortality and mere physical ends, the practice must encompass not only the breath but also all the faculties associated with it – the mind summarized as attention, the emotion summarized as feeling, the body summarized as its activities. To do Yoga, one links all of these things – breath, mind or attention, feeling, body, in one fundamental gesture of self-surrendering feeling- Contemplation of the Divine Realizer, the Source of Grace.

Control of breath, then, or “conductivity”, is a fundamental aspect of your practice of the Way of the Heart. It is not that you must be all the time fussing with the breath, any more than you should be fussing with the body, fussing with emotions, fussing with mind, just egoically “self-possessed” and occupied with the mechanisms themselves. No. You must be occupied with Me. All the faculties of the body-mind are carried by that devotional disposition. You must simply, responsibly, allow it to be so. Stop desensitizing yourself through inappropriate activity–bodily, emotionally, mentally, or with the breath.

Instead, link yourself to Me devotionally, and do this moment to moment under all circumstances, and, in fact, also discipline circumstances, discipline what you do altogether. What is conducive to this devotional life, this equanimity, this receptivity, this sensitivity? Do whatever that is, and do not do otherwise. If circumstances force you into some limited encounter, you must be able to exercise the same disposition. Do not, however, in some habitual or casual sense, choose such associations or conditions.

The practitioner of this great Yoga, which involves the entire body-mind and the link of the breath, must first establish equanimity. As one moves into the Spiritual stages and advances in the Way of the Heart, the Sign of the breath, and the sign all over the body-mind, is greatly transformed. More profound Yogic signs appear, in the context of advancement in the fourth and the fifth stages of life, and then beyond. Having established equanimity in your total life, you move into the Spiritual stages of the Way of the Heart, you surrender utterly in self-forgetfulness. Then your practice is not merely to equalize the signs in the body-mind and the breath.

In the natural process of this feeling-Contemplation of What Is, the breath has become minute. There are no big movements of the breather. The breath is hardly noticeable. It is a tiny sniff in and out. Frequently there are no opposites, there is no movement, there is no inhalation-exhalation. Finally, there is kumbhak, or suspension of breath, and, thereby, suspension of attention to body and exercises of emotion and mind in combination with conditions, and there is direct entrance into the Contemplative state, in the form of various Samadhis.

People are all the time looking for some relief from the cramp of their egoic “self – possession”. Anything that is somewhat attractive, that distracts you from yourself, that stimulates some positive emotion in you is valued. Therefore, people do all kinds of things to generate such signs in themselves, including drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, taking drugs, having casual sex, going to the movies – all the nonsense that people do is a search to be relieved of the suffering that comes about in their self-contraction.

My message is simple. You do the Yoga. I do the rest.