Note from the Editor: It seems that in magick, that the bulk of beginners prefer to slide past working on the breathing exercises, mantras, and other elements of yoga. However, though one easily can do that and experience success in magick, let's now stop and consider one of the greatest historical examples of what yoga and its elements can do for us within magick when we do work with it. Aleister Crowley, is who we look to.
Aleister was so ill as a child he almost died. He's been quoted as saying that he did not realize early enough in his life that he could have made changes to improve his health, so did nothing. But when he realized he could self treat, he did so. It was done through his engaging in various methods of self discipline, including mountain climbing (physical), chess (mental), magickal and mystical pursuits (spiritual); and also through yoga, which addresses body, mind and spirit. The Great Beast 666 went on to become one of the greatest magicians of all time, and few will dispute this; as well he became one heck of a prolific author.
Yours truly (editor Jude Chi) was one of those who dismissed breathing exercises for a very long time. After a while though it seemed worth an effort to try. Once one does try there is no turning back, as the changes they will experience upon doing so are radical, IMHO. Point being, don't be in such a hellfire hurry to skip to the good parts of magick. Much power lies within the topic matter broached upon in a basic fashion right here. On a side-note, to clarify the title, some basic level of pranayama was presented in lesson one of this lesson series.
Magick :: Discipline in Breathing
by Adam K
Greetings. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
In Magick, one could well ask, “why would one chant, and what could it mean?” We in the West typically have a hard time understanding the purpose behind doing or saying a thing that apparently has no inherent purpose. Here I’ll attempt to address that concept, as well as I am capable of.
It would be easiest to begin by asking, “what is Pranayama?” Well, there are two things we don’t think of as all that important until we aren’t getting them. One is intimacy. The other is air. You figure out which one you will actually die without. We have talked about your breathing before, and now we will actually go out of our way to make it difficult by simply thinking about it while doing it, and making a routine out of it. I know, I know, why would we want to make it difficult, is what you’re thinking. Think of it like working out. When you are working out, you are intentionally doing a difficult thing to both make doing everything else easier and to alter your physical relationship to the world. Much the same is true with the Hindi practice of Pranayama, or, literally, Breath Control. Of course, as is usual in transliteration, prana means considerably more than just breath or air, and yama means something more than simply control; truer when we make them into one whole word. However, for now, breath control will suffice.
Prana is pretty much identical to the Chinese concept of Chi, which is a sort of life force energy that exists in everything around us and in us. Think of it like The Force in Star Wars, but much more subtle. pranayama is the act of controlling our intake and use of that energy, which is tied up in the air that we breathe.
In Western society, we have a tendency to pick up some pretty bad habits where our breathing is concerned. For example, we generally learn over time to breathe almost exclusively from the top sixty percent of our lungs, and that breathing is very shallow as a result. If you observe the way any young child or infant breathes, you will see it is much different from how adults, especially adult males, breathe. Children haven’t picked up the bad breathing habits we have yet. They breathe more deeply, and from lower in their core. It is at least a likely contributor to why we have so much less energy as adults than children do.
If you gain nothing else from this, it is worth the effort of correcting your breathing just to recapture a portion of the energy of your youth. So here I will give a simple method for doing that. Try it and see for yourself if you feel any difference after doing things differently for one week.
Since this is yoga we are talking about, the first thing you will want to do is get in a position, or asana, that you are somewhat comfortable with. It doesn’t need to be anything difficult like the lotus asana because the point to this is to alter your breathing habits and not to have your focus drawn away by undue discomfort. We’ll worry about doing that later!
Now find a nice, quiet spot to perform in. Take your chosen asana. Simply begin to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Here is the hard part: breathe in for a count of four seconds, then hold the breath without tightening your throat for four seconds, exhale slowly and evenly for four seconds, and hold again without tightening your throat for four seconds. It may be helpful to have a metronome (and yes, there is an app for that) set to 60 BPM to help you keep track of this. Another key is to breathe quietly enough that you cannot hear it, and inhale and exhale fully with each breath. Try to remain otherwise as still as possible while doing so. Imagine a string attached to the ceiling and extending down to the top of your head, and it is holding your head, neck, and spine straight and vertical. Breathing should start from the bottom of your lungs on inhaling, and should end there as well upon exhaling.
This all sounds simple enough, but compare it after a few minutes of practice to regular subconscious breathing, ask yourself just how much more difficult it is. But the key to this is, to keep doing it until without realizing it, you are no longer even thinking about it. It has simply become the way that you breathe.
If you feel you are becoming too comfortable with this, then it is advised that you simply take longer with each breath. Simply decrease the beats per minute on your metronome to 40 BPM, for example, while continuing to inhale, hold, exhale, and hold, each for four beats. And when that becomes too easy, decrease the bpm to 30 BPM, and so on.
Don’t make yourself overly comfortable while practicing this, but likewise, don’t allow it to be too terribly uncomfortable. The key to growth is to push your limits, not to rush past them blindly, after all. I am sure that as you progress, you will notice considerable physiological changes over time. Your regular rate of breathing as well as your regular pulse rate will slow as a result. The slower your regular pulse, the longer you live, oddly enough.
And, for the sake of making things even more difficult, we will now incorporate mantras. Instead of simply counting seconds, we may choose a phrase with a rhythm to it that holds some special meaning for us. This phrase will be a mantra for you, a phrase that, through repetition, will lose all conscious meaning in that moment, but which will alter your subconscious mind in significant ways. The science and art of creating change, indeed. But the key to effectiveness in the use of mantras, is to be sure you aren’t telling your subconscious self things, that to it, will seem patently absurd. You probably won’t convince your subconscious that you can stop a tank with a pinky finger, for example, unless you are also telling it HOW to stop it with your pinky finger (likely that would involve being in the driver’s seat of the tank, of course).
Start with something simple, but that has enough detail that it won’t be mistaken for vague nonsense. Barring that, use one that has little to no actual meaning to you, but which has a proven record of success. “Aum mani padme aum”, for example, is one such mantra. Meaning “hail, the jewel in the lotus,” it can easily be thought of as parallel to Liber AL’s own “The khabs is in the khu, not the khu in the khabs.” This phrase means that you reside within the universe of Nuit as Hadit, a star in that universe. It also means that the true quintessential YOU is not the mask of your persona that is the visible aspect seen by the world (the mask of khu), but the genuine self that must by its very nature continue as an indestructible fire, a star, a burning light that is the pure, immutable YOU (the khabs, the star, the soul, call it what you will).
But, really, any phrase that has a rhythm that can match your four beats per measure pattern of breathing can be a mantra. Just be sure you aren’t programming yourself to be the next Nickelback. Nobody needs that! (Lol)
If you want to really push this to the next level, you can practice your breathing exercises while jogging. Start with inhaling for three steps and exhaling for three steps (don’t hold your breath while jogging, as it is likely very unhealthy). After a while, change it to four, and move forth from there. If it becomes exceedingly difficult, simply lower the number of steps per breath back to a reasonable but not overly comfortable level. In time, you may be able to lower your regular resting heart rate to as low as 40 BPM! This is, in fact, the rate for many professional athletes and elite combatants, so it is possible! Just keep at it.
By now, I hope you have begun keeping a magickal diary or journal. These practices I have discussed would be ideal to keep track of in that journal. You will want to keep a record of how your awareness, focus, and wakefulness are all affected by the change in your breathing, both in the immediate and the long term. How also does the change affect your other daily activities? What correlations can you draw between your breathing and any improvements or lack of improvements you can see? Include anything you even remotely might feel is relevant. You may be surprised at what you could learn over time. From my own experience, I can say that any alteration in my breathing habits dramatically affects whatever activity I am involved in at that time, and that includes physical, mental, and magickal pursuits. It also affects my immediate emotional state, leveling out any extreme emotions I may be experiencing, especially if the breathing is accompanied by any form of rational thought exercises. But these are my experiences, not yours. That is precisely why you should be keeping a record of what you experience.
I know there has been more time than I previously indicated there would be between articles, and this is something I will try to work on. Stay tuned for more exciting adventures in the coming months! Until next time…
Love is the law, love under will.
Other Articles in This Series
Part One, Elementary Level Knowledge
Part Two, Rituals
Part Three, The Gods of Thelema
Part Three, The Gods of Thelema Continued
Part Four, More Yoga Activities to Keep You Busy (this page)