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The Breath

Hazrat Inayat Khan

The breath has the tendency to reach outwards, and the further it spreads the more it loses its magnetism, just as light diminishes in luminosity at a distance, and is then termed, by comparison, darkness. However, there is in fact no such thing as darkness, but only weaker degrees of light; which again become brighter and brighter as one turns back in the direction of the source of radiance.

The breath is also comparable to light in this sense, that it can have an influence on all networks which are attuned to its magnetism; and the intensity of that magnetism varies according to the radiance of the breath, which finds its source within the inner roots of the true self. In other words, the light in the breath is all pervading, both in the inner world and in the outer world. What is more, it can be directed to a distant receiver, or focused on a given spot, illuminating all within its path with magnetic rays strengthened by the energy of thought.

The breath is the vehicle upon which the consciousness rides out into the world during the exhalation; and upon the inhalation the consciousness returns, loaded with impressions, which are registered in the mechanisms of the five senses before reaching the coordinating centers of the mind where these finally become intelligible. In this process the breath is like a bridge, connecting the outer world and the inner world which is the spectator of all senses.

Breath is the most important power regulating the course of our lives; or in other words, breath is, really speaking, life itself. Therefore, those who ignore the mysteries of breath are regrettably deprived of the basic knowledge of life, from a scientific point of view as well as from the angle of spiritual insight. Either one has control over the breath, in which case one acquires a humble hold over the unknown or one is unfortunately led by the uncontrolled power of one's own life-giving breath.

Breath can be disciplined to various rhythmic patterns besides also being focused so as to trace specific, mentally visualized geometric shapes. Once this has been practiced, the next step leads to the appropriate adaptation of the power of breath to all circumstances. This of course implies making a wise use of the different characteristics of breath as known in swara yoga. For instance, according to the theory of yoga kundalini-upanishad, when the positive pingala vibrations of the breath current (jelal) manifest more pronouncedly during exhalation through the right nostril, this indicates a creative and expressive condition, physically, mentally and emotionally. When the negative ida vibrations (jemal) manifest more pronouncedly during exhalation through the left nostril this favors a perceptive and receptive condition However, when both positive and negative vibrations in the breath (purusha-prakriti) flow together (shushumna or kemal) through both nostrils during the exhalation, either a chaotic situation, resulting from a clash of opposite energies, may be expected, or reversibly the two opposite energies might harmonize, creating thereby a balanced and most elevating meditative condition, which only persists, however, during peaceful attunement.

Another aspect of the power of breath is in its special function of absorbing subtle vibrations from the five elements in the cosmos and channeling these day and night upon its ebb and flow within the pathways (nadis) of the breath. In this process, the influence of the Earth element is steadiness; the Water element is progress onwards; the Fire element is excitement or destruction; the Air element is receptivity, inspiration; the Ether element is spiritual attunement. Among many other esoteric methods, the breath can be purified through the influence of the elements upon the exhalation and inhalation.

Sitting cross-legged, or better, standing, one absorbs from space the subtle vibrations of the different elements in turn, holding these in thought within appropriate chakras. On the exhalation, the impurities therein are cleansed through the mystical touch of the magnetism of the chosen element.

Breathing practices are best sustained with the help of rhythmic patterns, which discipline the alternating flow of inhaling and exhaling energy, thus providing the breath with an akasha of measure, time and shape. Hidden in this discipline is the understanding of the individualization of breath, that is to say, the capture of the prana-energy of the cosmos in an appropriate receiver for the sake of life itself. This secret is the key to resignation to the Divine Will, or in other words, it is in itself the mystical purpose of all practices done by the seeker of Truth on the spiritual path. The object that the seeker has is not necessarily the attainment of power or the achievement of inspiration, it is to touch the depth of life, that plane of existence whence springs every activity manifesting through different channels. The physician who discovers the heart of the patient can know more and better about the general condition than one who looks for the pain in the affected part. In the same way, by the practice of Shagal one gets to the heart of things, where one can see the seedling of success and failure, where one can see the signs of forthcoming joy or pain.

In practicing Shagal one learns to see independently of the eyes, and to hear independently of the ears, and as soon as the senses get this independence from their physical instrument of experience, they begin to see and hear beyond the limitations of these, and the area of consciousness becomes widened. The sight which previously saw only to a limited horizon, now sees much further than before. Similarly, the hearing, that could hear by the help of the ears so much and no more, now hears, after mastering Shagal, much more than ever before.

The soul is always inclined to look outward for its experience, and therefore it remains unaware of the inner being; so to speak, it turns its back on the inner life, absorbed in the vision of the external through the five senses. In Shagal one closes the window through which the soul is accustomed to look out on to the external world. It sees before it a different sphere altogether, yet a sphere that has been within it all the while. Here the soul has a wonderful vision, visible and audible, and the light and power of this vision stays with the soul, illuminating the different planes of consciousness. It is like coming in the daylight to a room which the soul had once visited in the darkness of night. Everything in life becomes clear, and that which once confused the soul is now solved.

By the practice of Shagal one withdraws the breath from one direction and sends it to another, meaning, that instead of projecting it outward, one is directing it inward. Breath is Life, Light and Sound in itself. Therefore, in the Vedanta, Breath is called Suram or Swara, meaning 'sound'. Shagal wakens awareness of the vibrations within, in that inner being which may be understood as the root of all senses. There are many benefits that one derives from Shagal. Among the many benefits that one derives from Shagal, the simplest is that one gains control over all the senses, which are otherwise slaves to every external call. By a constant practice of Shagal one is able to draw a cover over those senses which one does not especially wish to experience at the moment. The one who is master over body and mind becomes a valid instrument to experience life fully.

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