"When the breath is unrestrained, so is the mind. However, when the breath is under control, the mind will be tamed as well."
Hatha Yoga Pradipika
"Breath is life" states a famous yogic proverb. In the absence of breath, life fades out.
When a child is born, his first breath is life. Any obstruction or delay of this process results in his death. On the other hand, the last breath of a person signifies his passage into another dimension and his parting from this world.
Between these two points in time, birth and death, the human being breathes incessantly, even if unaware of this process most of the time.
Yogic teachings have always stressed the importance of a correct pattern of breathing. According to tantric teachings, a healthy person breathes approximately 21.600 times in 24 hours. This means one breath every four seconds.
Normally, a person breathes slower when relaxed, and faster when active. The act of love usually accentuates the breath, the heart is more active, and the blood flows easier.
However, Oriental sages tell us of certain prolonged erotic games where breathing is deep, rare, and fully controlled.
According to the yogic tradition, life is in close relationship with patterns of breathing. One can easily notice this in the case of reptiles.
Take, for instance the turtle: it breathes very rarely and yet has an exceptionally long life. On the other hand, the mouse has a rapid breathing pattern and lives a short life.
According to the Gheranda Samhita, "By slowing down the rhythm of your breath, the vital energy will reach high levels; by increasing the frequency of your breath, this energy of life will diminish".
Another important Hindu text, Shiva Samhita, states:
"The body of the one who regularly practices breathing techniques develops harmoniously, has a nice smell and becomes strong and attractive. The sage who practices these techniques will destroy all the Karma accumulated in this life or from his previous lives.
Thus, many yogis devote their lives exclusively to this practice, that is to obtain the conscious and complete control over the breath, knowing that this will make them gain control over their destiny."
METHOD FOR BECOMING AWARE OF YOUR BREATH
Try it even now, without having to change your ordinary rhythm or pattern of breathing. Place one hand on your abdomen, a little higher than the navel.
First, notice if the abdomen is completely relaxed when you breathe in. A normal breath occurs when the inferior part of the abdomen enlarges as the air gets inside the lungs and it contracts when breathing out.
Yet, many people breathe in a different manner. In addition, many people breathe only through their mouths instead of their noses. Such practice leads to losing the capacity to focus, physical weakness and heart diseases.
Tantric learning asserts that, if the two lovers breath abnormally and they are stressed, then there is a danger of impotence, lack of normal libido, emotional and mental problems as well as physical debility.
In Tantric and Taoist texts, the importance of breathing rarely during intercourse is accentuated because then the consciousness focuses on assimilating and retaining the energy of life.
Many writings deal with the postures (asanas) and the science of breathing (Pranayama) in yoga. We believe that is extremely important to notice a few major aspects.
First of all the practitioner should pay close attention to the stages of breathing: breathing in, retention of the breath and breathing out.
Breathing in should be natural, never forced; the air should come inside the body as the result of the enlargement of the abdomen. When we are retaining the breath inside, the inferior part of the body has to take the form of a vessel; the yogic term for this is kumbhaka, which means "the one that contains".
Retaining the breath is the milestone of breathing techniques. From here a great force springs. During this stage, the air is partially absorbed by the lungs and energizes the whole body.
The Tantric adept is advised to imagine that he absorbs the life-giving energies of Brahma. While in retention, the attention of the adept should be directed on extracting the vital energies and making them circulate through the body.
Finally, during the outward breath he/she should imagine that all impurities, diseases or nervous tensions leave the body and go back into the ground in order to be purified.
All these three parts of the process of breathing should be linked together, without interruptions or sudden moves. Furthermore, one should always be aware and focused during the act of breathing.
The most important moment is the retention of the breath after inhaling, when the flow of energy is improved and the subtle channels of the body are being reopened.
There is also an increased amount of gland secretions, especially saliva, which, according to the yoga teachings, strengthen and nourish the human being.
A yogic treaty, Goratsha shatakam, strongly emphasizes that:
"The practitioner should breathe in slowly and breathe out the same way, trying not to retain his breath for too long and yet not letting it out too quickly either. Control of the breath destroys all karmic residues, bringing harmony and equilibrium to the whole body."
Complete breathing - inhalation, retention and exhalation represent the first steps in using breathing techniques as modalities of reaching the ultimate state of freedom.
Once you get accustomed with a healthy and harmonious pattern of breathing, you will have the possibility to experience other specific rhythms of breathing.
For example, the healing breath is an extremely simple technique and can be practiced anytime, as described below:
The rhythm of this type of breathing is 1:4:2, meaning that the retention lasts four times longer than the inhalation, and the exhalation - two times longer. In the case of Pranayama (breathing exercises), the inhalation is taken as the measure.
Prolong inhalation at first, and then do exactly as said before. Gradually increase the time of inhalation, keeping the proportion of the other two. The result of such practice is that the process of breathing is slowed down, and will relax and refresh both body and mind.
Nevertheless, do not practice this technique too intensely in the beginning. If you feel dizzy or tired, or if your heart is beating too fast stop practicing it as these are signs which indicate that you are using too much force. It is recommended that you gradually increase the retention period.
The proportion between inhalation, retention, and exhalation should be counted in terms of heartbeats (they can be counted on your fingers or by using a clock).
It is not indicated to count mentally, because if the mind is not focused entirely on the technique, its benefits will not be as powerful as they could be, that is if you are completely focused on the technique.
This is recommended because the mind should focus on the process of meditation, and not on the logic, rational process of counting. An effective concentration is to focus upon sounds produced by the air when inhaled and exhaled.
Yogic treaties describe a large number of sounds that appear while breathing in and out. For instance, Gheranda Samhita says:
"When the air comes in, it makes a "sah" sound and when it goes out it makes the sound "ham". These two sounds give birth to the words "saham" (or "soham" which means, "I am HIM") or "hamsa" (which means "the Great Swan", referring to "The Bird of the Soul").
Each living being unconsciously produces these sounds. This subtle sound can be heard in three places: in the so-called 'root' center (situated between the anus and the genitalia), in the heart center and in the third eye (placed between the eyebrows).
The Yogi should consciously repeat these sounds, gradually increasing the duration of the inhalation, and preserving the proportion between the retention and exhalation."
Another method for keeping track of the proportion between inhalation, retention and exhalation is to create and repeat a phrase with a powerful, positive meaning, such as: "I am surrounded by a benefic aura of protection", using the length of these words as a unit of measure.
During this time, try to visualize this aura as a yellow light around your head. Use a mantra in exactly the same way, repeated at every stage of the breathing process, respecting the already established proportion.
Walking is an ideal moment for practicing and developing the healing breath because you can use the number of your steps in order to improve your technique.
The correct practice of the 'healing breath' technique will refresh your entire body. Your mind will take advantage from its practice as well, as it gradually reaches a state of profound calmness.
"Prana, the vital breath, originates in the Self. As the shadow and the person who generates it are inseparable, so are the Prana and the Self. Prana enters the body at birth so that the mind's wishes, which have come down from other lives, will be fulfilled."
In fact, the final goal of all the breathing techniques is that of prolonging the retention until the practitioner reaches higher stages in Yoga (such as supernatural powers) and his karma is destroyed.
The control of the mind over the vital forces of the body will have an immediate and direct effect over the sexual center, in the sense that the overall energy level becomes higher.
The practitioner will notice an increased amount of energy and receptivity. The senses become sharper. Any couple wishing to experience Tantric ecstasy while making love should pay special attention to the breath.
The lovers should practice the healing breath so that the subtle channels of the body are purified; this purification of the subtle channels will eliminate the risk of shocks, physical and psychic uneasiness due to the high energies awakened by the Tantric erotic game.
The flows of prana, the mind and sexual energy are interdependent. Controlling one of the three will result in controlling the other two, as well. In what follows, you will realize the close interdependence between breath, the erotic act and subtle mental processes.
One of the most important aspects in an erotic union is the process of breathing, because emotions are directly connected to breath. True physical love leads to a complete coordination between the breathing of the lovers.
This is the key for obtaining huge powers. Nonetheless, there are other breathing techniques capable of preparing a couple for a Tantric erotic game.
A secret technique consists of bringing together the lateral margins of your tongue and sticking out the tongue through your lips; breathe in forcefully, retain the air inside your lungs for as long as you can, without forcing and then breathe out through your nose.
According to Shiva Samhita,
"The yogi who practices the Raven's Beak in the morning and at sunset, frees himself from all diseases. This practice leads to obtaining clairvoyance and other miraculous powers."
The Yogic tradition speaks about five vital breaths (prana or the force of life). It is said that, just like a king empowers certain authorities to govern territories of his kingdom, in the same way the primordial prana contains four other types of prana, each designated to coordinate specific functions in the body.
Of all these five types of prana, the primordial prana (which has an ascendant direction) and apana (which has an descendent direction) are the most important.
Tantra Yoga aims to inverse the 'natural' course of apana, making it unite with prana, thus producing a complete transformation of the being.
The distribution of prana (absorbed through the lungs) into the five types of vital energy takes place during the retention, after inhaling the air. This process may also be the support for profound meditations.
Imagine the air coming in through your nostrils as if it were less thick than water. Pour it into the inferior part of your abdomen, as if it were a vessel. When this breath is complete, move on to the retention and imagine that all the openings of your body (ears, eyes, nose, mouth and anus) are shut.
Imagine the prana circulating to the five parts of the body. Try to visualize this process with your mind's eye. While in retention, try to take out the best and most valuable parts of the air you have inhaled. Then breathe out imagining how all impurities and physical disorders leave your body and go back into the earth in order to be purified and regenerated.
Breath control is essential for correctly practicing the Tantric and Taoist ways of lovemaking. These breathing techniques should never be practiced immediately after having a meal or after great physical effort.
You should always be aware of your individual breathing pattern. You should not be afraid of the force of your breath. On the contrary, aim to learn how to use it in a careful and conscious manner. By being aware of your own pattern of breathing, as well as of your lover's, you will become closer to ecstasy.
"The wise man does not talk about the capacity of uttering words, about sight, hearing, or meditation; he speaks only of the different types of prana that makes all these things possible. Because everything else is nothing but manifestations of prana."