People who don’t breathe naturally, who, for example, carry unnecessary tension in their chests, backs, and bellies, face potential dangers when doing advanced pranayama exercises. People who practice advanced yoga breathing exercises without good teachers or much experience can easily hurt their diaphragms and other breathing muscles. They can also cause imbalances in their internal chemistry.
For most people, one of the main keys to transforming one’s breathing in a safe and effective way has to do with gradually relaxing and opening up all the breathing structures of the body, with releasing unnecessary tension, so that the body is free to breathe in the way it was designed to breathe, with harmonious coordination of the various breathing muscles and tissues. In general, this process requires deep, dynamic relaxation, not willful effort. It also requires inner sensitivity and awareness, a more intimate contact with our sensations. Here is a quote about this issue from the introduction to my book The Tao of Natural Breathing.
“The great spiritual pathfinder G. I. Gurdjieff … warned that without complete knowledge of our organism, especially of the interrelationships of the rhythms of our various organs, efforts to change our breathing can bring great harm. It is clear that work with breathing, especially some of the advanced yogic breathing techniques (pranayama) taught in the West through both classes and books, is fraught with many dangers. In his book Hara: The Vital Center of Man, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim–a pioneer in the integration of body, mind, and spirit–discusses some of the dangers of teaching yogic breathing techniques to Westerners. He points out that most of these exercises, which ‘imply tension,’ were designed for Indians, who suffer from ‘an inert letting-go.’ Westerners, on the other hand, suffer from ‘too much upward pull … too much will.’ Dürckheim states that even though many yoga teachers try to help their students relax before giving them breathing exercises, they do not realize that the ‘letting-go’ required for deep relaxation can be achieved ‘only after long practice.’ At best, says Dürckheim, giving breathing exercises prematurely grafts new tensions onto the already established ones, and brings about ‘an artificially induced vitality … followed by a condition of exhaustion and the aspirant discontinues his efforts, his practice.’”
Copyright 1997 – 2014 by Dennis Lewis
One way to free your mind is to learn how to think. To learn how to think requires the active use of your attention. You will need to see how much of what you call thinking is just the habitual, associative movement of words and concepts through your mind.
As an experiment, try counting slowly and silently in the following way and in an even rhythm: 1, 100; 2, 99; 3, 98; 4, 97; and so on until you reach 100, 1. Doing so as you walk can be a big help, counting one number with each step.
As you count, notice all the the so-called thoughts that come uninvited and automatically into your mind. Can you keep the count going? If you lose track of where you are, start over. In addition to helping you see yourself more clearly, this simple exercise will help strengthen your attention.
Copyright 2013 by Dennis Lewis
We are two-natured beings! Let your attention move in both directions at the same time–toward the periphery, toward thinking, feeling, and sensing, in which discernment and naming are the norm, and toward the unknowable center, toward the nameless silence and stillness that make the experience of all things possible.
Copyright 2013 by Dennis Lewis
“Man never on any account wants to pay for anything; and above all he does not want to pay for what is most important for him. You now know that everything must be paid for and that it must be paid for in proportion to what is received. But usually a man thinks to the contrary. For trifles, for things that are perfectly useless to him, he will pay anything. But for something important, never. This must come to him of itself.”–G. I. Gurdjieff, quoted in In Search of the Miraculous, by P. D. Ouspensky
Some 20 years ago, during a visit to Russia, I was invited by the head of a team of consciousness researchers, scientists, medical doctors, and alternative healers at the Russian Medico-Military Academy in Saint Petersburg to speak on my understanding of the Gurdjieff Work and give a demonstration of Chi Nei Tsang, a Taoist healing modality involving internal organ chi massage and breathing, which I had learned in the Healing Tao and practiced in a well-known acupuncture clinic in San Francisco, even working on people with AIDS. The person I worked on with my hands and conscious intention gave his impressions in Russian to the rest of the group as he lay on the massage table.
At the end of my three-hour presentation to the 10 people who were there, the leader, a big bear of a man, gave me an enormous hug, intentionally readjusting my spine as he did so (I was tired, and he noticed and wanted to help). When he finished hugging me, he said–with a huge, engaging smile–something like: “here in Russia we are not parochial; we go beyond our training and specialities; we welcome and integrate all approaches and understanding.”
We then continued to talk (his wife spoke good English and functioned as the interpreter, as she had for the presentation), while one of the team, an energy healer, sent me energy from across the room using all sorts of novel (for me) movements and gestures. Here was a group of people who were open to influences other than their own, a rare occurrence in today’s world. And they really seemed to listen, not just to my words, but to my very emanations.
I think of these researchers often when I see the ways in which we in America treat our own frequently narrow, reductionist approaches to knowledge and understanding as somehow sacrosanct. We have paid a heavy price in many areas of life for this reductionism. Though I have spoken to numerous people and groups over the years, the great openness I felt among these Russian researchers was both rare and inspiring. We had a vital exchange on many levels.
Copyright 2013 by Dennis Lewis